The Ralph Ellison Experience

I don’t kno much about the man himself, but his book Invisible Man is is a hell of an experience. Can any of my readers attest to this? It’s a qualitatively different book than anything I’ve read in the last few years, in a few different ways. For one thing, it just grabbed me from the first page, and has drawn me on ever since. I found the book on the sale table in a shopping mall when I was walking with my mom and my nephew, and since it was only fifty cents, and a book I’d intended to read for a long time, I picked it up, and sat down on a bench in the mall, and you know what? It grabbed me. It hauled me to my feet and then banged me in the nose, just hard enough to wake me up.

Okay, I didn’t read much of it while I was traveling. I brought it to Japan, but only read fifty pages there — but then again, I actually sat and read fifty pages of a book while in Japan for 3 days, which is also saying something, especially for a slow reader like me. Even as busy as I have been, I’ve made it through almost 100 pages in the last week. The voice he uses is strong, powerful, even when the self he’s describing is uncertain, confused, or fooling himself. And I love that the narrator isn’t a wise, self-contained exemplum in the shape of a man.

I don’t know, maybe I’ll have another opinion by the book’s end, but for right now, it’s a powerful, pretty moving, and enviable achievement of a book. I’ll have more to say when I finish it, and then, perhaps, I’ll get around to starting in on that Miéville readings list. Or that Ian McDonald book River of Gods that I’d wanted to get my hands on for so long, and bought in February, a few days before its release date. (Thank heaven for careless clerks, if indeed I do remember the release date right.)

2 thoughts on “The Ralph Ellison Experience

  1. I would surely attest to that. Many have lauded it as the greatest post-war American novel.

    Have you read Chang-rae Lee ‘s Native Speaker? It was compared to Ellison’s work.

    Another novel that reminded me of Ellison was Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. My favorite modern writer, Flannery O’Connor, hated it.

  2. I haven’t read either of those novels, though I have read a little of O’Connor — someone with my interest in the Gothic couldn’t not have read her.

    But actually I should admit I did read a little of Native Speaker… and very shortly put it down. This was some time before I even thought of coming to Korea, and the writing itself just didn’t grab me at all. I’d say at least part of the reason Ellison’s work is so arresting is just the writing style, content aside — he really des grab you.

    Hey, we should work out that book trade. I have the book ready for you, I just don’t know where you live. If you’d like to email me, or else leave me an ODEO message with your address, we can get the trade going. If your email address for the post above is working, I’ll email you, too.

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