Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

"A.L. Kennedy" by Kaye Mitchell (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

This book usefully summarises the authors life and work though I think it overuses the term "paradox" and overdoes Nationhood. In books about current Scottish Writers and Women writers, AL Kennedy's bound to be mentioned, but this doesn't mean that she's been pigeon-holed or that those categories are crucial to the understanding of her work. But this book makes me think that comparisons between her work and popular romance narratives seems pertinent. Romance threatens love which in turn threatens identity. There's domestic abuse and violence within sexual relationships.

Her parents came from Scotland via Australia. "Kennedy's mother was a primary school teacher, and her father was a university lecturer in psychology", p.25. They separated before she was 13. She went to Warwick university where she experienced "illnesses which, she has suggested, were both mental and physical" (p.29). "her dedication to community arts programmes remains strong" (p.29). She's written "short stories, novels, film criticism, cultural commentary, stage play, radio drama, film screenplay, newspaper journalism, radio and TV discussion programmes, contributions to dance productions, TV drama documentary .. stand-up comedy (p.145). That she's chosen to try potentially humiliating stand-up comedy is interesting. Here are some quotes from the book

Perceived general traits

  • Kennedy presents us with works of such unsettling ambivalence that we are forced to question all our assumptions, literary and extra-literary, p.x
  • Kennedy's work is fraught with an awareness of both the difficulty and the necessity of communication, p.xii
  • Kennedy tries, at every turn, to resist [nationalistic] classifications and identifications, p.13
  • fascination with death, doomed romance, precarious faith and an ultimate, persistent belief in the power of the written word - recur as themes throughout Kennedy's work, p.36
  • In Kennedy's work [defamiliarisation] is applied particularly to relationships, p.49
  • Often Kennedy's elliptical or ambiguous language reflects the naivety of her characters p.51
  • Kennedy's early works establish her concern with place and space, with the tension between public and private worlds, collective and individual identities, p.65
  • Sex and death (and their relatives romance, love, touch, illness, decay) often provide the catalytic moments in her stories, p.89
  • I believe in God, I believe in love - they probably make very little sense without meaning much the same thing (A.L. Kennedy), p.123
  • I know how newspapers work and that they often buy whatever review that want, so I can't say that I take what little I know of them seriously (A.L. Kennedy), p.133
  • much of the critical writing on her work tends to approach it from the point of view of its 'Scottishness' or to pigeonhole it on the basis of the author's gender, her "concentration on the interior lives of 'ordinary' or 'marginalised' people the perceived 'bleakness' of her subject matter, or is a focus on stylistic matters often including discussion of the self-cosciousness of her language, p.137
  • It is fairly uncontroversial to argue that often in Kennedy's fictions, 'the body becomes an extension of the emotional self', p.140
  • Kennedy's communication of her characters' inner lives brings her much praise with Sarah Dunnigan typical in her noting of the writer's 'exquisite emotional sensitivity, p.142
  • there is nearly always a running imagery ... which at first seems inconsequential, but which can in the end be seen as a kind of correalative (Douglas Gifford)
  • Kennedy's characters are outsiders in their own communities, families and countries, so travelling 'abroad' often facilitates, paradoxically, a feeling of belonging that is not otherwise available to them p.160

Particular works

  • Now That You're Back sees Kennedy broadening her geographic and literary horizons. In this collection she writes from both male and female perspectives, works with different genres, voices and locations, and opens up her exploration of family and identity to incorporate questions of faith and dogma, p.62
  • Looking for the possible dance's got no structure at all ... It's very much a first novel (A.L.Kennedy), p.59
  • In Everything You Need she uses italics, capitals, bold and different fonts to suggest the thoughts of the characters which interrupt their speech, p.90
  • Across the diverse stories which make up Indelible Acts we witness again and again this anxiety about miscommunication, p.96
  • the inertia of Everything You Need ultimately irritates. As does the third person narrative voice. much of the dialogue is forced, the prose cride and the thematic profundity false (Eileen Battersby), p.161

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