Mathias Énard’s Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants is a kind of tragic farce of stuff. The story is one of Michelangelo, yes, that one, and his trip to Constantinople at the request of the Sultan to design him a glorious bridge.
The sculptor feels rejected by the pope and overlooked by his people — so takes a journey that could be considered treasonous in order to fulfil this brief. He makes notes, lists of objects, descriptions and movements. This listing of the passive visible objects are part of the metaphor for his struggle to realise the bridge he has been enlisted to build and his inability to possess a dancer he has taken a fancy to. This is mirrored in his poet companion, who falls in love with him, and is unable to see him as an unpossessable object. And Michelangelo is the same in viewing himself — as much as his life is rich and full, he becomes a statue himself when approached by beauty.
Here’s some snippets:
The story is one where you can feel the objects in a scene being moved around, everything has a heft and can be tracked around a room, through a street. This physicality is undercut with the eventual epilogue of destruction.
I was recommended this interview with Murakami in The Guardian today. Alongside this quote from the piece:
When I was in my teens, in the 1960s, that was the age of idealism. We believed the world would get better if we tried. People today don’t believe that, and I think that’s very sad. People say my books are weird, but beyond the weirdness, there should be a better world. It’s just that we have to experience the weirdness before we get to the better world. That’s the fundamental structure of my stories: you have to go through the darkness, through the underground, before you get to the light.
The interview goes into some depth about how Murakami’s understanding of his own work is a way of building a meeting place for him and the reader. It’s an exercise to creating a meeting place for him and the reader to share a feeling — without too my analysis of the symbolism of any of his writing.
Pair with me previously discussing idealised ages with reference to The Years by Annie Earnaux.
This week’s song is Hotel Yorba, by The White Stripes, chosen my my travelling companion this weekend 🙂