Tuesday, April 5, 2016

O'Neill's The Dog, Parenthetically Speaking.

My seminar students and I recently finished discussing Joseph O'Neill's The Dog.  O'Neill is a TCK, and his protagonist is one too.  The novel is set in Dubai,  the epitome of an expat-dense metropolis that is a breeding ground for TCK experiences.

In recent years, I have been working on the kinds of stylistic quirks that characterize third culture novels.  Chiefly, so far, I have worked on time lines that are disrupted by spatial and geographical clusters.

I was especially excited, then, to have my students notice and discuss parentheses in The Dog.  They abound!  (And I have been told more than once that I use brackets far too often, so I wonder if there is a TCKness in the grammar of parenthesis?). [grammatical pun intended]

In The Dog, O'Neill often embeds so many parentheses (brackets) inside each other over the course of a paragraph that it will close like this ".)))" or this ".))))))" (72, 190 and 203).  Whoa!  It's like Sterne's Tristram Shandy writ all parenthethical!


-This is Stream of Consciousness (Abby Messer).  Interesting!  I wonder.  I have thought about Virginia Woolf and The Waves in the context of TCK narrative, but not conclusively.  This makes me ask questions afresh. What makes modernist stream of consciousness different from this repeated intrusion of new detail?  Woolf does not bracket, she just flows.  So, perhaps the very brackets themselves, as visually they separate each little pod of information, emphasisng TCK disconnection while also evoking the jumbles and juxtapositions that characterise TCK experience.

-These are confidential asides which the protagonist proffers the reader because he is so lonely and needs to make a connection (Cyndi Koster).  Well, that's compelling and very TCK (TCKs can tend to be isolated).

-These repeated, excessive brackets just make the narrator look ridiculous (Koster again).  Yes.  True.  This returns us to satirist Sterne in my quip above, reminding us, importantly, that The Dog is satirical: it satirises expats, and Dubai, and travel narratives, and murder mysteries and lawyers and epistolary novels (so many unsent emails) , and yes, perhaps also the experience of TCKness itself.

And by the way, all those unsent emails seem like an uncanny echo of Van Reken's Letters Never Sent, don't they?

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