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am 31. Januar 2000
An interesting book, mostly by the lessons it gives in what to avoid when writing novels. In the thirties a group of young people experiment sexually, among them the narrator, his future wife, his friend, his mentally defective halfbrother, who turns out to be the incestuous son of his mother and her father. As a result of it all, the half brother kills himself, the future wife has an abortion and becomes sterile, and the friend is murdered by the half brother. Later when they are in their fifties the wife goes mad and steals a baby in a supermarket.
Ths rather simple story is padded out to novel length with frequent flash backs and irrelevant meanderings over history and philosophy in a style half way between the Faulkner of Sound and the Fury and the Gunter Grass of Tin Drum. Grass, though, had a moral point and used his style as the only way to tell an intolerable story. Faulkner too, whether misguided in his methods, knew exactly what he was doing and how. Not so here.
The very instructive part of it is how little the author seems to know what he wants to do, but how well he knows how to use literary techniques. In Flaubert you find them used to further poor objectives, so you wonder how such a brilliant man can have descended to use his brilliance to such mean ends. With Waterland you realise that these are techniques used not to a petty end, but to no end at all. So we have all of modern European and UK history dragged in to the story, water and various metaphors to do with it (water and blood, mud and excrement, eels and sexual organs...). But to make absolutely no point other than the author's cleverness.
Read it: its an instructive contrast to real literature, because it has all the form and none of the substance.
The landscape of the Fens is described in an overwrought way recalling Southern Gothic writers; this probably passes for fine writing. Well, it was a Booker Prize candidate.