If you speed the book up you gain a quick readability, but you lose the pace of ancient Egypt. Also, I was working with the vanity that this was the nearest I was ever going to come to the possibility of writing a great book. After all, the Egyptians had a psychology that existed long before Freud. I was trying to write of these matters from the perspective of those times. I mean if one supposed—which of course is impossible, given the culture of the time—that one rather talented young man had written a huge novel about Egypt, this would be it; it would have come down to us as an extraordinary work out of the past with no tone of the present.
Indeed, exactly the opposite. He may be right, but at least that was not my conscious intent. One of the big problems certain people have with Ancient Evenings is that they keep thinking of me as they read. Thomas Mann had to face it when he wrote his famous Joseph books about Egypt. Of course, his problem was larger—he was by far the most famous writer in Germany and had an immense international reputation.
Whereas in this other case, I must confess I will leave it to the reader.
The reader, in consequence, was comfortable because Thomas Mann was there. But surely your voice, your preoccupation with odor and ordures, for example, gives the game away. In Egypt, given the Nile flooding its banks and turning villages into islands in the river, with detritus every-where, animals living in the houses, everyone huddled together, one knows that it was an incredibly fecal place. I dealt with it because there was no trying to avoid it. If I did, I was not going to get to the heart of my theme, which is that the Egyptians have much to tell us—precisely because they came before the Judeo-Christian era—about power, wealth, sex and death, and right in there is waste, excrement.
Ancient Evenings - Wikipedia
I smoked an awful lot. It certainly turns up in the writing. By I quit smoking forever, and that faculty, though not as strong, has continued. My eyesight is not that good. Writers with marvelous eyesight tend to show that in the writing.
Did your editor make any firm suggestions—perhaps that you were going on at too great a length—in Ancient Evenings? My editor, Roger Donald, was very high on the book and still is.
We agreed, pretty much, that the chances had to be taken. He is one brave editor. For example, I doubt that Hemingway was capable of writing a long complex sentence with a lot of architecture in the syntax. So he turned that inability into the virtue of writing short declarative sentences and long run-on sentences connected by conjunctions.
Impossible to summarize this story in neutral tones. Powerfully drawn to each other, Honey-Ball and the Charioteer are nevertheless unhappy about their lovemaking until, by accident, a breakthrough occurs. Angered one afternoon by his beloved's ''bawdy mirth,'' the Charioteer seizes the woman's foot.
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Immediately she begins kicking him, and the Charioteer, taking a good deal of ''punishment around the head,'' is confused -has he ''committed some terrible act? The foot in the Charioteer's mouth is ''the one with the missing toe. Worse is to come. THE farther one proceeds in ''Ancient Evenings'' the longer one lingers over any page or passage bare of embarrassments.
Here is a carefully researched chapter on the tactical maneuvers preceding the Battle of Kadesh: Pause, speculate about its sources. Here is a chariot charge, vigorously evoked: Pause, savor. Here the Nile rises and the river-bank folk sense the change: Stiff old school historians, such as J.
Breasted, had their own eloquence on the subject, but Mailer's eloquence is at least not negligible. Here is the Charioteer catching his first glimpse of the Pharaoh: Concentrate on the fine phrases. But in truth release and escape are elusive.
Arguably the obsessions that control this work, considered abstractly, possess dignity. The writer who gives himself up to them is, at the minimum, a challenger -someone admirably scornful of the diminution of his humanity that arid decorum, politic timidity and the like seek to enforce. Conceivably the underlying motives deserve praise.
Yet too much, far too much, is demanded of the reader for that praise to be easily granted. The early annoyances in the book -idioms like ''kiss My foot'' used minus irony as elevated utterance; seemingly gratuitous eruptions of late 20th-century colloquialism and so on - can be shrugged off. But from chapter to chapter episodes of pointless, painful, unintended hilarity flood ever more absurdly upon each other.
Material in the Mel Brooks mode is repeatedly presented as though it were without comic dimension. The sound of epic elevation time and again is drowned by a voice resembling Howard Cosell's: ''Behold, there was blood on my King's leg My Secret Name is Thigh of Isis I am the Rudder In My Name is Leg of the Nile.
Everywhere the assumption is that bisexuality, aphrodisiac obscenity and anxiety about whether a ''member will stay firm'' were key features of Eastern sensuality. The implication is that everything one ever wanted to know about Eastern sensuality can be found in the pages of Dr. Comfort, Henry Miller and Playboy. And, for a final epic note, we're offered portentous metaphors of human life as a tide-beaten boat, ''washed by the swells of time''- echoes of the concluding sentence of a book difficult to coerce into meaningful connection with XXth Dynasty Egypt: Scott Fitzgerald's ''The Great Gatsby.
The man we know. What is in this? The first answer the author returns is that he wished to write a long novel, and, ''to do a long book, you would want to take risks. Why not? I couldn't recommend it more highly; although for slightly different reasons than Burgess. Old slugger: Norman Mailer.
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