Confused by A. L. Kennedy

So-I-Am-GladFunny how words and sentences and language work. The title to this post could mean at least two things:

1. The ingenious Scottish novelist A. L. Kennedy wrote a new book titled Confused.

2. The ingenious Scottish novelist A. L. Kennedy writes in such a way that many readers are confused.

See how troubling this is? Since I enjoyed Kennedy’s dark, alcohol-fueled dream Paradise, I thought I’d give the critically-acclaimed So I Am Glad (Knopf, 1995) a shot (that’s right: #1, above, is false).

The narrator of So I Am Glad, Jenny, is a young woman who risks love by way of a mysterious man (“Martin”) who turns up in her flat. Along the way we learn about Jenny’s traumatic childhood, an abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend, and her rather antiseptic occupation as an audio narrator. Throughout, the novel induces a state of bewilderment: the character dialogue is as pedestrian, random, and spasmodic as most conversations of everyday life, and even when Martin’s true identity is revealed, the reader remains uncertain and distrustful to the end.

Kennedy’s works are artful—brilliantly constructed—but certainly not for everyone.

Suffice it to say that when I finished the book I took a spin over to Goodreads—just to see what other readers thought. I quickly discovered that I am:

1. One of the few readers on the site to pick up the book and actually finish it.

2. One of the many readers on the site to find Kennedy’s whiplash dialogue construction confusing (there are few identifying references to guide readers, e.g. “said Martin,” “I stammered,” “he shouted,” etc.).

With reference to #1, I rarely fail to finish books I start reading. I also clean my dinner plate, watch through the end of the credits of most movies, and hate it when baseball games are called due to rain or darkness. I prefer to think of this as a virtue rather than a vice. Let’s call it faithfulness; the challenge keeps me going.

With reference to #2, I admit I had to reread the first thirty or forty pages of So I Am Glad more than once to make sure I was tracking the dialogue. Three times, actually. I suppose it’s a badge of honor that I eventually came to understand and even appreciate this rather depressing (and sometimes quite violent) fantasy of love and coming-to-terms-with-the-past novel. Reading this work helped me to see a development in Kennedy’s style that made me appreciate the stream-of-consciousness construction of Paradise all the more.

So I Am Glad . . . Sure I was confused, but you knew that by the name of this post, didn’t you?

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