Street to street by Brian Castro
Artarmon, NSW : Giramondo, 2012 ISBN 9781920882952
Where to start with this little novella? The main protagonist, Brendan Costa, past middle-age, part-Asian, middle-level lecturer, failed husband, cigar smoker, is obviously partially a representation of Brian Castro. Whether Brendan's two failed marriages and ambivalent view on Male - Female relations mirror Castro is another question which I'm not qualified to answer.
Brendan is, in the course of Street to street, facing the breakdown of his second marriage, and is becoming more consumed by the book he is writing, which is (more than) a biography of Christopher Brennan, an Australian poet heavily influenced by the French Symbolist movement and arguably that country's first modern poet. His life was one of early success eventually overtaken by tragedy, mostly due to alcohol.
The story of Brendan and Brennan are intertwined through the brief 140 page work (published in a nifty square format by Giramondo - something different to your average paperback), with Brendan's depressingly post-faith, post-modern and post-belief life gradually gathering meaning for him, while Brennan's life gradually loses momentum.
Brendan is a worry to the part-time narrator of this story (the authorial voice moves around quite a bit for a small book) as he seems to be taking on some characteristics of Brennan, especially the drinking characteristics. He is falling out with management at the University, and is gradually giving up. However, a big event in his life gives him hope, and his view of Brennan's two-finger salute to society during his time also gives him strength.
Towards the end of the book, Brendan makes some discoveries about Brennan that destroy his faith in him, and the book then takes a tragic turn.
For a book about two poets (Brendan is slated as a sometime poet), there is very little poesy in the work - not a criticism necessarily, and in fact a reminder that poets have mundane, tragic or exciting lives as much as any other person - Castro's evocation of Brennan's chaotic life is masterful - the early promise, the Wildean antics, the inability to take his gift to the World's stage, his gradual pathetic decline, is evoked as well here as anywhere else.
The reader gradually warms to Brendan through the work - unlikeable at the beginning, insights into his own and Brennan's life work on the reader to garner sympathy - both Brendan and Brennan tried to be true to themselves and poetry, despite all the roadblocks, both external and internal, that are placed in their way. Both fail for different reasons, but in the end the attempt seems almost noble.
An interesting book, and worth a read.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell
P.S. For a much more intelligent review, head here.