Why does Thomése fill in everything for the reader?

There’s something missing in Elsa’s life, and she only notices it when all of a sudden he’s there. When there is a sudden. Handsome and indifferent, he steps into the ballet studio, “in something like the other boys from Swansdale and the surrounding area.” It is infuriating that he ignores the teenage ballerina, ‘and does not see how the embers of excitement glow in both of them, drawing blood to the cheeks and making the eyes sparkle. Each has its own cries like a wild animal for its release. In all of them, and especially in Elsa – we see it through her eyes.

When he starts dancing, it’s as if they can’t hold their breath anymore and have to burst into fits of laughter. When the music accompanying him sounds too unconventional, “more and more guitars emerge from the jungle of guitars” and his dance becomes animalistic, and “the animal in it springs out of its skin,” the girls are amazed and “ballet shoes for their headbands are ready to gracefully rip.”

Oh, these sentences! On the first pages of the new novel Swansdale By PF Thomése (1958), The Sentences evoke the desire to sigh a Cambertian ‘yes’, they are so imaginative but tangible, so tangible, sensual and graceful phrasing, they elevate them above everyday life. Excitement, but also bloodshed, the impending tear that comes so close. Elsa pops, in the house, everything is much paler that evening, it’s a “silly premise to this lousy, fun-filled life”, doesn’t open her mouth about “pity for her pathetic boy”, her sick father in need (the rhyme intertwined the words oppressive), or about her aggressive brother (now confined to an institution, after an incident: “his wet breath hit her face”), housekeeper and stepmother Mrs. Hansen (“even her little car is annoying”). That fire, that life that language makes, that fills the imperfection, that will remove the great imperfection…

transparent characters

This may be a bit of an honor, there are many quotes from one chapter – but they are necessary, because the variance is so great. Looking back, this first chapter is what’s most special about it SwansdaleOr the coolest. Because there’s something amazingly missing in what follows: a novel that seems to fail in a spectacular fashion.

Because the souffle falls apart. Missing things. The story is mainly about the closeness of Elsa and the boy, Percy, who recognize something in each other: they are half-orphans, trapped in their surroundings, and secretly hoping to escape. Once this confession occurs (which is easy, siren through English hills and patsboom), the fiery proposal ends. At least: it seems to remain fiery, not suggestive in the least. Thomése perfectly articulates the feelings I felt. “She would rather run to his house and fly and tell him what is happening in her life. She also told him about her mother. And how he understood her! He understood her more than she understood herself.

He doesn’t do it once, but all the time. The characters become completely transparent, and Thomése only draws sketches flat characters. Mrs. Hansen is portrayed as hypocritical and hysterical, Elsa’s father is completely unsympathetic, so you can’t grieve for a moment (and neither does Elsa) when he falls into a coma and his life ends. “It feels irresistible loss,” the message says, but as a reader you don’t believe it. “In her there is such an imperfection as a great chasm, not in himself, but in that in which he was never” – this is not a feeling, but a melodramatic analysis, impotent, very far from feeling. It’s like reading the psychoanalytic summary, secondary literature, interpretation, rather than the story itself. And this is still expressed in intense clichés (‘How she curses her distaste, which must have been so touching, for what would she do, would do anything to be with him, to be with him, to be with him? life, to share her future with him”). This small size hinders your interest.

avatar bearers

Swansdale Leaves you confused: What is going on here? Why does the author, who is usually as precise as Thomése, write explicitly, filling it all in, leaving nothing to the reader? Is this literary folly (as you suspect the place name Blackwell is gradually turning into Blackwater), or is it an intent? Part of the explanation has to be that “distance” and “imperfection” are deliberately placed: Elsa and Percy soon discover that fully committed to each other just doesn’t work. Transparency makes it boring, and the puzzling thing must remain so as not to lose interest – what the reader feels thanks to this narrative style is also the consciousness of the characters. It’s as if there should always be some distance between them, and ‘Because it’s not here, it’s here more fiercely. […] In the absence, he experiences it more intensely than in real life. As Thomése points out sharply: “Desire needs a distance, or else it is crushed between the covers of a familiar story and robbed of its prospects in deadly predictability.”

This may be true, but desire also needs closeness, otherwise it becomes a very mental affair. And the characters never feel close. They remain casts, bearing symbolism, as if they were characters from myths or fairy tales. And this is not a coincidence, because it is also a fairy tale. The names refer to Wagner’s opera LohengrinThe story is also widely read (it shows a dying father, a knight saved, and a slain brother), and Thomése uses the swan allegory to refer to Wagner’s play, and to the Parcival legend on which the opera is based.

two swans

Is this the key Swansdale? Well, you may partially understand that, but it’s not enough to accept the content of the very romantic kitsch. A novel that wants to talk about lack of feeling by making all sense of loss may be doomed, or can at most operate on a meta-inhuman level. But then something crucial is missing.

At the very least, Thomése manages to find a symbolism in which exactly the novel’s flaw resonates, such as this metaphor for a frustrated Elsa and Percy: “two swans on dark water, in a labyrinth of lines twisted into a figure. When I looked at the final form, you no longer recognized these two swans in it […]. The symbols you’ve seen or suspected are indicative, but they’re not something tangible. So what they came up with together also changed from something they immediately recognized to something they could no longer comprehend.

Read also: In his new book, PF Thomése explores his ancestors

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