"The world is sometimes too much for Bit, too full of terror and beauty. Every day he finds himself squeezed under a new astonishment. The universe pulses outwards at impossible speeds. Bit feels its spin into nothing."
You might not know this about me, but I am essentially a giant hippy. There's kind of nothing I don't like about the whole rejection of Capitalism, and you know, that whole peace, love and understanding dealie sounds pretty great to me plus, you know, crazy dancing and constant listening to Joni Mitchell (or is that just me..?) I could probably take or leave communal living (a la Arcadia), but as long as there are enough bathrooms for everyone, then... Yeah, that doesn't sound so bad either.
So. Arcadia! It's kind of about the rise and fall of the hippy ideal, but as much as it's that, it's also the story of Bit, the child of Arcadia (basically a big commune) and his journey through life, starting from when he's 5 years old and trying to make sense of the world he's been brought into (which is not the world that most of us have lived in) and stretching all the way to him being... Actually I'm not sure exactly how old, but he's got to be in his 50s. It's a really interesting way to watch a character grow, because whilst at 50-odd he's obviously different, and the world around him is even more different, there are still character traits that you can pick out from when he was 5 years old, and worried about his mother.
I wasn't sure about the book structurally to begin with- there are 4 parts to the novel and each part jumps to a different time, so you see Bit at 5, then about 14, then 35-ish, and then in his 50s. That first jump is a little jarring, and also just shows the setting up of Arcadia, and then shows it as its falling apart, and it kind of feels like you miss out on a lot of the good times that they must have had. It's a little disappointing, but only in that I really wanted to know every detail of everything that happened in Arcadia, and to me that's the mark of a good book.
I became more convinced about the structure though when Bit is in his 30s and living outside of Arcadia (note: the blurb totally says this is going to happen. So it's not a spoiler. Also, it's not really that kind of book...) and thinking back on his time there, and talking about his life now, and I got the weirdest stab of nostalgia for the life that he had in Arcadia- because apparently, Groff had described enough of it for me to imagine what it was like, and damn, it was beautiful.
It actually took me quite a long time to finish Arcadia, and I think that's because of this: the writing is so beautiful that I wanted to really sink into it and never leave. Which, in practical terms, meant I could only read it in about 10 page bursts so I could give it my full attention before something else came up. It's not just that the odd sentence was beautiful, basically every sentence was, AND (as an added bonus) this wasn't at the expense of the story at all- in fact, it made the story, the beautiful sentences being the way that Bit sees the world, and so how we get to see the world. And it's lovely.
But- and here's why Arcadia is really great- even though we see things from Bit's perspective, and Bit is predisposed to see the world as fairly beautiful, there are still plenty of other characters, and with almost all of them, you know for a fact that they wouldn't see the same world in nearly the same way, or with nearly as much light. And this is perfect, because it means that, even whilst you're luxuriating in Bit's world, you're not blind to its flaws, and you don't feel bad that you might not be as, um, mellow as Bit, because his way isn't reality, it's just his reality. But it's a lovely place to be for the duration of the book.
Basically, Arcadia is really lovely, and I have barely even spoken about the parts outside the commune (essentially the second half of the book) which, actually, might just be my favourite parts because of that whole uneasy displacement thing that I sort of love. But, you know, you can go exploring by yourself, read Arcadia and tell me what you find. And then we can all start a commune and just read and blog and stuff and it will be MAGNIFICENT. You know you want to.
I want to! LET'S OVERTHROW CAPITALISM and dance to Joni Mitchell all day long.ReplyDelete
p.s. my Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the commune.
OKAY! I am up for this wholeheartedly.Delete
p.s. I KNOW RIGHT?!
Ooh, I read and reviewed this book quite a while ago. I was deeply distrustful of it, because it always seems to me that in these wonderful utopian places that are founded on gender equality, women still seem to get the shit end of the stick EVERY SINGLE TIME. But I loved this book, and in particular the writing of this book. I thought Bit was a very unreliable narrator for everything outside his very benign impressions of growing up in Arcadia.ReplyDelete
But there--that makes me sound like a pro-capitalism kind of gal. Gah, clearly I still have strong feelings about this book after having read it a long time ago.
Oh man, women always always get the shit end of the stick. Always. I feel like in Arcadia (as in the place in the book...) there was less of that than there might otherwise have been, but I don't know, the dudes are still there trading in their wives for younger models and calling it free love...Delete
Strong feelings are good! I didn't really see Bit as an unreliable narrator so much as one whose ideas of how the world should be are so different to how it actually is that it means he sees the world in a certain way... Which I guess is true of everyone, ever. Maybe we're all unreliable narrators.
I've seen this everywhere, but I'm glad I know what it's about now.ReplyDelete
I dunno about hippie stuff, man. I just...like Marx, good ideas, don't work in practice. But beautiful writing is always a plus, soooo...
No one has actually done Marxism properly and capitalism isn't working out all that well at the moment...Delete
I aim to inform and delight (I know you're delighted really).Delete
What Frances says is true, and also MARXISM IS THE BEST AND YOU KNOOOOW IT! And, I mean, who's even given Marxism a chance? No one, not really. Money is gross (etc.) BUT anyway, Arcadia does kind of fall apart, man, so you can totally read this and go 'ah, yes, well this was bound to happen' and feel all wise. Also beauuuuutiful writing...
Alright. You've convinced me. Sounds amazing!ReplyDelete
Yes you must! Also, YAY! Will you come and dance to Joni Mitchell with me and Frances (clearly the answer is yes.)Delete
This book sounds so great, and I have no idea why I haven't read it yet. And I am also a big hippy.ReplyDelete
Yessssssssssssss! *does weird hippy dancing at you in appreciation*Delete
I am torn cos on the one hand, you say this is excellent. On the other hand, hippies...ReplyDelete
WELL Alley, what I perhaps should have added since I didn't realise all my internet friends were CAPITALIST DRONES was that I think Groff was kind of really aware of the limits of hippy-ism, and that's why, you know, Arcadia breaks up in the second section of the book, and the rest of it is on the OUTSIDE. (Scary stuff).Delete
But also HIPPIES ARE AWESOME DAMN YOU!
There's a copy of this on sale at the used library bookstore for like $2 and I kind of wanted to get it b/c I've seen it around the blogosphere... and good writing sounds good... but you know how I feel about hippies and stuff. Ahhhh, I'm so undecided as to whether or I should try this book.ReplyDelete
Eeeeep, if I saw a copy of this for $2 I would SNATCH IT UP! (obviously. But mine was a library book and now I don't have it and :((((( ) Re: the hippies, see above. BOTH parts, Miss Sarah!Delete
Ooooh, now I feel REALLY good about having it ready as my next read. When I clicked onto your review and started reading I was actually a bit nervous in case you hated it, because then I'd have been all like DAAAAAMN I HAD SUCH HIGH HOPES.ReplyDelete
If you would ever like to overthrow the materialism of consumer society and start a fully-bathroomed commune with me, that would be awesome (duuuuuude)! There could be a library and cooking and vegetable gardens and creativity balanced with miniscule amounts of working (just for the non-sustainable stuff) and it would be beautiful. Maybe once the bookshop closes that should be my next project, ha! :D
Hahaha, there was almost no way I wasn't going to like this book! (wait, does that sentence make sense? WHO KNOWS?!) Anyway, yeah, it's awesome!Delete
OMG let's start a commune up North! (Stuff is cheaper up North, and we will need some stuff, so that's just good sense). We could write and sew and read and OMG life would be the best.
This sounds great. I am with you on the whole hippy thing. Or at least, some days I am. Other days I am more generic lefty liberal!ReplyDelete