Friday, September 08, 2006

Reader's Diary #154- Matt Cohen: Elizabeth and After (up to Part III)

Cohen opened the novel with a brief description of Elizabeth's funeral. Throughout part one, I had begun to think that might be as much as Elizabeth we were going to see. The "and After" part seemed to be the focus.

Yet in Part 2, as in so many Canadian novels, we go back in time to Elizabeth's life. Our authors seem to have a thing against chronological stories, don't they? Yet, that's okay in this case. Time is, after all, the major theme of this book.

Cohen looks at time from many angles. Personal histories, however, seem to be his major concern. What shapes them? Whose intersect and what effect do they have on one another? And what role does belief play?

In Part II, Cohen explores that old axiom about history repeating itself. In Part One, we see Carl taking Moira to his mother's cemetery, in Part Two we see William taking Elizabeth to his mother's grave. In both cases, the women notice that the dad's date is already half finished (my own grandmother has a headstone half complete- morbid people). Another parallel, which I will get into later, is the conception of Elizabeth's children- after her very first encounters...

Spoiler Alert*

This is where it gets really interesting; the paternity of Carl. Carl is Elizabeth's son and in the first part we are led to believe that he is also the son of her husband, William. Yet in Part 2, we discover that he might be Adam's son. Adam, is quite the opposite of William, and as you may have guessed, Elizabeth's secret lover.

Here Cohen raises an interesting question. We are led to believe that history repeats itself, but does it need to? In the first part, we see Carl as a pretty troubled young man (actually, by the time we meet him, he is trying to reform himself), with a history of drinking and brawling. Just like his father. Just like the man he believed to be his father, that is. Now it comes down to the whole nature versus nurture debate.

One could also, of course, raise the point that Cohen was merely making a moral point about the value of telling the truth, or more precise, the consequences of telling a lie.

A real book club could have a field day with this one.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Let me know what happens.

I have to admire how you take the time to analyse a book AS you are reading it. I generally wait till I'm done, otherwise I would be there forever.

John Mutford said...

It's funny you should say that. I hardly ever analyzed books as I read them, it used to be afterwards as you said. But since I started blogging about them, I'm always conscious of what I'm going to say next. That's why I think blogging has made me a better reader. Like I'm back in school, always having to hand in assignments. Of course, the problem is the lack of a prof red- inking everything, leaving me with the illusion that I actually have a clue.