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“There are places only the night knows, places only shadows can show us. The city wears a different face when darkness falls, a face I prefer. I walk the occluded streets looking for something, looking for something, looking for something. A knowledge of the shadow that eats away at logic, creating patterns far brighter than I can bear; patterns that burn at the temperature of wanting. It traces its way through my veins, this wanting, finding solace only when I fall and feast . . . This map I draw with the tip of my tongue takes refuge in a book of dreams. Forgive me for not having the words to describe it, this place in which I dwell. I have tried, I have tried. I have drenched myself in words and sensations, seeking a way to make them speak to one another. This is all I have to offer.”
“The body wants what it wants,” Kemp tells us. “The chaos of the body’s wants—as we know— will never surrender itself to language, can never succumb to reason, even if, even if, even if it wanted to—which it never will.”
Yet, the author is keenly aware of the limitations society itself imposes on language, and, by extension, on the expression of genuine emotion, muting the honest, full-throated cry of passion, love, lust, desire, joy.
Sex happens easily here. These pages teem with a deliciously explicit, celebratory sensuality, restless and unregretted. There’s a frank earthiness to Kemp’s descriptions. His characters are mostly urban, working class blokes, cruising dirty streets and cheap dives in search of connection, perpetually longing (as Freddy Mercury sang) to break free. Though the narrator may at times seem to channel Bataille and Barthes as he reflects on broad and lofty themes, he does not look away from the seamier vision of life as actually lived, embracing it in all its pungant banality and deep fractal chaos. Sometimes it feels like too much—as if we might choke on this wild surfeit of language, this sumptuous banquet of experience, and yet . . .
“twentysix” is a great book, emphatically, ardently, passionately recommended!
The novel's great strength to me is its portrayal of the extremes of sexuality as collective attempts to possess perfection. There is a feeling in each of the twenty-six episodes that the protagonists seek the impossible, that they push, pull, twist--tear, if you will--their bodies in the pursuit of an ultimate communion with the self or with another which can not exist. At least while we are alive. Each new sexual encounter offers a different path to an increasingly familiar wall.
Since the twenty-six chapters correspond with the letters of the alphabet, perhaps Kemp intends language itself to participate in the metaphoric quest. He quotes de Sade's comment that ‘However much men may shudder, philosophy must say everything.’ In the attempt to "say everything," Kemp defies the tensile limits of language. At times the words are as stretched and contorted as the sexual encounters they portray. Along the way, some of the metaphors do seem forced and a few of the comments on individual episodes are quite flat and didactic, landing with an inert smack onto the otherwise fluid and poetic surface of the prose. But these quirks are minor.
Perhaps in the end philosophy (and language) must break against the same wall waiting at the end of the body's struggle to capture all of reality in the intensity of one orgasm.
Yet this novel's truth is that the wall is also irrelevant. The first chapter portrays the narrator's sexual encounter with a deaf mute. The two tear through the communication barrier en route to an intense climax beyond both language and reason. With each story Kemp captures the beauty, excitement, fear and pathos of the search, the connection, the sex, the communion, the after-thought. He evokes Michael Angelo's sacred night wherein men do indeed "truly be themselves."
This book is a series of stories which together form a rich and multi-layered Story--one provocative in the best sense of the word.