Sunday, November 07, 2004

Alexandra Fuller's second memoir, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, has not received the accolades that were showered over her first book, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. In fact, most critics have called Scribbling a disappointment. Is this glum reaction inevitable considering Fuller's first book was so often heralded as the best nonfiction book of the year? (2002)

I have been wondering about this as I've turned the pages of Scribbling today. I'll be honest here; Don't Let's Go to the Dogs was my favorite read in 2002 and is certainly one of the most intriguing memoirs I have ever read. To experience, however vicariously, the life of a child in a white British family in the former Rhodesia is to enter a world that is in every way different than the one I inhabit. Simply put, this book was a mind-blowing read.

So, given that background, I did not have high expectations of Scribbling the Cat because I knew it was unlikely that Fuller (or any writer) could surpass the wonders of that first book. The intense, painterly descriptions that I loved most in Don't Let's Go to the Dogs are plentiful in Scribbling. On the other hand, just as critics have claimed, Fuller's relationship with K., the white African soldier, is an unresolved, messy aspect of the book. Yet her explorations of themes of war, trauma, loss, and transformation more than compensate.

Fuller's problems with Scribbling could have been corrected if she had delayed publication and consulted with the writers she trusts. The pressure to publish quickly after a huge success is extremely difficult for a new writer to resist. The phenomenon has limited the potential of too many books and harmed the careers of their authors.


Blogger Juke said...

Hilary Mantel's got a memoir out as well.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had not read "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" until after I had read "Scribbling the Cat", so I did not have any preconceived notions when I started reading the book. Even to me, though, it seemed like she had rushed the book to print. The book seemed imcomplete, which I initially attributed to the fact that K had destroyed all of her materials. I think if she would have taken an extra year to reflect on everything that had happened she might have come up with a more fleshed out version of the events. In spite of this, I loved the book because I truly cared about everyone. I have read the book over and over trying to glean new insight into the characters. The only problem is that she says in her forward that this is not a historical document, so I don't know if any insight I might pick up is really of any value. I hope she writes more African books, and I hope she gives us updates on how K and Mapenga are doing.

12:01 PM  

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