Friday 15 January 2021


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Three by Ann Quin  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Boredom is a sub-optimal mode, he thinks, but it is at least a functional mode compared with the revulsion it conceals, boredom at least connects one end of the day to the other, boredom is doubtless detrimental but it is by definition tolerable, let us all hope for boredom. That is not a good way to start his review, he thinks, it has some bearing on the book but it is not a good introduction to the book. Two is a situation of stasis, he thinks, three is dynamic, three is the catalyst that reveals the harms hidden in two, the harms that mathematics suppressed mathematics reveals, or not mathematics, physics perhaps, or chemistry, more likely. This also is not a good way to start. Well, he thinks, the review is far enough through not to worry any longer about starting it, a bad start is at least a start, that is something, I can adjust the performance using the choke, or perhaps the throttle, I need to find out the difference between these two obstructions, he thinks, these two forms of respiratory impediment, our relationship with engines is a violent one, he thinks, and this thought stalls the review. There is no access to the interior save through performance, he thinks, restarting, there is perhaps only performance, who can know, a middle class couple converse, the words pass between them but also bounce off their surroundings, language is a force-field, he thinks, a sonar, and a conversation is the pattern of disturbance, the pattern of interference, produced by two emitters, or should that be transmitters, of language. In this book, he thinks, Quin reproduces, well actually produces, that disturbance, those two voices, the Ruth voice and the Leon voice, as they run together as one entity, caught on the page, as if there is anything about a novel that is not on the page. In the Ruth-and-Leon sections of the novel, these verbal slurries, that is not the word, are both Ruth’s and Leon’s, caught on the framework of descriptions as bald and precise and mundane as stage directions, they are stage directions in the past tense, so hardly directions, stage descriptions perhaps. We learn that S, a younger, working-class woman who had lived with them, has committed suicide by drowning, Quin’s fate eventually incidentally, she left a note, but they still hope it might have been an accident. Are they guilty? In S’s room they find some tapes she has recorded, and her journals, and these are transcribed, if that is the word, inscribed is more accurate perhaps but we have to play the fiction game so transcribed is the better word, in other sections of the novel, but Ruth and Leon do not find either the absolution nor the indictment they both hope for and fear in these tapes and these journals, the tapes and the journals merely complicate the picture, add other layers of performance, leave more unsaid than said. The more that is unsaid, the greater the weight of what is unsaid, the stronger its gravity, the more distorted the said, the said, even in its utter mundanity, points always at the source of its distortion. As the book progresses, though progresses is not the word, there is no progress in Quin, we read also a tape made by Ruth and a diary written by Leon as, respectively, Leon and Ruth gain access to them, they take access, if that is the way to put it. There is no progress but the tension increases, tension in the past, if that which is in the past can be said to increase, each mundanity is freighted, that is not the word, with the catalytic action of each one upon each other two, a sexual static that builds and cannot discharge but reveals ultimately the fundamental destructive incompatibility not only of Ruth and Leon but of any combination of Ruth and Leon and S, and, perhaps, of any persons whatsoever, if Quin held this misanthropic view, perhaps she did. The instance of sexual violence eventually revealed is no surprise, but its awfulness floods backwards through all that precedes it in the book. Boredom is all that holds the horrible at bay, but the horrible is no less horrible for that. 

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