Friday 21 March 2014

Stumbling out of The Magic Kingdom

I mentioned a while back that I'd embarked on reading Stanley Elkin's The Magic Kingom. Well, the other day I finished it - or rather, I emerged reeling from my immersion in the quite extraordinary world of language and imagination that Elkin creates.
 The story of a group of variously afflicted dying children on a visit to Disneyland in the care of a group of variously dysfunctional adult helpers, it's the kind of subject most novelists would run a mile from, unless they were prepared to baste it in maudlin sentimentality - and that is something Elkin has absolutely no intention of doing. Instead, he deploys all his  magnificent linguistic exuberance on it, letting loose his mighty onward-rolling spiel, flinching from nothing, mixing the lyrical with the clinical in a quite unique way as he enters this world of dying children, their diseases and their dreams, their killer genes and extravagant, rampaging afflictions.
 At once hysterical and profound, the novel is a mingled cry of protest at and acceptance of the brute fact of death, encompassing comedy, tragedy, fantasy and lashings of sex in its tumultuous, tortuous progress. Elkin's prose is simply overwhelming - you either succumb or turn away - and normally I don't like to be overwhelmed, preferring subtler attractions, but for Elkin I'll always make an exception. I can understand why many might turn away from The Magic Kingdom - it is strong meat, a book I'd recommend only with caution - but me, I succumbed instantly to its dark charms, and I'm glad. This was one of the most extraordinary, exhilarating reading experiences I've had since - well, probably since the last Stanley Elkin I read. I think it will stay with me a long time. I should add, by the way, that it is very, very funny, and ultimately, despite appearances, compassionate.

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