Amelia’s “Thinks” bubble says…

she has seen this one before.  I wanted this to read as Tender is the Night, but it fell a bit flat.

“But to be included in Dick Diver’s world for a while was a remarkable experience:  people believed he made special reservations about them, recognizing the proud uniqueness of their destinies, buried under the compromises of how many years.  He won everyone quickly with an exquisite consideration and a politeness that moved so fast and intuitively that it could be examined only in its effect.” Tender is the Night, pg 36

Ralph Messenger is no Dick Diver, but that could be because we are immediately given insight into his intimate consciousness where it is revealed that he is a more realistic character – someone equally likable and disdainful, boring, and predictable.

I did enjoy the ways in which this novel explores some of the surface level discussions of consciousness.  One of my favorite moments is Helen’s initial argument of what novelists do.  She recites Henry James and Ralph makes snide remarks about the lack of science in the writer’s work, but ultimately caves to the idea “we have to settle for knowing less about consciousness than novelists pretend to know.”  pg 44

I’m not sure if Messenger ever is able to present anything more definitive than Helen’s assertion.  It is true that the novelist is able to express the idea of consciousness, even if that means expression without definition.  We know that we are experiencing character consciousness, but we do not know how.  Messenger also suggests to Helen later that our lives are just fictions.

I think what bothered me most in this novel was that there was not a change in definition for either Ralph or Helen.  I expected his views of consciousness to change after his diagnosis.  I wanted to see him on the verge of dying deciding how, in the end, he would handle his feelings/thoughts.  I put the two of them together on purpose.  In the fight scene between Carrie and Ralph in which he is coldly describing death to his child, Carrie gets upset and says, “Your trouble is, Messenger, you’re very hot on facing facts in the abstract, but not when they’re physical, in your face.” pg 248

I thought that line was perfect and I wanted to see if there was some character growth after his illness.  It seems just to have scared him into fidelity.

My final complaint about this novel is the experimental devices.  While I enjoyed the variety of recordings, narration, and journal, I found them to be too similar.  One of the interesting discussions in consciousness is one of perception.  In this novel, everyones self perception was spot on with the judgements of others of them.

 

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6 Responses to Amelia’s “Thinks” bubble says…

  1. Jason Tougaw says:

    Messenger is no Dick Diver, and Lodge is no Fitzgerald. But next week we are onto Virginia Woolf!

  2. I felt that there was more of a gradual character growth in Helen, but there was just a drastic sudden change in Messenger. The novel was very avant-gard, it reminded me a lot of Nobokov (with Messenger’s Lolita-eque crush on his step daughter), “Dracula” (with the whole epistolary format), Cervantes (with its self reflexive quality, the characters reading each others journals, after the reader has), among others, and it really felt like Lodge was pushing the boundaries of the standard story, and the usual methods of telling it.
    I think like in Nobokov’s works, there’s much more to “Thinks…” than meet the eye. There are puzzles that can be unraveled, dormant within the text, and sub-stories. I suspect that upon a second reading, or reexamining some of the stories within the stories, more can be gleamed not only on consciousness, but the way that it is spread through institutions. There was that whole backstory of the politics in the daily lives of the professors and deans and what not. In that regard, it’s hard for me to really ascertain the flatness of the characters, but I did find Lodge’s depiction of Helen misogynistic, and that of a chauvinistic imagination.

  3. I think being scared into fidelity was character growth for Ralph, but I don’t think it was his illness that changed him. I wouldn’t even say he was scared, actually. Until he read Helen’s journal, he never had the ability to know what someone else was thinking. Reading Helen’s journal gave him that ability, and intruding into Helen’s thoughts gave him a glimpse of Carrie’s own. Knowing Carrie knew about his affairs and used them to justify her own made him really think about their relationship. Perhaps he’s subdued after his surgery not because of his illness, but because of what he’s learned. This isn’t to say he’s a particularly sympathetic character, but maybe he didn’t fully realize until he read Helen’s journal that other people are, in fact, conscious, and have thoughts entirely independent of his own. He was self-centered. I think he learned as much about consciousness as Helen did, in the end.

  4. I was intrigued by your observation as well, Amelia. The characters fell a little flat to me in the end and I think it is in large part due to the fact that there seemed to be very little evolution. Certainly Helen rediscovers her sexuality and begins to truly heal after the death of her husband. Likewise Ralph becomes faithful, begins to act his age and ultimately receives one of the coveted honor. But having “glimpsed” their thoughts throughout the novel, the reader is deprived of the experience of the fruition of the experience. The closing bit about what becomes of the characters also seemed a little too convenient for me, tying the whole plot up in a neat package.

    I also appreciated the book as a means to glean a better understanding about the subject and science of consciousness, but (and I hate to say this) the overall effect felt a little School House Rock…the project conceived as a pedantic tool rather than a real attempt at portraying either Helen or Ralph’s internal experiences.

  5. amelia daly says:

    Thanks Jenn! I appreciate and agree with the clarification. I suspect there was some growth, as you say, unconsciously. I still longed for verification of it, either via the narrator or through a reflective journal entry or best, in one final exciting argument between Helen and Ralph. I’m satisfied with how rattled he was, but felt the effect on the conversation of consciousness did not take place, leaving his stance incomplete. To clarify further, I think “growth” is an unfair request. Really I’m just curious of any change in his opinion.

  6. Jenn Forese says:

    Amelia, I really like the line you wrote regarding Ralph Messenger: “I thought that line was perfect and I wanted to see if there was some character growth after his illness. It seems just to have scared him into fidelity.” Having multiple discussions on consciousness and thought, perhaps there is some character growth in Messenger after all, seemingly unconscious, that pushes him to fidelity. Perhaps being ill has unconsciously changed his thoughts and ultimately his behaviour.

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