Monday, July 05, 2010

A critical analysis of Ivan's (Georgie-Porgie's?) novel, by Mona Rahman, PhD

I may sound a bit cliched in expressing the view ; that whenever I regard a work of Fiction, it is the first chapter that intrigues me. For it is in this chapter, where the author usually deposits the crux of his novel.

Consider the hammer hitting first lines of Dickens' s "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" or an Austen opening with " Its a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" ; that define the entire themes of the novels concerned.

I do not regard myself as a critic and Reader's Response is only about as close as I can come as far as theorizing is concerned . But then, I never regarded Reader's Response as a theory ; to me it is , paradoxically, a 'no theory theory' . What I enjoy doing is driving a text to the point of deconstruction for the sake of interpretation and analyzing.

Now having fallen upon the fortune to read Ivan Prokopchuk's " The Fire in Bradford " ( needless to say) I was immediately struck by the starkness of the theme as it stared back from the first page itself. Going through the novel I was reminded of Mikhail Bakhtin' s heteroglossia : that the power of a novel originates in the coexistence and the conflict of various kinds of speech ; the author's the narrator's and the character's . I immediately recognized the narration in the book as key to revelation and expressing the authorial intention in a "refracted way".

The Fire in Bradford is a brilliant work of art which explores the psychological predicament of modern Man/Woman ; exhibiting symptoms of sexual neurosis , of sublimation and repression and masking of deeper anxieties of self identity in the present times.

Some of the key phrases thrown in the first chapter define the characters and predict from the very onset, the paths of life that they would embark upon.

The 'voice' of the narrator, who is also the protagonist of the novel defines Lana the woman antagonist from her interests in 'adventure' , 'misery and suffering' and 'cell to cell signaling' . " Was there a Dungeon in her life?" the narrator questions significantly. Indeed, the description exhibits a woman eager to explore, but largely withheld by her own sexual frigidity , the dungeon symbolizing her sexual fears and anxiety.

The Protagonist on the other hand is a typical modern 'absurdist' exhibiting symbols and symptoms of a psychic search of his sexuality, a search which assumes such obsessive proportions, that they become his very identity.His drunken statement ," Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his goods, nor his ass" reveal both heterosexual and homosexual predilections.

The statement about Lana as " a lonesome woman, suddenly not sure of herself because of a husband's ( Imagined on the part of the protagonist) imbroglios, or homosexuality or extramarital affairs, or all of above" are reflections of the protagonist himself.

Lana and Daniel , both metaphors of diseased and decaying modern sexuality are anxious to grope each other in the dark. But groping is about as far as they can get, since the Ying and the Yang , in spite of hovening close to each other, facing each other, fail to connect in a communion ; neither sexual, nor spiritual.

"Holy Mackerel! She was right in my frequency." the narrator exclaims at the end of the first chapter. But we already have a fair idea, that it is a frequency of cacophony rather than harmony.

Hereon, the author starts picking up threads of a 'developing affair' between the two and weaving a 'relationship' which is doomed to become a 'ship' that will drown their world.

The relationship is polio struck right from the start - no sooner than it starts to rise up to stand on its feet, it crumbles and falls each time. The sentiments of the primal passions are expressed by Prokopchuk , not by eliminating their grotesque vulgarity, but by using it to express things that are neither grotesque nor vulgar ; but are vast and elemental.

Ivan Prokopchuk has carefully chosen the epistolary technique to express sentiments through an exchange of letters between Lana and Daniel. Ivan has applied the epistle form (of soliloquy) , to use it to the hilt, as an engine of self revelation and self analysis of the narrator, as well as an authorial devise to reveal the character of the woman Lana from both the antagonist's and the protagonist's points of view.

Yet we get a brilliant insight into the behavioral pattern of the anti- heroine, which reflects her own fears of sexuality :

When we first met, you said you would "find a way." Later, when I brought up the subject of sex in what you had termed your "open marriage", you said it was "only sex", perhaps a mere fillip to two people who were attracted to each other. Sex didn't seem important to you. It is sure as hell important to me!

Then again, from the letter, we get to see the protagonist writer struggling for his own personal identity. Some statements , that are ironic in content , reveal a man verging on neurosis and schizophrenia ; despite his apparently being confident of his emotional strength, which he claims to have acquired after a host of failed relationships, we see him crumbling at the very onset of the next one :

When we first met, really met, I was a bit like the hero out of Simon and Garfunkel, was a rock, was an island, was fairly insular in myself, needing little that stemmed from elsewhere; the asbestos suit was on snugly and some of the King's horses and some of the king's men had succeeded in doing a fair patch job on old Daniel.

Then along came Lana. Well. I went from a fairly self-possessed man of 47 to a love-struck young paranoid of 18 who possessed all the filigree of love without its fruit and enjoying the pain even so.

You had me hooked, almost grounded and on the road to more obscurity than I already possess. The situation was hopeless, no man would touch it with a ten-foot pole, but I was and am deeply attracted to you, as we are both alike, and like tends to attract like, right down to the multiple personalities, changes of appearance, attempts at being Honore de Cossack, guitar-playing, stroking, hugging, making strange warm love somewhere on the far side of the moon through an amber alcoholic mist.

Then again in his weak attempt of trying to gain 'control' over his relationship with Lana :

I am audacious enough to make some demands and set down a contract for you and me .... you will keep me only through showing me complete and unconditional adulation...will revolve around me, kiss my ass upon request...

Yet in the same line, he confesses to still being vulnerable enough to be affected by her " megahurts" that leaves him " encrusted with deepest attention- sapping pain."

The ultimate schizophrenic contradiction comes with the telling line:

I am now your lord and master, know it, and I hope I don't blow it.

With the second part of that line, we see that he has already blown it. And the fact that he knows it comes with the pathetic " Love me , love me unconditionally for you can stop this high school confidential bullshit" and with the final " Find a way for both of us" we see him playing himself into Lana's hands once more.

Ivan's use of epistolary technique is consciously limited. He is careful not to overuse it lest it tends to get verbose and artificial and tiring.

Lana's sexual frigidity intensifies Daniel's own sexual anxiety ( " Still I had not been a full man") which acquires a gigantically obsessive proportion. He loses his job, his business , his election ( political power) in favor of affirming his sexual prowess ; for achieving which, he chooses Lana as his path. But his choice if an Ice Maiden as the way of seeking fiery sexual culmination is his tragic flaw , which makes him dwindle into a miserably depressed goofball.

The viscous cycle of meaningless repetitive lunches ( not dinners, for dinners represent a hope for sexual culmination) with Lana, become a nihilistic 'waiting for godot'.

The developing relationship becomes frozen in time as just that - ' developing'. That is the highest peak it can reach , and thereby starts the descent .

Daniel's sexual obsession , defined by the author as a " brain awash with alligator sperm" ,results in his undoing ; social , emotional , physical and psychological.

Lana's sexual frigidity and her resultant seeking of sexual identity , leads her to her deterioration, degradation, and ultimate downfall ; from social respectability to drug addiction which finally leads her to an underworld, of prostitution, soft core flicks and orgies. As the narrator tells us : " Lana was definitely in a hole, like me in my mental hole."

Daniel's last ditch attempts to save Lana from her pathetic condition and the mafia ( Perhaps a last ditch desperate attempt on his part to expiate himself from ' base love' and raise the status of his love for Lana to a spiritual plane ) is a weak exercise in vain for Lana , as the narrator feels has been his " energy vampire" . It proves to be suicidal, an exercise in courting self destruction , forecast by the ominous voice of mafioso Gambani , on the phone :

" You have a problem Daniel. If you don't solve the problem, I will."

The final arson of Daniel's Bradford loft apartment by the mafia, symbolizes his ultimate consumption by his fiery obsession. Yet the 'twist'- of- the- rope remains even after it has burned to charcoal. For even as" Lana might have died in her own fire" ( perhaps set to her apartment in a similar manner as Daniel's) , she continues to haunt him till the end :

" I go out to find companions, and failing that I roll cigarette papers with the Vogue design , to stare at her face perhaps through the flame forever."

To parody Charles Lamb's definition of Spenser as being 'The poet's poet' ; Ivan Prokopchuk can be described as 'a erudite's erudite ' . One can hardly approach a meaningful understanding of his work without being well informed about his references and allusions in the body of his text ; allusions to various artists, as writers, philosophers, painters and musicians. He can be called a writer for the intelligentsia, with a classical approach.

Ivan's weakness lies in his characterization of women. He understands them as little as his protagonist.His woman antagonist reveals her character in the novel, more through her action, than through her thought and expression. In this respect she seems more fit to be a part of a play than a novel, where the focus is on action.

Interestingly, Ivan has attempted the same narrative in the drama form too ( which although not published yet, I have had a chance to read), and I find it more forceful in expression than the novel. In the drama form , I would describe it as a tragi- comedy of the Theater of the Absurd , with all its defining elements in their proper places : the protagonist menaced and controlled as a puppet by an invisible force ( sexual neurosis) caught in a hopeless situation , and forced to do meaningless repetitive actions.

Despite the dehumanization of Lana " from red to black" ( " I had no doubt in my mind about Lana having become a witch") as the apparent cause of Daniel's fall; the existential hell that Daniel faces is not Satre's 'other people' or Lana ( in this case). It is the hell of his own state of mind, from which there is no exit.


TomCat said...

Good show Mona. I must admit, I'm not quite sufficiently well versed in literary jsrgon to understand everything you said, I agree with what I understoon.

Now this isn't Ivan's autobiography? ;-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, great review! said...

Glad you dug Mona's excellent review.
Not understand some of it?

You mean you haven't read Kraft-Ebbing's Psychopathia Sexualis or good old Sigmund Freud?

Maybe it's just as well.
Even old Freud says that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
And who wants to be psychopathic in his or her sexuality anyway?
In real life, I was warned about my Lana.

"She's a 'Path."

Well, it seems to be the path I took.

BTW, wonderful doctoring on your full colour treament of my book cover! I think you have an eye! said...


Yes, brilliant performance by Mona.

I can see why I'm just a MA and she's a Bahmaphud.

Mona said...

Ivan! Mark's comment box is back!

TomCat said...

Wooo Hooo!

Only one of the 4 comments shows. said...


From out the belly of the whale! said...


Well, one out of two worked for me on your site. It's kind of a jiggly, nervous comment box. Sort of like me, though I dare not alliterate into Toronto underground argot of the Fifties. :)

JR's Thumbprints said...

You've colorized your novel; looks like a Ted Turner Classic. Love the review! said...



Yeah. Isn't Mona something?

TomCat said...

LOL, they are back today, Ivan. Most blogger sites' comments were messed up on the 6th.

Middle Ditch said...

Huge problems yesterday. A bit better today, but slow, so slooooooooooooooow.

Enjoyed the read Ivan. Well done you. said...


Yeah, weren't they?

I am stil trying to get into JR's site to comment. Twice. No dice.

ivan! said...

Thanks, Monique.

Funny how when you couple your mind with others, good results sometimes come.
Congrats on the wide support you are getting from listeners to MIDDLE DITCH, that wonderful, funny "institutional" British radio play of yours. said...

Oh-oh. Now there are snags in my own comment space. Thanks, Monique and keep up the good work with MIDDLE DITCH.

Mona said...

Your book is really fascinating Ivan. Some of the sentences are aphoristic, and can be used as quotable quotes! said...

Thanks, Mona.

I guess there had to be some reason why the Reader's Digest had accepted a least one of my stories in the past, but I never made the "quotable quotes" section. :)

TomCat said...

I was just at JR's. It's working now.

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