Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Meritocracy Quartet by Jeffrey Lewis


"Dream is a second life." Nerval's Aurélia begins with these words and in an instant the reader is pulled into the reverie of the imagination even as the narrator pushes back by explaining his announcement.
The first moments of sleep are the image of death: a hazy torpor overcomes our thoughts, and it is impossible for us to determine the precise instant when the I, in another form, resumes the creative work of existence. Little by little an obscure underground cavern grows lighter, and the pale, solemnly immobile figures that inhabit the realm of limbo emerge from shadows and darkness. Then the picture takes form, a new light illumines and sets in motion these old apparitions: –the world of Spirits opens before us.




A further paragraph cites the second-century novelist Apuleius, the mystic Emanuel Swedenborg and the poet Dante as examples of those who have followed the visions of second life. Like Dante's, Nerval's began with a heart's privation:
A woman whom I had loved for a long while, and whom I shall call Aurélia, was lost to me. The circumstances of this event, which was to have such a great effect on my life, are of little importance. Each one of us can search his memory for the most heart-rending emotion he has known, the most terrible blow that fate has inflicted on his soul. It is a question of deciding whether to go on living, or die.
Jeffrey Lewis also makes an announcement in the foreword to his quartet of romans à clef now collected in a single edition.
I had in mind to write a kind of 'meritocracy' series, novels that would chart the progress of my generation, or anyway the narrow slice of it I knew well. The first book, in retrospect, came easily enough. Nothing ever comes easily enough, but I had a story to tell that was clear and seemed true enough, and I had feeling to put into it that had never gone away. It was the story of my hero in college, Harry Nolan, who might have been president of the country one day, and his wife Sascha Maclaren on whom I had a crush. My sixties book, so to speak.
Seventies, eighties and nineties books follow. However, this announcement is a quotation from the third book Theme Song for an Old Show. So, like Aurélia, the expedition begins by seeking justification in itself and thereby places a curious pressure on the quartet's overt narrative.

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