Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

Talking 'Bout Near Perfection

Today, the topic of books that achieved near perfection came up.

It's an odd topic, because I've yet to read a book that was, on every level, perfection, and one which I have emerged from, entirely and utterly convinced that nothing better could, or will be, ever written. I suspect that such a belief is simply not going to happen. Part of it had to do with the books I was discussing (, we, me and N. and were discussing) and the way in which, when we had a book we thought was close to perfect in what it set out to do, it sometimes wasn't our favourite of the author. There were a few exceptions, of course. Though it'll likely ruin my street cred, I think that Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is close to perfect, and was one of my first choices. The voice is great, the prose excellent, the theme strong and with a lot of resonance--but I think to believe that the Boo Radley's involvement at the end of the book to save the kids is a flaw. But I like the book a whole lot, and it's one of my favourites, even if I think it's a waste of time to have teenagers read it. Canon it may be, but it simply doesn't appeal to teenagers by and large, and everyone is done a disservice by being forced to read it at thirteen or fourteen.

There were other books that came close. Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon is superb, on every level, and has what I consider one of the finest final lines and endings in a book. Yet, I've only read the English translation and do I not, then, have to nod to the translator for much of that? Questions, questions. Vladimir Nabakov's Pale Fire was bought up, but a part of me found the original poem to be badly written, and perhaps purposefully so (I have no idea if others have had this experience). Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita was another that for me came pretty close to being what I considered perfect. The list kept going. Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, Arthur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell--they're not all my choices, and a lot of other names got tossed up.

Yet, yet, yet. There was always something. Lydia Millet's Oh Pure and Radiant Heart is a novel that I adore, but the end of it is a mess. George Orwell's Animal Farm got named, but I've always preferred his essays, and at the very least, 1984. Which, of course, lead to Murakami, for he has a new novel that is a play on the title of Orwell's great anti-communist novel--but Murakami repeats too much, and female characters, with the exception of After Dark are primarily sexual objects, and his translators vary greatly in their ability to convey his work. I also considered Fritz Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness, for the beautiful layering of his own life within the text, but the end... ah, the end, it's such a shame, really, that end.

Too often, I decided, there's a discussion of work that isn't very good. It's fun to discuss that, or to discuss work that it is good, and how it fails--a lot of people take the discussion of failures to be a negative thing, but I find it interesting to see how work fails, even as I enjoy it. But I thought, after I had discussed this, how nice it would be for people to talk about things they found to be near--or as close as--perfection within the limitations that the author set.

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