This week, my little Canadian novel was reviewed in Publishers Weekly. (I know, right? Read it here.) The review isn’t long but it is perfectly positive. The reviewer isn’t credited by name in the online version I’ve seen but she or he was thoughtful and insightful enough to have me Googling a few of the terms used to describe my own work.
The first was one of those words that’s still vaguely familiar from my Arts degree days — those spellbinding lectures on Jungian psychology at the base of the Tory Tower. Somewhere in scrolling through the fanciful vocabulary of archetypes scrawled on the overhead projector film, the meaning of this term slipped out of my consciousness. It’s “psychopomp.” It doesn’t sound like a nice thing to be called but, as I now remember, it means a creature who serves as a guide to souls — newly deceased souls in particular but also the newly born or anyone unmoored. As the PW review points out, my novel’s main characters are psychopomps. I had never thought of them that way before but it’s certainly true.
The second term I had to look up was completely new to me: mono no aware. Though it’s tempting, don’t try to use an English or Latin vocabulary to decode it. It’s a bit of Japanese philosophy and translates into something like “the pathos of things.” The idea is that instead of the bittersweet knowledge that this world is transient making us morbid and jaded, it moves us to reverence our lives and experience them as poignant rather than mundane. I’m no scholar of Japanese philosophy but I think it might be the opposite of the Western ennui that makes up so much of literary thought right now. Whatever it is, I think I need to find my old, water-stained copy of The Tale of Genji and read it again.
There’s a lot to love about being an artist. That anyone would read my work is great. That they would look up and from my work and have something to say about it is even better. And having them teach me something I didn’t know about what I, myself, have written makes me want to fall on my face and cry — especially when it’s something true. Sometimes, it’s wonderful to admit, “I didn’t know that was in there and I don’t know where it came from.”
I’m usually fairly pragmatic and cringe at the conceits and the headier romance of writer-life. I don’t have much of a stomach for elitist memes and other silliness bent on making embarrassing overstatements about writing and writers. But there is something genuinely sublime about art — even the quiet, tappity-tap, within sight of my laundry hamper art form of my own. At its best, art is a miracle. And we bow our heads, grateful and baffled that whatever it is that makes miracles would stoop to involve people like us.