Faber’s Crimson Petal — Jack London, It Ain’t


When it comes to novel-length stories, I suppose I’m not much of one for sustained irony. I find that the winking and low-grade wit grow tiresome. Perhaps several decades back, before ironic detachment was so pervasive in our literature, I would have found such styles or devices diverting, but as far as I’m concerned, irony is dreadfully passe.  The sincere adventure story for adults (something, say, like Jack London would have written) may not yet have made a comeback, but ironic detachment certainly no longer fills its void.

I notice, that (in America anyway) our narrative tastes have largely migrated to either: 1) memoirish victim stories, or 2) pure fantasy.  I think both categories are a sign of despair at work in our core. With the more-or-less autobiographical victim-tales, we can identify with the protagonists (our own plight being no picnic either, no matter our particular demographic cubicle). And with the fantastical stories, we can avoid dealing– whether sincerely or ironically– with real life altogether.

Fantasy further divides into two popular subgenres which seem to resonate with the Spirit of the Age.  These subgenres are: 1) the superhero story, and 2) the dystopia tale. The superhero story allows us, for a span, to imagine a world in which a single individual is actually enough empowered to successful fight back against evil. And the dystopia tale is, fairly obviously, a mirror held-up to our present expectations of the future.

Besides being anti-irony as a general rule, I also don’t much go-in for tales which return again and again to vulgarity and raunchiness, like a dog circling back to its own vomit.

Michel Faber’s bestselling novel The Crimson Petal And The White suffocated me with chronic ironic, and swamped me with repeated passages of crudity.  Granted, this approach will and has prove funny and/or titillating to many.

I found it difficult to care about characters when the author is constantly belittling them and making fun of their concerns and approaches to life. Furthermore, Faber tells his story in second person, advising “you,” the reader, how “you” should interpret or feel about what the characters are thinking or doing. It’s like trying to enjoy a steak with the cook continuously reminding “you” that the cow you are devouring had a peculiar facial tick and orphaned two small calves at her slaughtering.

That said… Mr. Faber often displays much wit during the course of his intrusions, such as when he writes that a certain character is in desperate need of a haircut– then asides that this fellow is just that sort of man who can be in “desperate” need of a haircut.

The opening of the book is well-done, with plenty of omni-sensual description. But that brings up yet another dislike of mine when it comes to novels… I find overly long descriptive novels such a bore!   Nearly fifty pages in, and the big event in Faber’s story is the meeting of acquaintances who decide to go for pastries in the park.  At a hundred pages in, a man is thinking about, really actively considering, going to visit a prostitute.  And to tell the truth, after spending all that time reading the first hundred pages, I put down the book and began considering other entertainment options myself.


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