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Old 30th Jul 2007, 12:52   #1
John Self
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Default Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

Discussion starts 1 August. As many of you will know, this is a real favourite of mine, so I won't pretend to be impartial, and will try not to get too protective...

At the same time I feel fairly certain it will not have the same wide approval that Judith Hearne and Blackwater Lightship did.
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Old 30th Jul 2007, 13:41   #2
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Default Re: Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

Here are some extracts from an interview with McGrath which might provide food for discussion.

Quote:
This is a very good example of what always seems to happen when I attempt to tell a story. The story presents itself, and then the question comes of who is to tell the story, and at that point I'm completely overwhelmed by the implications of a story being told. Every story teller is going to leave things out, is going to forget certain things, to change the emphasis of other things, is going to allow his or her own biases and emotions to colour certain things, is going to dramatise certain things, to downplay other things, and truth is impossible. So the relationship of the story teller to the story, the tension between the story teller and the story will become a story on a second level. And the reader, hopefully, will become implicated and involved in the storyteller's relationship to the story and will be engaged in deciphering, in analysing and understanding why it is the story teller is telling the story in a certain way. And this deepens and enriches the entire enterprise. I find it an irresistible strategy.
Indeed he does, because he's done it in all his novels. In Dr Haggard's Disease in particular (as with Asylum), the whole import of the story is very strongly dependent on the way it is told.

And here he is on Dr Haggard's Disease. This contains spoilers. To avoid uglifying it with black spoiler tags, I've written the following in white text which will be readable if you drag over it.
As for Haggard, this is a case more of projection gone wrong: here is a man who has fallen in love very passionately, very deeply, very madly with a woman who eventually rejects him, and instead of suffering, grieving, and then recovering, as would be the case with most of us, Dr Haggard believes that love is the highest good, that love is the source of spiritual energy, that it cannot simply die, cannot just be forgotten, cannot be passed over, from which one cannot recover. Love is that vital, that important. So this energy sort of roils around him after he retires to the south coast of England and becomes addicted to the morphine that he takes for the pain in his hip after an accident involving the husband of the woman he loved. He creates a sort of religion of his own love; he nurtures the memories of that love and of the woman that he adored. So when one day, there is a knock at the door, and he opens the door, there is the son of the woman that he loved, who resembles the woman physically, who sounds like her, who sits in a chair as she used to, who in many, many ways revives these memories of her which are barely dormant; not surprisingly, that tremendous reservoir of desire, emotion, finds a new object. He projects all this unresolved emotion onto this young man, quite inappropriately, and not surprisingly, all sorts of problems arise after this, one of which is that Haggard comes to the belief that the spirit of his lover, who has since died, has travelled in a sort of metempsychotic manner into the body of her son and that he is in communion with his dead lover, and so this is Dr Haggard's disease.
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Old 31st Jul 2007, 15:02   #3
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Default Re: Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

I'm up to page 106 and just swept up in this novel. After reading for a while in a cafe this morning, I looked up and all the people sitting around sipping coffee looked transfigured, viewed somehow through the filter of the text. They were just ordinary people but the possibilities that exist within ordinary people for passion seemed to glow around them. (I had just read the passage where his lover visits him at work) I love it when a book can distort reality for a while, I mean, fancy being reminded of heady passion while sitting beside a pram in Nero's!

Whose suggestion was this book, again?
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Old 31st Jul 2007, 15:27   #4
John Self
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Default Re: Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

(In answering that question I am tempted, Daveybot-style, to quote The Simpsons: the episode where Flanders is being tested at a psychiatric facility by having prescripted questions put to him.

SENIOR PSYCHIATRIST: Did you write these?
JUNIOR: [Pause] ... Do you like them?)

Actually it was amner's suggestion.

I'm only on page 62 but have already posted about it on my blog. Having read it several times before, I feel comfortable doing so... Blog post contains no spoilers, and extracts only up to page 30 (as that's as far as I had got when I was overcome with enthusiasm all over again and just had to write about it).
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Old 31st Jul 2007, 16:06   #5
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Default Re: Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

Quoted from JS's blog:
Quote:
But as always with McGrath, the story and the way the story is told are two different but linked elements. Already, in the opening paragraph above, there is much to tease us.
That's one of the elements about the stry that has been intriguing me. There are some other things I wonder about, too. For instance, what is the line of Goethe that he's contemplating as the story starts?

The epigraph (we were discussing those yesterday) is a clue about what's to come. The line, 'We two being one, are it' is from John Donne's poem that begins, 'For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love.' You don't expect rationality after a line like that (or want it). And the lines from Keats are so beautiful and revealing, too. For instance, a few pages ago, he read, 'forever wilt thou love/ And she be fair' without apparently acknowledging that it's from Ode on a Grecian Urn -- a poem about love that endures precisely because in its state of artistic perfection, it cannot be consummated.

Last edited by Kimberley; 31st Jul 2007 at 16:07. Reason: to say, I think I made it clear that I LIKE it. Quite like Amner now, too ;)
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Old 31st Jul 2007, 16:20   #6
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Default Re: Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

Yes there's a lot of poetry in it, probably because Haggard loves the whole doomed-romantic-poet image of himself that he has conjured up. I'm sure the Goethe is significant, as Haggard quotes most other poets directly (and I like the way, in quoting Hopkins, he almost sidelines the most famous part about the mind having "cliffs of fall frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed" - a nice summary of his own state of mind - in favour of a later line). I don't know any Goethe; for me he's known only for The Sorrows of Young Werther, which of course is about the unendurable pain of lost (or unobtainable) love. Are there any particularly famous lines of Goethe's poetry?

Thanks for expanding on the Donne. I have never bothered to find out its context. SPOILER: The other question then is who are the "we two" referred to (aside from it making reference to the Platonic ideal he talks about on p63)? Is it Haggard and Fanny, or Fanny and James?
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Old 31st Jul 2007, 16:30   #7
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Default Re: Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

This is the verse that the line is from, and the verse that follows, since it explains the name of the poem (The Canonisation)
Quote:
Call's what you will, we are made such by love ;
Call her one, me another fly,
We're tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find th' eagle and the dove.
The phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us ; we two being one, are it ;
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse ;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms ;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonised for love ;
which once again goes to why he's telling this story (something that always interests me in first person narrative)

Last edited by Kimberley; 31st Jul 2007 at 16:33. Reason: to try once again to arrange the lines properly but they just won't. Never mind, it reads almost the same.
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Old 31st Jul 2007, 16:48   #8
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Default Re: Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

20 pages or so to finish and the atmospheric qualities could only be finer if one were at Elgin, in that second floor room with the sea crashing outside. Think Barthes, think Barthes.
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Old 31st Jul 2007, 16:50   #9
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Default Re: Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

This was my third McGrath. First was Asylum - I quite liked it, but something was holding me back and with time the reservations have grown. Then Grotesque - maybe it suited my mood at the time, but I loved it almost unconditionally - probably the black humour did it.

Now Dr Haggard's Disease... I've already said that although I thought it was good, it didn't really have the pulling power, and I was picking it up reluctantly. After that 52nd page I started a whole different book and read in one day. And it helped, after this break I enjoyed the book more, in fact, I found it hard to put it down. And yet it's for me a kind of book that awakes a sick fascination rather than moves, a lot of to admire, but from a certain emotional distance.

An early scene in the book reminded me of a test "do you think like a psychopath": One girl's story. On her mother's funeral she meets a handsome guy, a complete stranger. She falls in love on the spot and decides they are made for each other. A couple of days later she kills her sister. What's the reason for killing her own sister? ANSWER: She hopes the guy will come to the funeral... If you guessed right, you think like a psychopath. I suppose it should be easy after this book. (Sorry for the off-topic, and especially that I see that a really interesting discussion has started meanwhile.)
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Last edited by m.; 31st Jul 2007 at 17:30. Reason: 'cause white spoilers really look better
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Old 31st Jul 2007, 16:59   #10
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Default Re: Book 34: DR HAGGARD'S DISEASE by Patrick McGrath

Quote:
Originally Posted by Beth View Post
Think Barthes, think Barthes.
Jouissance?

(I mentioned Barthes in the Terry Eagleton thread so won't go into his ideas again here, but Beth, I think I know what you mean. It's the erotics of reading that means more than interpretation here; the exploding text.)
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