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Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Nam Le on a storm

March 11, 2011
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Australia is not all surf, sand and sea, as much as the tourist industry likes to have it so. We actually do have “weather”, as many quaintly call anything that is not fine, sunny and calm. It is, in fact, autumn here now … after a rather unusual summer (in most parts of the country). It wasn’t as hot, and we had a lot more rain than the average. There have been, in different parts of the country, fires, floods and cyclones, all wreaking their own special form of damage, so I thought it was time for a description that wasn’t sun. What about storms?

Storms in literature, of course, usually have a symbolic as well as literal function, and this is the case in Nam Le‘s story “Halfhead Bay”. Storms can reflect strong emotions or conflict, herald a disturbance, suggest chaos or violence, and/or imply divine intervention. In King Lear, for example, the storm reflects his growing madness and, as is generally regarded, signposts divine intervention. But, symbols like that are most effective when they work well on the literal level first. King Lear feels the power of the actual storm as we readers see its import. Nam Le’s storm, too, is visceral:

And she was right, the storm was coming in – it was streaking like a grey mouth snarled with wind, like a shredded howl, rendering the land into a dark, unchartered coast. The bay turning black. For centuries, fleets had broken themselves against the teeth of that coast.

It’s not unusual to personify storms … but this one here is particularly powerful, not to mention rather malevolent sounding.  Some storms can be powerful in a beautiful way. This, however, is not one of them.

Note: I read Nam Le’s award-winning short story collection, The boat, a couple of months before I started blogging, so you won’t have seen a review here. It’s an astonishingly versatile collection and well worth reading.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2011 4:18 pm

    Ohhh, that is a great quote and teaser from that book. I read an Umbert Eco book once where the main character collected quotations about fog, and at the moment I am finishing “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin and there are chapters of quotations on travel and nomads. Storms coming in seem to deserve there own collection I think!

    • March 11, 2011 4:29 pm

      Oh thanks Fiona … I love it when people relate the quotes to things they’ve read. I’ve read Songlines but probably around 20 years ago. I loved the chapters on quotations … and have been thinking recently that I’d love to reread it. It sounds like you’ve enjoyed it?

  2. March 11, 2011 4:38 pm

    I am enjoying it. I have posted about it twice already and I will do another post when I finish it, I don’t usually do three posts on one book! But it is a different kind of book, I have really enjoyed the sections of quotes, I was really challenged at first by the way he depicted Australia and just some of those elements that are less politically correct than we are used to these days. But I love how he finds such wonderful people in the middle of nowhere, I have enjoyed the remarkable people he has traveled with and also the wealth of travel experience and research that he brings to the book.

    I also giggle that this is the book more than any other that the new Moleskines have built an empire on. I laughed really hard the other day when I read that Moleskines were pretentious because they listed names of people no one had ever heard of. They argued that most people knew Picasso and Van Gogh, “but who was Chatwin?” Someone replied that “Chatwin was an architect” and someone else then replied, “no wonder”. Just brilliant!

  3. March 11, 2011 7:15 pm

    You might have to scroll down a bit! “The Songlines” has been a slow read sadly as I have been doing so much on my PhD at the moment, which has left little time for reading for pleasure.

  4. March 11, 2011 10:57 pm

    Hang on, I thought you had reviewed The Boat here?! I have been led astray! You told me I’d have to comment here once I finished reading your copy myself. Lies!

    • March 11, 2011 11:09 pm

      Sorry, got confused, but you’re not off the hook: It’s on the Minerva Reads site!

  5. March 12, 2011 4:29 am

    Marvelous description. I’ve yet to read Nam Le. He’s one of those authors who I know is good and want to read but hold in reserve for some nebulous future time.

    • March 12, 2011 10:22 am

      Thanks Stefanie … your nebulous future sounds like it’s getting as nebulous as mine! He is worth reading. You can, though, read one of the stories online if you just want a taster (It’s not the one I’ve quoted from – but is more autobiographical which makes it interesting: http://tinyurl.com/6yb7l5)

      • March 15, 2011 4:57 am

        Oh, thank you for that link! I will have to go taste some evening this week 🙂

        • March 15, 2011 4:28 pm

          I hope you like it … if you do you’ll want to read more; if you don’t I recommend trying more because the collection is highly versatile!

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