Hannah and Raymond meet at a party, and go home together for a one-night stand. It becomes a week-long fling, deep and serious, and tearful at its supposed conclusion, when Hannah heads to Israel to study Torah at an egalitarian yeshiva. Raymond is stuck in Toronto, working on his Ph.D. in Literature on Robert Burton. The affair continues, love at quite the distance, and the relationship is jeopardized by a number of the things that can happen in a long-distance relationship.
Jim Bartley, the Globe & Mail's "First Fiction" reviewer, wrote about Raymond and Hannah:
"I don't think I've ever had better vicarious sex -- certainly not in an English Canadian novel. This is sex as voracity, fuelled by the birth of volcanic, insatiable love. Marche describes almost no specifics, yet burns up the pages with need and joy. Shame is banished. The id rules. The spirit revels." (15/01/05, D11)Bartley is exactly right: the prose captures the intensity of the relationship, the tremendous physicality of it, and then, for the nine-month absence, the mental anguish of separation. Marche is now on my Keats List: the man describes so much, so well, and keeps the reader engaged in the story.
Where I quibble with Bartley is in his attack on the odd feature of the book. Each short section has a marginal note. His problem with this is that the notes sometimes feel unneccessary and are somtimes vital to understanding the section to which the note is attached. I found it charming: the device, far from being frustrating, is wonderful for two reasons. It slows down the reading. It also asks the reader to consider whether they'd frame the section the same way the author depicts it: it's a way of adding weight, or colouring, or shadow to a section: it can set a tone of the prosaic, or suggest that what is happening is in someway transcendental. The notes are signposts, and they're neat. They remind me of the brief descriptions in most English translations of the Bible, explaining or offering a title for the next section: and in this way, they mimic the two things being studied by the main characters: Hannah's Torah, Raymond's Anatomy of Melancholy.
There's a great musing of Raymond's, describing what Universities are, that I'll end this blog:
Raymond considers the broader context of the university
The most obvious feature of the university, when considered within an urban context, is that it is the location of the books. Only slightly less obvious is the fact that the social function of the university is to provide people just ending adolescence with a place for open-ended sexual intercourse. The libraries of a university awe all private book collections. Similarly, the sexual life of the university, both in quantity and intensity of focus, puts to shame the sexual lives that surround it. Books and sex: the university concentrates what mature men and women dip into only when time and occasion permit.
But what eludes us is the co-incidence of books and sex. Why is the site for the concentration (or disposal) the same? Is it that sex and books are the substance oif youth and must be, then, simultaneously contained?
Jerk off, read a chapter, go to sleep. Night after night. (109)