Book review: "Nightwood" Djuna Barnes

Posted by Bel. The time is 7:45pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Judging the cover (as I do), I thought this was going to be a winner. Stark, striking and contemporary - perhaps even futuristic. However these are not words I would use to describe the novel at all.

The writing is of the florid, verbose, convoluted style that brings to mind authors such as Louis de Bernieres and Lily Prior. When I went back and read the preface, it was only to discover this woman was a contemporary of Gertrude Stein (see previous review), swanning about with the arty intellectuals in Jazz Age Paris. I thought, "shoulda knowed it".

By throwing in another adjective-filled phrase where most would put a fullstop, Barnes packs "Nightwood" with language that is intoxifying and full of illusion, creating a sense of musty 19th century antiquity. I found it hard to wade through, especially as the novel is essentially plotless. Through the character's long-winded anecdotal and philosophical conversations, the tale of a love gone wrong transpires, but there is little resolution.

"Nightwood" has been heralded as a landmark of gay literature, and I'm sure it has its historical importance. But don't pick this up thinking it will be an insight to early lesbian counterculture or a tantilising bodice-ripper. Elements still hold - as betrayal and brooding hearts are somewhat timeless - but you will know straight away whether this is your flavour or not, and won't be persuaded the other way I imagine.

I am now reading "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers. Despite a dreadful cover, am loving it and expect to knock it off soon.