Monday, February 02, 2009

the last book I read

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan.

If you've read, as I have, the novel for which Richard Brautigan is most famous, Trout Fishing In America, then you'll have some idea of what to expect here: a sort of wide-eyed hippy innocence, short and enigmatically named chapters, constant repetition of the novel's title at various points throughout the text, and a picture on the cover of Brautigan and some doe-eyed "special lady" in a suggestively charged pose.

In Watermelon Sugar was Brautigan's third novel, published in 1968. It's got the same slightly hello clouds, hello sky hippy-dippy innocence as Trout Fishing In America, but in the service of a slightly more coherent story. Which seems to be a post-apocalyptic idyll whereby the trappings of an older and more technologically advanced civilisation (including, slightly bizarrely, a race of talking tigers) are shut away in a place called The Forgotten Works while the survivors live a pastoral existence in their woodland shacks, gathering periodically in the central commune (called, for reasons that are never adequately explained, iDEATH) for food and assorted pleasantries and building their shacks, bridges, etc. out of planks made from the aforementioned watermelon sugar. The nameless narrator is conducting a relationship with a young woman from iDEATH called Pauline while attempting to avoid the obsessive attentions of his ex-partner Margaret. Some members of the commune hang out at the Forgotten Works and scavenge some of the mysterious artefacts to be found there, and needless to say No Good Comes Of It.

If one were inclined to, one could find all of this a bit irritating, but I think if you take it as a product of its time it's quite charming in a light and child-like sort of way. None of which will be of much comfort to Brautigan, as he shot himself at the age of 49 in 1984.

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