Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Hage celebrates a literary Carnival
Mention of a "magic carpet ride" will soon take on new meaning for anyone daring to crack open Montrealer Rawi Hage's newly Writers' Trust-nominated third novel.
Following his 2006 debut, De Niro's Game (winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award) and 2009's Cockroach, Carnival is a word painting rendered in Hage's unsettling blunt-poetic style.
The overall sense of the piece is a celebration of literature, but at the same time, Carnival is about the harsh, raw, senseless world that inspires books, driving home the fact that truth is -- unavoidably -- stranger than fiction.
For a dreamer who prefers the imaginary worlds of his book-cluttered apartment, Fly the taxi driver has a very solid connection with Hage's version of the real world.
A Montreal journalist, photographer, and sometime taxi driver himself, Hage never quite names the rainy city of gritty, drug-dealer and sex-worker-filled streets through which Fly roams: it could be any North American city full of people with strange obsessions, bizarre habits and troubled lives.
The narrative, told in the first person, does not so much arc as meander like a cabbie through rabbit-warren streets looking for customers, never knowing who or what he'll find. We start Dickensian-style (the literary references run riot throughout the book and one can only hope to catch them all) with a brief introduction of Fly's earliest beginnings and learn that he was born and raised in a circus.
His camel-trainer father abandoned his trapeze-artist mother who, devastated, leaves Fly to be raised by the Bearded Lady and other circus freaks.
Adult Fly lives a vaguely routine life in an apartment building filled with more circus-like characters including the beautiful and intelligent student Zainab, who politely resists his efforts to invite her to his floor-to-ceiling book-shelved flat for a drink and hopeful romance on a particular carpet he inherited from his father.
More characters appear and vanish, some reappearing with increasing significance, slowly weaving and complicating the web of stories in which Hage entangles his reader.
Tempting it may be to assume a Kafka-esque connection between Fly's insect-like characteristics of his fellow cab drivers, it would appear that Hage dealt more thoroughly with connections to The Metamorphosis in Cockroach.
As in his past work, sometimes Hage's analogies are blunt and awkward, but sometimes beautiful:
"When a woman cries in my boat, I turn into a sad infant and then a lover of the high, far seas, a daring buccaneer. On these seas, the lower decks of merchants' ships are filled with slaves and captured women. And I heard the whips from behind me lashing at Mary."
Underlying this tapestry of lives engaged in addictions, desires and struggles is an ongoing carnival that fills the city with tourists needing rides.
Mentioned late in the novel, this event creates a permissive atmosphere for the chaos, dissent and rebellion that is ultimately unleashed in Fly's reality. Strong references tie the narrative to the carnival grotesque that some literati may recognize as a nod to Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin's Rabelais and His World, his convoluted and maze-like dissertation on the writings of the Renaissance humanist -- which is not so strange, since Fly himself emerges from this web very much a compassionate lover of humankind.
Christine Mazur is a Winnipeg writer who holds an MA in English literature focusing on liminality and the grotesque.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 29, 2012 J9
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
(1 of 24 articles for this month)05/25/2013 1:00 AM 0