Well, what a ride! Alan Sillitoe’s posthumous modern picaresque is quite the adventure. It’s frank and unapologetic, full of chaos, craziness and a devoted willingness to flout convention against the reader’s moral sensibilities.
A reader can readily trace character similarities from Sillitoe’s earlier works in his picaresque hero, Michael Cullen. Michael Cullen holds that same audacious, devil-may-care approach to established social conventions, comparable to Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Smith in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.” Michael simply wishes to live his life on his own terms. And like Arthur Seaton, Michael recognizes the importance of finding fun, amusement and good nourishment along the way.
In terms of plot, the novel itself is reminiscent of Henry Fielding’s picaresque, Tom Jones, with the combination of food references and bawdy humor. Fielding metaphorically equates love with food:
Love, namely, the desire of satisfying a voracious Appetite with a certain Quantity of delicate white human flesh […] he LOVES such and such Dishes; so may the lover of this kind, with equal Propriety say, he HUNGERS after such and such Women.
Sillitoe’s Michael Cullen essentially embodies this idea. For him, a woman is simply one of the essentials of life. No matter the journeys and veritable dangers he faces, it is always important to make time to enjoy this particular pleasure of life, regardless of any ties and constraints that may exist. As with the character Tom Jones, Michael faces a similar potentially incestuous dilemma. However, the 260-plus year discrepancy in publication between the two works has negated the need to clear up any such moral scares. For Michael Cullen, the discovery and realization is only something to relish…and to willingly and wholeheartedly try again to better savor the associated pleasures.
However Michael himself notes, It would be hard enough to get the truth out of myself if ever I wanted to, in which case how can you trust somebody to tell the truth to you? With such an admission, the reader can’t help but wonder if there’s a postmodern element to this modern picaresque: the act of the reader reading a fictitious work full of various fictions…various individual personal conceptions of reality for us the reader, as well as for our picaresque hero.
The novel itself is composed of a variety of situations and adventures that pile upon each other, as is common with the traditional picaresque. There’s no real plot, but these adventures run at a frenetic pace. Yet, the sheer fact that there are so many adventures, paired with the fact that the progression of them is placed on hold at key moments with a narrative shift, seemingly slows the progression of the novel. Completing this novel makes the reader feel as if they too have taken part in an arduous journey. While Moggerhanger does offer the complex themes and ideas of a well-seasoned author, new readers would most likely prefer Sillitoe’s early, more recognized works.
Copy provided by NetGalley