I have enjoyed this novel very much for the originality in the content and development of the story. Table 41 reminds me of some classical science fiction books where animals turn against humans; I mean post-apocalyptic novels like John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids or Daphne du Maurier’s novelette The Birds, which gave birth to Alfred Hitchcock’s film. But I think Table 41 differs from such literary works mainly because of three things:
a) it belongs to our modern digital era as several descriptions indicate. From Table 10: “the sun was as pink as a Macintosh iPhone”.
b) it is written in the 2nd person singular using the historical present, which makes the reader feel more involved in the story.
c) it has a tremendous humoristic touch although it is meant to be a serious narrative at the same time. I love the humor mixed with the increasing tension of Table 10 when the girl rides the ostrich, also the definitions of the difficult words: corvid, maceration, etc., as if treating all humans as stupid beings, which we very often are. In fact, Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland also did this. I love lines like this: “Nothing is more beautiful than the Egyptian vulture…”. On the one hand it is true but, on the other, humans are being assaulted by a “birdy tornado”.
Table 41 is also a critique of today’s shallowness in a digitalized world where people no longer pay attention to what is important in life, that is, to nature and to the other human beings. Instead, they seem to be just interested in the material things, in their mobile telephones, in the unhealthy hamburgers at McDonalds which have been overtaken by the animals’ retaliation. From Table 10: “Girl collides with you. Not paying attention to you, only to her telephone”.
There is originality in the language. It is elaborate, at times very musical, vibrant and with lovely wordplays. There are also a lot of prose-poetry lines, just like what Jack Kerouac was able to do in his novel On the Road. I particularly love the sea descriptions of Table 1 and how the sea-boy emerges from the water. I am still thinking about the significance of this character in the novel, the whiteness of the eyes. Is it an alien? A fallen angel? Someone we should learn from? There is also a white cat and later on a girl, lady of ancient Greece with a white rose, “indifferent to the frogs”. I wonder at the significance of all this, especially of the colors white, pink and black. White could symbolise innocence, pink could stand for youth, immaturity and lust, whereas black could suggest a bad omen, evil and danger. Also, I love these two very poetic descriptions of Table 10:
a) description of a girl: “A girl is nestling in the tree. One blonde strand of hair describes a question mark on her lineless forehead…”
I wonder: is this question mark a double meaning? On the one hand it is the form of the hair strand but, on the other, it could be a metaphor for a question mark: the girl is acting differently. Unlike the majority of the people, she is in the tree (in the tree of life? in what really counts in life?). She may ask herself questions about life and nature and she slithers down the tree to be embraced by her father.
b) description of an eagle: “The eagle extends its broad wings and vaults into the vaults of the sky. Its feathers resemble fingers, fingers that are playing an invisible celestial piano. The eagle makes its incandescent descent, the sun burning furiously behind it.”
As a reader I experienced the welcoming “you” narrative positively because I felt I was inside the story, which I found original. In fact, apart from Duras’ and Faulkner’s novels, many poems are often written in the you-person because it helps the reader enter and so you can identify yourself more easily with everything you are reading. It is like the poem or story disappears, which is the ultimate effect any writer seeks.
Love this: “to paint with words” and “the book assaults you”. The baobab tree assaulted me while listening to the narrative. The power of nature vs. the power of our modern digital media and social networks, where the latter hinders us from marveling at the simplest things of life (i.e. I am usually sitting on a train and either reading a book or looking at the landscape, the sky, the sun, etc., while the majority of the people are busy with their smartphones and thus losing their ability to perceive and enjoy nature’s beauty.
I like the metaphors of the milk and the tree as they both mean life. I have immediately made the connection milk and tree= birth and life. I also like the critique of the capitalist consumerist society: “We represent and then we experience”. The author nails it.
I love the unexpected turn of the novel at this point, especially the chapter where the living unprocessed pigs attack the Consumeria that sold processed slaughtered pork produced according to the mandate of our nonsensical capitalist world. Also, I am glad the sea-boy appears at this point of the novel. Buried in the baobab tree? I am still wondering at the significance and symbology of this character. As I already commented I see a metaphor of life in the milk and in the baobab tree: there is birth in the milk, a rebirth for humanity? A second chance to do things better, love nature, animals, love ourselves? The tree’s symbolic meaning of wisdom will make us wiser and less ignoble? Moreover, to me the milk is as white as the “oviform pupil-less eye-globes” of the sea-boy. Purity. Innocence. Shall we ever learn from our mistakes?
If you want to know more about this novel you can go to the author’s site:
You can also watch an interview with the Joseph Suglia talking about his novel:
© July 2018 Marta Pombo Sallés