Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Cordelia Kenn: Reading the Pillow Book

Now that I've read more than a third of THIS IS ALL by Aidan Chambers, I thought I'd write a little bit more about it.

I still love Cordelia, and her voice is stronger than ever in my ear. I sometimes worry about this when I'm writing because I have a great capacity to absorb the rhythms I read and a great penchant for subconscious imitation. Novelist Anna Quindlan says this is no problem for her--she just makes sure that she reads really good stuff, and then if she imitates it, all the better. I'm not really sweating it either. Cordelia's voice is fresh and unique, real and true, and the style is different enough from the book I'm revising that I'm not concerned about excessive bleed-through.

Style, Voice, and Form:
19-year-old Cordelia tells her story in the form of a book she is creating for her unborn daughter, a gift she will present on the girl's 16th birthday. She skips around from musings and narration in the present--6 months pregnant, looking back on her life--and her Pillow Book, a term she has borrowed from Japanese literature, which is a collection of her journals and early poetry dating back to when she was 15. Or maybe the current musings and narrative are actually part of the pillow book, too.

Cordelia likes to mix things up, and in the first section, she skips around as she tells her story. Chambers manages the various voices, ages, and moods of Cordelia so well that I can feel and hear the difference in her style without becoming overly conscious of it. And the transitions are handled so that, while I am sometimes confused, I appreciate not having the, annoyance of obvious indicators--Cordelia lets me figure things out on my own without insulting my intellegence.

In the next section, the form changes. We get currently written narrative on the right page, and straight pillow book on the left. This is a bit dodgy, but I manage the reading of it by holding my place with a bookmark for the pillow book as I read ahead on the main narrative. I tend to get carried away in the story, but when I get to a stopping place, I go back and read the left pages, where she writes poems, notes to her boyfriend, and musing on such subjects as: rain, things that make her heart beat faster, poetry, breasts, masturbation, etc.

Subject Matter
Oh, did I say breasts and masturbation? These are two separate sections, btw, and there are more topics here that I'll leave alone. I'm not as brave as Aidan Chambers, at least not in this blog. (Wait until my second book, if it ever sees the light of day.) Chambers has balls, though. My editor, Andrew, calls him "fearless", and he seems to be. Not only does Cordelia muse on anatomy, but in true Cordelia fashion, she very logically anwers all the objections people have about self-stimulation, countering each with her own arguments about how beneficial and healthy it is. And she makes me ashamed that I am so filled with trepidation at this mild summary. But this is blog, not fiction, and fiction is an easier form for telling the truth. Plus, I'm a teacher of adolescents *gasp*, so I exist in the world where, as one of my own characters put it, everybody pretends that sex doesn't exist. Or the adults try to, and wish the students would, which usually seems for the better. Who knows when or if frank discussions are appropriate when maturity levels and family backgrounds are so varied. But this is about Cordelia, not about decency in the schools.

Cordelia loves to argue with common opionion, and it doesn't have to be sex-related. I loved when she, again very logically, put forth the proposition that, contrary to common belief, we do NOT live only in the present moment, but in the moment just after that, because there must be a brief space of time between event and awareness of the event. For Cordelia, awareness, KNOWING, is everything. I'm not sure that the present isn't that moment of awareness. The photon of a star may take years to arrive here on earth and be absorbed by my wide, staring pupils, and then there are nanoseconds from that moment until the awarenss is in my mind--so when IS now? I'm tempted to say that there is no present moment, but I might get into some sort of Mahayana Buddhist philosophical negativism in which I can't argue that:
a. there is a present moment,
b. there isn't a present moment,
c. there both is and isn't, or
d. neither is nor isn't a present moment.
I can't argue any position at all, I just have to live in the present moment, or not in the present moment, or niether in the present moment or not the present--wait! Weren't we talking about auto-eroticism? I might have fallen into a verbal form of it right there, so I'll stop.

You go, Cordelia. Question authority.

And you go, Aidan. This book rules.

Oh, and I just had an idea for another Cordelia blog--or an essay topic for somebody: mother, sister, daughter roles in THIS IS ALL: THE PILLOWBOOK OF CORDELIA KENN--how Cordelia functions in all these capacities in relation to herself. :-)


alqx said...

I read this book 3-4 years ago, though I really loved the book then I think I never fully understood it. I only remember the gist of the storyline and not much of the details. I've been intending to read this book again but I haven't so far. I was wondering how the heck I had to mind to start asking philosophical questions. It must have been this book!

alqx said...

Anyway, the present could refer to 2 different forms.

One is the concept of present which is what we usually mean when we say it. It's now and right now, and is non-dependent on sense-data. Whether or not it exists or is merely theoretical could be disputed but we usually assume there is such a present moment.

The other "present" is the "feeling of the moment". Whatever you're feeling now, well that's the present to you. Each and every person has his or her own "present". This present is evidently existent to each and every conscious person.

Though in our everyday life the time-lag between the two presents is negligible and the two are approximated to be the same, the two do not have the same definition and thus cannot be inter-substituted in philosophical reasoning.

Brian Mandabach said...

Well said, alqx!