Dark Temptation (Underworld Temptation Book 2)

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It is hysterical realism. Storytelling has become a kind of grammar in these novels; it is how they structure and drive themselves on. The conventions of realism are not being abolished but, on the contrary, exhausted, and overworked. Appropriately, then, objections are not made at the level of verisimilitude, but at the level of morality: this style of writing is not to be faulted because it lacks reality—the usual charge against botched realism—but because it seems evasive of reality while borrowing from realism itself.

It is not a cock-up, but a cover-up. For all these books share a bonhomous, punning, lively serenity of spirit.

Underworld Dreams - Dark Temptation

Their mode of narration seems to be almost incompatible with tragedy or anguish. Indeed, Underworld , the darkest of these books, carries within itself, in its calm profusion of characters and plots, its flawless carpet of fine prose on page after page, a soothing sense that it might never have to end, that another thousand or two thousand pages might easily be added.

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There are many enemies, seen and unseen, in Underworld , but silence is not one of them. Again and again, one sees books such as these praised for being cabinets of wonders.

Bright lights are taken as evidence of habitation. The mere existence of a giant cheese or a cloned mouse or several different earthquakes in a novel is seen as meaningful or wonderful, evidence of great imaginative powers. The existence of vitality is mistaken for the drama of vitality. What are these stories evading? One of the awkwardnesses evaded is precisely an awkwardness about the possibility of novelistic storytelling. This in turn has to do with an awkwardness about character and the representation of character.

Stories, after all, are generated by human beings, and it might be said that these recent novels are full of inhuman stories, whereby that phrase is precisely an oxymoron, an impossibility, a wanting it both ways. By and large, these are not stories that could never happen as, say, a thriller is often something that could never happen ; rather, they clothe real people who could never actually endure the stories that happen to them. They are not stories in which people defy the laws of physics obviously, one could be born in an earthquake ; they are stories which defy the laws of persuasion.

And what above all makes these stories unconvincing is precisely their very profusion, their relatedness. One cult is convincing; three cults are not. Novels, after all, turn out to be delicate structures, in which one story judges the viability, the actuality, of another. Yet it is the relatedness of these stories that their writers seem most to cherish, and to propose as an absolute value. An endless web is all they need for meaning.

Each of these novels is excessively centripetal. The different stories all intertwine, and double and triple on themselves. Characters are forever seeing connections and links and plots, and paranoid parallels. There is something essentially paranoid about the belief that everything is connected to everything else. These novelists proceed like street-planners of old in South London: they can never name a street Ruskin Street without linking a whole block, and filling it with Carlyle Street, and Turner Street, and Morris Street, and so on.

Near the end of White Teeth , one of the characters, Irie Jones, has sex with one of the twins, called Millat; but then rushes round to see the other twin, called Magid, to have sex with him only moments after.

She becomes pregnant; and she will never know which twin impregnated her. In Underworld , everything and everyone is connected in some way to paranoia and to the nuclear threat. The Ground Beneath Her Feet suggests that a deep structure of myth, both Greek and Indian, binds all the characters together.

Alas, since the characters in these novels are not really alive, not fully human, their connectedness can only be insisted on. Indeed, the reader begins to think that it is being insisted on precisely because they do not really exist. Life is never experienced with such a fervid intensity of connectedness. After all, hell is other people, actually: real humans disaggregate more often than they congregate.

So these novels find themselves in the paradoxical position of enforcing connections that are finally conceptual rather than human. The forms of these novels tell us that we are all connected—by the Bomb DeLillo , or by myth Rushdie , or by our natural multiracial multiplicity Smith ; but it is a formal lesson rather an actual enactment. An excess of storytelling has become the contemporary way of shrouding, in majesty, a lack; it is the Sun King principle.

Satanic Slaughter - Banished To The Underworld (CD, Album) | Discogs

That lack is the human. All these contemporary deformations flow from a crisis that is not only the fault of the writers concerned, but is now of some lineage: the crisis of character, and how to represent it in fiction. Since modernism, many of the finest writers have been offering critique and parody of the idea of character, in the absence of convincing ways to return to an innocent mimesis. Certainly, the characters who inhabit the big, ambitious contemporary novels have a showy liveliness, a theatricality, that almost succeeds in hiding the fact that they are without life: liveliness hangs off them like jewelry.

This is less true of Zadie Smith than of Rushdie; her principal characters move in and out of human depth. Sometimes they seem to provoke her sympathy, at other times they are only externally comic. But watch what she does with one of the many bit-parts in this large and inventive book.

Smith is describing the founder of kevin, the fundamentalist Islamic group based in North London.

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He was five years there, but he became disillusioned with the teaching, and returned to England in In Birmingham, he. He took his food in through the cat-flap, deposited his shit and piss in a Coronation biscuit tin and passed it back out the same way, and did a thorough routine of press-ups and sit-ups to prevent muscular atrophy. Clearly, Smith does not lack for powers of invention. The problem is that there is too much of it. Together, they vandalize each other: the Presbyterian dypsomaniacs and the Mormon aunt make impossible the reality of the fanatical Muslim.

As realism, it is incredible; as satire, it is cartoonish; as cartoon, it is too realistic; and anyway, we are not led toward the consciousness of a truly devoted religionist. It is all shiny externality, all caricature.

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It might be argued that literature has only very rarely represented character. Even the greatest novelists, such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, resort to stock caricature, didactic speaking over characters, repetitive leitmotifs, and so on. The truly unhostaged writer, such as Chekhov, is rare. Buddenbrooks , a beautiful novel written by a writer only a year older than Zadie Smith, makes plentiful use of the leitmotif, as a way of affixing signatures to different characters. Yet how those tagged characters live! Dickens, of course, is the great master of the leitmotif.

They are vivid blots of essence. They are souls seen only through thick, gnarled casings. Their vitality is a histrionic one. Dickens has been the overwhelming influence on postwar fiction, especially postwar British fiction. Biswas , V. And what is Underworld but an old-fashioned Dickensian novel like Bleak House , with an ambition to describe all of society on its different levels?

One obvious reason for the popularity of Dickens among contemporary novelists is that his way of creating and propelling theatrically alive characters offers an easy model for writers unable, or unwilling, to create characters who are fully human. Put bluntly, Dickens makes caricature respectable for an age in which, for various reasons, it has become hard to create character.

Dickens licenses the cartoonish, coats it in the surreal, or even the Kafkaesque the Circumlocution Office. Indeed, to be fair to contemporary novelists, Dickens shows that a large part of characterization is merely the management of caricature. Yet that is not all there is in Dickens, which is why most contemporary novelists are only his morganatic heirs.

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There is in Dickens also an immediate access to strong feeling, which rips the puppetry of his people, breaks their casings, and lets us enter them. Micawber may be a caricature, a simple, univocal essence, but he feels, and he makes us feel. Micawber was waiting for me within the gate, and we went up to his room, and cried very much. It is now customary to read page novels, to spend hours and hours within a fictional world, without experiencing anything really affecting, sublime, or beautiful.

Information has become the new character. It is this, and the use made of Dickens, that connects DeLillo and the reportorial Tom Wolfe, despite the literary distinction of the former and the cinematic vulgarity of the latter. So it suffices to make do with vivacious caricatures, whose deeper justification arises—if it ever arises—from their immersion in a web of connections. They understand macro-microeconomics, the way the Internet works, math, philosophy, but. Far from the dour encounters of analytic myth, our meetings were often lively conversations on poetry or music or nature or the political world.

They were suffused with laughter, and mutual respect, with hope and love. Though we were separated in age, culture and experience by more than half a century, I knew a closeness with this venerable stranger whom I saw but an hour a day that I had not known before with anyone. This closeness allowed me the security and courage to create and explore an inner world of which I had been only dimly sensible, filled with chaos and grace, the musical world of words. I was frequently reminded in those sessions of the Greek myth of the lovers Orpheus and Eurydice.

Finding Eurydice torn apart by lions, the poet Orpheus follows her down into the underworld, and with his sublime song prevails upon Hades to allow him to lead her back into life, on condition that he not look back at her while they returned to the world of the living. But Orpheus is unable to resist, and he sees her for the last time, as she is cast back forever into the kingdom of death. Grief-stricken, Orpheus kills himself and the two are reunited forever in death.

In analysis, lying on the couch, speaking to an unseen presence, like Orpheus I ached to turn around and assure myself of my companion's existence, to reconcile this physical being with the intimate and strange communion that he purveyed. When inevitably I yielded to the temptation, unlike Eurydice in the underworld, my analyst would always be there behind, unperturbed and unharmed by my anxious insecurity.

My conversations with the analyst turned often towards the prospect of his death. He wondered how it would affect me, whether I had any fears or feelings about an event which, he pointed out, was imminent in a man of his age.

Underworld Unleashed (1995)

But in my mind, conditioned by its inexperience with loss, he was immortal and could not die, and so the possibility of his death, it seemed to me, did not exist. And then one day the chair stood empty. My analyst's death ushered into my life a new darkness, from which I only gradually emerged. At the time I was interested in the ways that writers reinvent themselves through writing, and how that process of reinvention resembles the subtle subterfuge in which we all engage to cause the world of our experience to conform to the world of our desires.