Thursday, 30 June 2016

Adventures in the Skin Trade by Dylan Thomas (1969)

There's a lot to the person of Dylan Thomas, to the point where I don't feel like the right person to really talk about it as others who actually like his work are bound to have done a better job of it than I ever could.

As you may guess, I am not a fan of his collection Adventures in the Skin Trade. The unfinished titular novel is the most interesting piece as, though there are times when the author inserts his barely-comprehensible symbolism into the story, overall the characters are given some actual depth, as far as can be expected given the relative shortness of the fragment. The need for things to happen seems to have kept Thomas in check.

That is not so with the other stories in this book. Some are interesting and because Thomas shows restraint, are fairly competent. These are also usually extremely bizarre, like the story of a child crucifying an idiot to a tree or of a father who seduces his daughter and burns the incestuous product of the union in a big bonfire. But very soon Thomas starts to lose himself, with stuff like The Lemon still having the same bizarre furnishings but the whole thread of narrative is lost amid a confusing jumble of perspective shifts and symbolic statements which are so odd and lacking in logic that one is left to consider how much of this is actually happening in the story and how much is symbolic word-porn.

So too a story of a man in love with his two scarecrows is drowned in so much poetic moonshine that it becomes almost impossible to follow what is even being said. This is largely the style of most of the "stories" in the middle section of this book, made worse with some stories having no paragraphs or much of a break at all, being corner-to-corner walls of text that go page after page. All until the last two or so where Thomas suddenly dials back on the sensory overload. The last story, The Followers, would seem a bit tedious in most other books but in this one it was a welcome relief because what was happening was actually comprehensible: two old farts follow a woman in the rain and spy on her through her window. Nice, simple and lawsuit-worthy !

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