Le cœur est un chasseur solitaire [ePub]

by Carson McCullers

I knew nothing about this book at all.Well, except for the title, I’d definitely heard the title before – but I would have bet money the book was written by a man and that it was bad romance novel, at least, that would have been my best guess.Instead, this is now perhaps one of my all-time favourite American novels.It can be compared without the least blush of embarrassment with Steinbeck at his best and Harper Lee out killing mocking birds – and there are many, many points of comparison between all three writers.This one has completely captivated me – and in ways I had not expected to be captivated.

My very dear friend Nell and I were chatting one day about Calvino’s idea of the books one might write and how these ought to fit into an imaginary bookcase – the short version of his idea being, what books would you like your own book to be beside on an imaginary bookshelf?Anyway, in the very next email from Nell there appeared a list of books – one of which was this one.I went to the library to see if I could find it, and then to some second hand bookshops around and about – but with no luck.Well, six months or so later and now I’ve read it.And god I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am.

The title is actually the perfect title for this book, but that is only true after you have read it – it is actually a remarkably bad title for the book before you have read it.I would not be surprised if 999 readers in a thousand would think that this would be a story about unrequited love.That this might just be a melancholy story about a protagonist, let’s call him Mr Sadsack, who has spent his life looking for the perfect partner, but she is terribly allusive and although he sometimes despairs that he will ever find her no one reading this imaginary novel called ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ doubts that in the end our nice wee man will finally end up with his perfect partner.But no.Although the title might make you think the book is about this sort of thing, it is about nothing like this at all.

I guess I could say that the book has grand themes about ‘what is wrong with The South’ – and that might make you form images in your mind of the inhuman treatment of black Americans in the southern states of America and the struggle to end segregation and a terrible legal system based on discrimination.And although you would be closer to the truth, it would still not be quite the book you might expect it to be.

And if I said that it has themes concerning the subjugation of labour and how the economic system is sustained by creating the conditions by which the working classes are convinced of their fundamental inferiority so they do nothing to remove their fetters – and that the heart that seeks freedom is also a lonely hunter – all this would be true too, to a point, and not true beyond that point.There are parts of this book that made me think about Chomsky’s political writings and how dreadfully long the truth has been known about oppression and exploitation and how dreadfully long it has been clear what needs to be done.And that this too is the part of the American tradition that is spoken of, if at all, only in whispers; for don’t you know they’re talking about a revolution in whispers?

And if I said this book is about coming of age and the loss of innocence and how becoming an adult is actually a kind of death which we might long for, but where more is lost than it seems we could possibly dare to lose. If I said that the young woman in this who throughout the novel moves from being a child to becoming an adult (even without some of the possible horrible things that could have happened to her not actually eventuating) and yet she still basically loses everything by growing up – that would be mostly true too.

And if I said that the book is about selfishness and how a moment’s decision or thoughtlessness can have horrible and irrevocable consequences – well, you might think you’ve read this book many times before – but again, I think you would be wrong.

Or I could say that this is a book about how we fundamentally misunderstand others – for doesn’t everyone misunderstand (project onto) John Singer, the deaf-mute who is more or less central to the story, whatever it is they need him to be?And isn’t Singer guilty of exactly the same human frailty with his own friend Antonapoulos?I thought it was terribly clever of her to have Singer bring Antonapoulos a projector – I thought she was nearly god-like as a writer at that point.

What this book is really is a warning – not a warning that I might have written if I was to write a book like this – but a dark and terrible warning all the same.Much darker and much more terrible than I think I would be capable of writing.No, I couldn’t write a book like this, and knowing that fills me with the deepest of regrets.Because this is also a much more optimistic book than I think I would be capable of writing too.

McCullers was 23 when she wrote this book – god, the thought of it fills me with awe.There are times when I would almost be prepared to believe that some people really do have older souls than the rest of us.It is as incomprehensible that a 23 year old could write this book as it is to believe that a woman of only 22 years could have written Pride and Prejudice.

And the warning?Well, that you can be absolutely right in what you believe, you can be standing on the side of righteousness and hold the truth shining in the palm of your hand and be doing everything in your power to improve the lot of your people – and you can still be only half human.You can walk in the ways of the great project of your time, you can know and you can spend your life seeking to show the ‘don’t knows’ so they too become part of the enlightened – and still you can be a damaged half a man.We are barely human without our dreams, but even when our dreams are not selfish and are directed at the greatest, the most noble of aspirations, we are still human, all too human.

The scene with the two old men, the one black and the other white, arguing through the night until dawn about the best way to liberate those who are oppressed and unaware is achingly sad.And why?Because it is blindingly obvious to anyone with eyes that neither of these men could ever ‘mobilise the masses’.Their dreams are as just and pure and true as they are barren and impotent and without substance.They shimmer and flap and torment them both – and thus is the human condition.

Of all the characters I think perhaps Doctor Copeland is the most poignant.He effectively loses his own children because they do not live up to his dreams for them, his need for them to fight for his ideals.This really is a key theme of the book, that dreams not only have the power to make us human, but can then over-power us and make us something other than human too.With the book being written at a time when Hitler was screaming at crowds of men standing with arms raised in salute this 23 year old woman had a much clearer vision of what was wrong with the world than I have ever been able to achieve.And she tells of this vision in the only way it can be told - in whispers.

This really is a remarkable book – like nothing I imagined it to be and so much more than I could ever have hoped..

07.09.2010

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