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Manalive Paperback – Import, 1 Aug 2012
|Paperback, Import, 1 Aug 2012||
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Manalive is the story of Innocent Smith, a colossal and comic man who bounds onto the grounds of Brighton House - a manor filled with those who have forgotten the immediacy of existence - and proceeds to awaken life into its residents. Yet when the spirited and mirthful Smith is accused of murder, burglary and unfaithfulness to his wife, it is up the residents of Brighton House to form a court and defend his innocence against the masters of modern science and psychology.
As with most of Chesterton's novels, Manalive follows a certain definite pattern, a pattern which in this case serves to prove the point which is the philosophy of Innocent Smith: "I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him-only to bring him to life."
Manalive is a wonderfully entertaining and comic tale the goal of which is to bring people to life, to make them recognize the world around them, and at the same time to see the boyish wonder which serves as the foundation for this mirth at life.
The idea behind the text is best described by Chesterton himself in his Autobiography:
"... I invented a rudimentary and makeshift mystical theory of my own. It was substantially this; that even mere existence, reduced to its most primary limits, was extraordinary enough to be exciting. Anything was magnificent as compared with nothing... At the backs of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder; so that a man sitting in a chair might suddenly understand that he was actually alive, and be happy...
Thus, among the juvenile verses I began to write about this time was one called `The Babe Unborn', which imagined the uncreated creature crying out for existence and promising every virtue if he might only have the experience of life. Another conceived the scoffer as begging God to give him eyes and lips and a tongue that he might mock the giver of them; a more angry version of the same fancy. And I think it was about this time that I thought of the notion afterwards introduced into a tale called `Manalive'; of a benevolent being who went about with a pistol, which he would suddenly point at a pessimist, when that philosopher said that life was not worth living."
Manalive is at once clever and poignant, absurd and satirical, and an all around great read. I can think of nothing more than can be said of it.
-"My darling, what else is there to do?" reasoned the Irishman. "What other occupation is there for an active man on this earth, except to marry you? What's the alternative to marriage, barring sleep? It's not liberty, Rosamund. Unless you marry God, as our nuns do in Ireland, you must marry Man-that is Me. The only third thing is to marry yourself- yourself, yourself, yourself-the only companion that is never satisfied- and never satisfactory."
-"All habits are bad habits," said Michael, with deadly calm. "Madness does not come by breaking out, but by giving in; by settling down in some dirty, little, self-repeating circle of ideas; by being tamed."
-"I can tell," said Michael savagely, out of the gloom. "Marriage is a duel to the death, which no man of honour should decline."
-"The truth is that when people are in exceptionally high spirits, really wild with freedom and invention, they always must, and they always do, create institutions. When men are weary they fall into anarchy; but while they are gay and vigorous they invariably make rules. This, which is true of all the churches and republics of history, is also true of the most trivial parlour game or the most unsophisticated meadow romp. We are never free until some institution frees us; and liberty cannot exist till it is declared by authority."
I have no criticisms of this book. The cynic might point out the implausibility of the court case, the absurdity of the psychologists and residents participating in such a farce, of the near inconsistency in various letters randomly being produced, but to criticize these things is to miss the spirit of the text.
More reviews at ellipsisomnibus.wordpress.com
A wind blows a new tenant into the dreary Beacon House -- Innocent Smith, an exuberant, eccentric and sweet-natured man who seems to be nuts. But Smith has a positive effect on the house -- he creates his own court, brings a few couples together, and falls in love with a paid companion next door. All seems to be well with the world.
Then the unexpected happens: Smith shoots at one of the tenants, and two doctors arrive to arrest him, claiming that he's a bigamist, an attempted murderer, and a thief. But cynical writer Moon insists that the case be tried there -- and they explore Smith's past history, revealing startling truths about what he does. Is he the wickedest man in Britain, or is he "blameless as a buttercup?"
You gotta love "Holy Fool" books, although Chesterton's take on it is sunnier than Dostoyevsky's or Cervantes'. Instead, "Manalive" focuses on a childlike, optimistic man who is far cleverer than anyone suspects, because he knows the value of living life, and how to keep it from ever getting dull.
The first half of the book is a bit predictable, but Chesterton throws an unprecedented twist into the plotline by having the "allegorical practical joker" turn out to be a fugitive. Then, it's half legal battle, half philosophical argument, in which which Chesterton points out the beauty of living life, and how nothing makes us appreciate it more than the nearness of death.
"With our weak spirits we should grow old in eternity if we were not kept young by death. Providence has to cut immortality into lengths for us," Smith explains.
But since this is by Chesterton, it's full of hilarious dialogue ("In the matter of his being a flamingo, my client reserves his defence"), and lushly detailed writing, where something as small as a man standing in a moonlit garden is given an ethereal eerieness.
And Innocent Smith is a bit of an enigma -- charismatic, innocent, weird, eccentric and lovable. Yet how can he have committed these crimes, and still live up to his name? He's surrounded by a bunch of people who have fallen into dullness or cynicism -- Irish reporters, timid doctors, heiresses -- but who show signs of the "sanity" as they spend time around him.
"Manalive" is a twisty, hilarious tale where nothing is as it seems -- but Chesterton also throws in some philosophical points about how great it is to live your life, and appreciate it. Definitely a good read.
Beautifully written, mixing the ridiculous with the profound, I found myself underlining many times in this book. G.K. Chesterton's main character Innocent Smith managed to restore so much joy to even my life. Such is the goal of this character, to restore the joy of being alive. He manages to achieve this in a manner that many consider childlike or quite certainly insane! Innocent Smith aids other members of the tale in discovering the meaning of death; "It isn't only meant to remind us of a future life, but to remind us of a present life, too." A reader walks away from this work, realizing the beauty of the birds, the sweet smell of the flowers and the delight of one's own romantic love. I find myself indebted to this work for helping to restore my joy of living.
I did discover one difficulty in starting this read. I am so accustom to reading such easily digested material, it took me several attempts to actually get past the first three pages. I thought to myself, 'how many adjectives does he need!' After crossing this hurdle, I was so delighted by the rich descriptions as one viewing a fine piece of art.
I highly suggest this work with 5 out of 5 stars and am looking forward to reading more of Chesterton.