A rose by any other name
By Susana Medina.
Rose Alley, Jeremy M. Davies, Counterpath Press 2009
Books have the ability to reproduce themselves in my studio. I look out of the window and when I turn around, there’s a new pile of books slowly taking shape in the corner of the room. I make myself a cup of coffee, and when I come back, there are a couple of new books on my desk. And on the armchair. Book seeds sprout everywhere. There are other books, however, whose seeds I can precisely locate. Rose Alley is a book that recently grew before my eyes while at the mythical St. Marks Bookshop in New York’s East Village. The legendary bookshop, which had run into financial difficulties, was finally saved as the vital part of the East Village community that it is, amidst an outpouring of support from literary figures and online activists. I was there during the maelstrom, browsing through the fascinating bookshelves of this well-known oasis, when I came across the luscious pink cover of Rose Alley. The name of the author sounded familiar: Jeremy M. Davies. And I traced it in my mind back to an experimental poem I’d read on the net: ‘The Terrible Riddles of Human Sexuality (Solved)’. I flicked through its pages. Sniffed it. Read a few humorous paragraphs. Read a sentence: ‘Habitually guilty people are most at ease when they have something specific and appalling to regret: Pantry had spent his life carefully engineering opportunities to localize this otherwise unfocused distress’. And went to the till.
A pastiche of Restoration comedy, Rose Alley, by Jeremy M. Davies, is a hilarious anti-minimalist narrative particle accelerator where characters swiftly branch out into other characters, in a Chinese box ruse of sorts reminiscent of photomontage that makes up a portrait by populating it with smaller cut-outs of people. Whilst each character is made out of so many other characters, creating a collision of multiple characters within a character, the scenes and anecdotes are developed according to the narrator’s quirky fancy. Proustian syntax with a perverse twist gives way to stylistically dazzling recurrent detours, making of digression the stupefying key to this narrative where plot might seem at first a mere pretext to immerse us in the lives of the film crew involved in the elusive film that gives the novel its title.
If the convoluted narrative is set in 1968 Paris during the student riots, which are briefly referred to, the film sets out to delve into a seventeenth century literary intrigue: Poet Laureate Dryden’s likely ambush by his former patron, satirical minor poet Earl of Rochester, which took place in Rose Alley, London, motivated by literary rivalry. The film, however, acts largely as a thin suspense-thread that makes a tangential appearance in the lives of the rambunctious fauna that Davies gleefully delights in. Foreshadowing nothing but disaster, the film crew’s riotous lives often give way to their own pathological childhoods to recede into their respective genealogical trees in a mismatch of incongruous stories, weirdly perverse shenanigans and lengthy musings on memory, film-editing, celebrity culture and the literary canon, amongst other relevant subjects.
An adventurous dazzling novel that is by turns bizarre, rough, farcical, colloquial, erudite, debauched and downright funny, Rose Alley is a spry satire that gets its kicks out of the boisterous lives behind a multi-faceted failure which a starkly contrasting conceptual piece dissects at the end, like a sobering director’s cut to all the screwball action that the carnivalesque film crew insist on. There is a moral to the story … but that’s for the reader to work out. It’s the kind of novel you go back to, to re-read here and there for its gems of wisdom and wit, glad you stuck to attentive reading and went along with all the initial wayward transitions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maverick writer Susana Medina writes both in Spanish, her native language, and English. She is the author of Red Tales-Cuentos Rojos (bilingual edition, 2012, Araña Editorial, co-translated with Rosie Marteau) and Philosophical Toys (Dalkey Archive, 2013), her first novel in English – offspring of which are the highly praised short films Buñuel’s Philosophical Toys and Leather-bound Stories (co-directed with Derek Ogbourne). Her other books are the acclaimed poetry and aphorisms collection Souvenirs from the Accident and Borgesland, A voyage through the infinite, imaginary places, labyrinths, Buenos Aires and other psychogeographies and figments of space which explores imaginary spaces in the oeuvre of Jorge Luis Borges. She has been awarded several international literary prizes and is the recipient of a writing grant from the Arts Council of England, for her novel Spinning Days of Night. Medina has published a number of essays on literature, art, cinema and photography, curated various international art shows, written art catalogues, exhibited at Tate Modern and collaborated with artists. Her mixed media work can be found scattered on the internet.
[Photo: Derek Ogbourne, 2012]
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, September 13th, 2012.