Monday, October 26, 2015

Green Mansions

As I've mentioned numerous times, I really, really like lists.  I adore the satisfaction from crossing something off of a list.  I hang out on List Challenges because I want to see myself in the top percentile of book readers (yes, I was a competitive student, too).  Naturally, I really love those 1,001 books to read lists that are redone every few years.  Many years ago (okay, like 10), before sites like List Challenges existed, I copied out all 1,001 books and printed them so I could physically cross out the ones I'd read.

Did I use this just to get Jeremy Renner's face in my review?
Yes.
One of the books on the original list was Green Mansions by some dude (note: I do not actually refer to authors thusly; I am merely in a Hulktastic mood, hence the flippant delivery) named W. H. Hudson.  My local library system didn't have it, so when I was in college, I found it in the stacks there whilst gathering the armloads of French novels I had to read.  I read the first page and realized that those French books would read themselves, so I returned the book.


I found Green Mansions again on one of those durned lists and found it on Project Gutenberg.  Thankfully, it's a pretty short book.  I believe that is the only thing I am thankful for in relation to this book.

I've seen it praised as a celebration of nature, as some sort of proto-environmentalist manifesto.

Nah, it's about this racist Venezuelan guy who falls in love with a way-underage chick in the rainforest.  It's kind of a reverse-Tarzan.

Clearly, the beauty of the South American rain forest had a strong impact on Hudson, as the descriptions are quite vivid and lush.  They're also exceedingly wordy, but I would chalk that up to the writing style popular at the time of this book's publication.

But the plot made me make faces, the most common of which is the one a person makes after biting into something particularly unappetizing.  Like rotten meat, or a wormy apple, or something equally repulsive, like olives.  No, I really do hate olives.  You may have my lifetime allotment of olives for yourself.  You're welcome.

I really don't want to even open up my Kindle to see how many of the pages I bookmarked as being eyeroll-worthy.  But I'll do it.  In the name of books.

Green Mansions opens with a prologue (which is a strange structural choice, as I'll discuss later) about the author going to see a Mr. Abel in England.  This Mr. Abel, although foreign, was liked by everyone (fancy that!) but he had a mysterious past (ooooooh!).  He arrived in Great Britain from Venezuela, whence he fled due to political disagreements.  The author, being one of those naturally nice chappies, gets Mr. Abel, the "nervous olive-skinned Hispano American," to tell his secretive tale.

The odd thing about this opening is that it does a good job of preparing the reader for the story, but one would expect an afterword or epilogue to round everything out, completing the frame story (I always say histoire encadrée because we did so many bloody frame stories in French that I cannot help but think of them any other way).  But no.  The book just ends when Abel's narrative ends.  What did "Hudson" think of it?  Why was it such a mystery?  We don't know.

Anyway, so Mr. Abel tells the story of his youth in Venezuela, being from a rather well-to-do family, but fleeing the country after a failed coup.  For rather imponderable reasons, he decides to head southeast and explore the Deep Dark Forest Primeval, which, as we all know, was everyone's favorite metaphor for the "savage" part of humanity.  O-kay.  We got it.

I don't know anything of Hudson's politics, and I completely understand that the story is narrated from the point of view of a haughty Venezuelan, who saw his mother culture as being far superior to anything that the actual indigenous inhabitants of the land would ever have.  Although Abel learned many of the native dialects, he persists in describing the people as "savages."  They are "cunning" yet they are also poor liars.  What?  Anyway.  The majority of the offensiveness in this book comes from Abel's continued mistreatment and just plain nastiness toward the native peoples of Venezuela.  They are, of course, entranced by this white man who can carve guitars of out trees (I am not making this up) and who carries pistols instead of blowguns.

The whole book is this GIF.
Here, let me spare you: just imagine 200-odd pages of offhandedly racist comments about tribes of South America.  Then pour bleach on your brain.  That's it for one issue.

The other is Abel's exceedingly creepy, Humbert Humbert-esque obsession with Rima, the last of a lost tribe of handily pale (and therefore European and acceptably beautiful) people who could talk to animals.  She lives in the forest on the other side of the mountain where Abel is staying with a tribe, and he falls madly in love with this child (really, a child) because she's like, ethereal, or something.  Hi everyone, meet Rima: the first manic pixie dream girl.


The rest of the book is Abel pining after Rima, trying to get Rima away from her adoptive grandfather, and then making a series of spectacularly stupid decisions that lead to the necessarily tragic ending.  And ... that's it.  Oh, and he eats a sloth.  For that alone, this book gets one star.

I never once felt a sense of wonder for the rainforest as Hudson described it.  I did not feel that he wished it to be preserved for humanity; he wished it to be a safe place for whiny, ill-tempered men to go and stomp out their frustrations.

Right now I have an awful sinus headache, which has really been something of a week-long sinus headache, so I just can't find the mental strength to go any further into this book.  Yet, I have a feeling I don't really need to.

tl;dr: Really racist guy runs around tropical rainforest, falls in love with young girl, loses his mind.  The usual.

3 comments:

  1. I agree this book is utterly ridiculous! Although I basically agree with everything you said about the book I wanted to add...the white guy is indeed a stupid character, but so is EVERY OTHER CHARACTER! Ah! He's an idiot, she's an idiot, they're all idiots. He's a personality-deprived haughty idiot, she's an ignorant childlike yet judgemental selfish idiot, and hypocrite to boot. I couldn't decide which of them was worse! I came across this book because someone gave it to me for free...I can't imagine it being on any list. Unless it was a list of old books NOT to read. Anyway I enjoyed your comments and I'm glad I'm not the only one who hated it.

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  2. I agree this book is utterly ridiculous! Although I basically agree with everything you said about the book I wanted to add...the white guy is indeed a stupid character, but so is EVERY OTHER CHARACTER! Ah! He's an idiot, she's an idiot, they're all idiots. He's a personality-deprived haughty idiot, she's an ignorant childlike yet judgemental selfish idiot, and hypocrite to boot. I couldn't decide which of them was worse! I came across this book because someone gave it to me for free...I can't imagine it being on any list. Unless it was a list of old books NOT to read. Anyway I enjoyed your comments and I'm glad I'm not the only one who hated it.

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    Replies
    1. I think this was on the first iteration of that "books to read before you die" list, which was heavily weighted towards old dead white guys. Or old guys whose name is Phillip Roth. Grr.

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