Saturday 21 January 2023


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Panthers and the Museum of Fire by Jen Craig  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
For a long time I have wanted to write a review of Jen Craig’s Panthers and the Museum of Fire and yet I have not yet done so, I thought as I set off, thinking also the afternoon was really too hot to write properly, not that that was what I was doing, or not exactly, and certainly too hot to be walking home over asphalt spread in this continuous strip right to my front gate, presumably to capture and radiate and compound as much of the sun’s heat as possible. It would seem fitting if I wrote my review as I walked, though, I thought, considering that Panthers and the Museum of Fire takes place, and certainly it is on one level very oriented to place, in the head of the narrator, a narrator who has assumed not only the name but presumably selected characteristics of the book’s author, not that that matters, as she walks through Sydney to return a manuscript to the sister of the childhood friend who wrote it, a manuscript titled Panthers and the Museum of Fire, to be returned to the childhood friend's sister as the childhood friend has recently died. It was during her reading of this manuscript after the childhood friend’s sister had asked the narrator not to read it after all but to return it as soon as possible that the narrator has had the writing epiphany that she has for so long sought, though whether the writing epiphany was related to the manuscript catalytically or cannibalistically is unclear, especially to the narrator herself. “I had been so taken in by the manuscript, not so much unable to put it down as unable to leave it alone, that at the end of the reading, and all the writing that proceeded from the reading, I had — and continue to have — no sense at all of what the manuscript is about,” she writes, though how I am able to quote this so precisely when I am ostensibly walking home is unclear to me, just as how this text appears when I am ostensibly walking home is also unclear albeit somehow easier to believe, I thought. Walking in itself is a genre, I thought, as I started to climb the hill, thankful for the small amount of shade provided by the trees overhanging the footpath, though thankful to whom for this detail is uncertain. Walking is in any case a genre of action, obviously, but it seems to me that walking is also a literary genre, I thought, or possibly the Ur-genre that underlies all text. In walking as in text you set out, you move along, and you come to the end of the journey, time has passed, you have covered some ground, you have got to where you intended or you have not, you have been surprised by what you have seen or you have not, you have cast your mind backwards or forwards in time while all the time moving steadily or not-so-steadily through time, depending on the length of your stride and the grammar of your journey, perhaps writing and walking are one and the same, I thought. Should I then be writing here that I step off the curb by the Examiner Street roundabout or am I in fact stepping off the curb, is writing about walking home the same as actually walking home, I think as I walk home, these seem somehow different but for a person reading about it, if I can postulate such a person even when it is unlikely that there will ever be such a person, I thought, there really is no difference. And likewise for Jen Craig, whose looping, digressive, fugue-like and frequently hilarious thoughts cast about wherever they will as the narrator walks her steady way to meet the childhood friend’s sister at a café to return the manuscript of Panthers and the Museum of Fire. These thoughts, or the writing that stands in for these thoughts, include some of the best writing I have read on anorexia even though I cannot remember what Jen Craig had to say on anorexia so I will have to reread that part of the book, something I cannot do when ostensibly walking home on this narrative pavement without breaking the fiction that I am actually walking home on this narrative pavement, I thought. The excellent writing on the narrator’s anorexia includes the coincidence of names between the author and the Jenny Craig of the famous weight loss programme, which is very funny if that is the sort of thing that you find very funny, which I do, I thought. The tragic is not fully tragic unless it is funny too, I thought. Is that wrong? I have been, as I said, for a long time intending to write a review of Jen Craig’s Panthers and the Museum of Fire, which was perhaps my favourite of all the books I read in 2022, I thought, but time has gone by and the more I have thought about Panthers and the Museum of Fire the more my experience of reading Panthers and the Museum of Fire has been replaced by my memory of the experience of reading Panthers and the Museum of Fire, which is not the same thing but something now almost wholly mine, I thought, and really, I had been so taken in by the the book that, even at the end of the reading, I had — and continue to have — no sense at all of what the book is about. Haha. I walk but I do not write, I thought, when I don’t write there is nothing to show for my walking, not even the review of Panthers and the Museum of Fire that I have long wanted to write, I thought as I turned into Bronte Street by the college and started at last to head downhill, I could list several things that prevent my writing, several things that could be briefly categorised, much as I resist categorising things I must admit that categories are an instinctive mental function, at least for me, as the state of my body, the state of my mind, the state of my circumstances, and the state of the world, if indeed distinctions may be made between these states, these several things are antagonistic to writing, they oppose writing, I thought, at least for me. But so, I thought, does writing oppose them. Suppose wrote anyway, could I by writing oppose and overcome these several things arranged against writing, and against me more generally, could I even change the state of my body, the state of my mind, the state of my circumstances, and the state of the world, so to call them, could I overcome these several things by writing, and make the world or my life or at least something somehow better by writing? No, I thought, as I crossed a Collingwood Street unseasonally devoid of traffic, perhaps everyone’s sick, writing could not make anything better, though I am not certain that it could not make all those several things worse. No,  I will not be able to write a review of this book, I thought, I will never review Panthers and the Museum of Fire, I thought, even though I would like everyone to read Panthers and the Museum of Fire, I will be incapable of writing a review of this book or of writing anything else, perhaps because of the obstacles I categorised back there up the hill, perhaps for some still vaguer reason such as the fact that something that does not exist hardly needs a reason not to exist or to justify its nonexistence. Does it? Is the default state of the world everything or nothing, I wondered as I paused on the Bronte Street bridge and let the breeze coursing down the Brook rise and cool my face for a moment though it was not very cool, I will be home soon, I will not write my review, a review than nobody would in any case read even if I wrote it, I will open the gate and walk past the trees and unlock the door and go to the kitchen and bring this narrative at last to an end by the refrigerator, a narrative that in fact precludes, for reasons I have outlined several hundred metres ago, writing a review of Panthers and the Museum of Fire, even though I would have liked to write a review of this book, or at least to have written one. Velleity perhaps is enough. 

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