Author: Sean Pemberton
Page Count/Review Word Count: 500
It’s hard to explain why I enjoyed reading White – I just did. It’s certainly what you might call experimental – in fact, according to the blurb on the back cover, “White is an immense feat of close description of an unnamed city during a single day in summer”, an aspect which “inevitably recalls Ulysses“. It goes on to say that “The narrative technique has affinities with nouveau roman, but actually it’s like neither, and like nothing else.”
It’s like nothing else alright, but I’m not sure I’d agree with the rest of it, mainly because I don’t really know what it means. From my point of view, it was a haunting combination of prose and poetry, which obsessed on tiny details and numbers and colours in particular. The poetry is plentiful but sparse at the same time, maybe fifty words at most on a page and scattered across it with big white gaps in the middle of it. The prose, meanwhile, has a simplicity all of its own.
Here’s a quote from a random section of the book, which I found by flicking through it until a page fell open: “The boxes are in the corridor. The boxes are stacked. The boxes are six. He walks the corridor. The boxes are six. The boxes are stacked. The boxes are stacked against the wall. There are three stacks. There are two boxes in each stack.”
As you can see, it’s an acquired taste, but once you realise that Pemberton is doing it for the effect that it creates rather than because it’s aesthetically pleasing (which it is, in its own special way), it’s easy to get in to it. Besides, because of the poetry that accompanies it, you fly through the book because half of the pages are virtually blank.
But it’s not too easy to explain the effect that it actually creates in the reader, so I hope it’s enough just to say that it did affect me – I’ve been struggling to describe it ever since I started reading it. A drunk guy sat next to me on the bus on the way home from work once and asked me what it was about – I just said I didn’t know, because that seemed like the safest option. He didn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d appreciate literary innovation.
And that’s precisely what this is – at the end of the day, Pemberton is playing with the English language, and you can see the fun that he’s having reflected in his final creation. Perhaps that’s the effect that it creates – White is lots of fun, you get to share in the joy of its creator. Isn’t that what reading is all about?
I feel like Sean Pemberton has proved a point here, although what that point actually is is anyone’s guess. Still, if you’re serious about literature and want some independent prose poetry, start here.