2017年8月19日 星期六

讀後感: 便利店人間(著者: 村田沙耶香)*

    在書店看到這本小書,立刻被書名中的「便利店」吸引。我以前做過兼職便利店員,感覺便利店是個高度程序化和標準化的環境。根據封底上的簡介,此書以便利店為「主舞台」表達「正常」與「異常」界線,我自然對此書感到好奇。與一位日本友人閒談,說起這本去年獲得「芥川賞」的小說,他在日本文學刊物的《文藝春秋》讀過,感覺值得一讀。順帶一提,此部中篇小說的日文原文,在《文藝春秋》刊出時只有大概一百頁,市面上的中譯本,因版面編排和大小的關係,佔了二百一十多頁。

  此小說的主角,古倉惠子,在大學一年級開始一直在微笑超商便利店打工,過了十八年。她聽著便利店的聲音,吃喝著便利店的食品和飲料,生活規律、打扮都根據便利店的需要而定,連說話和表情都模仿便利店的同事。為什麼她對便利店如此「忠誠」?因為它給她一個清晰劃一的指示,讓她扮演店員的角色,令她在這環境中變得「正常」。她自小就被身邊人被認為是不正常的孩子,她很奇怪為什麼人們要為死去的雀鳥而傷心,為什麼不可用剷子擊倒互相打架的男生。大家覺得她是必須改正、被治好的人。直至長大後,朋友陸續結婚生子或在職場略有所成。她卻不明白為什麼他們覺得那些是必須做的事,並覺得她不結婚或不做正職就是不正常。她對「人」這身份不知所措,唯有對自己懂得做一個「店員」,感到比較安心。簡單來說,這小說就是要表達社會規範如何主宰人的生活和人際關係,以及它驚人的限制性和排他性。

  在社會中生活,每人從小就會潛而默化地接受了大大小小的規範(norms) 和價值,用來理解和應對不同的事物。例如,人們會覺得死亡是值得傷心的事情,要表示同情;每個人長大後都有找伴侶的需要等。我們內化那些規範,以評價自己和別人,並在與人相處時,迫使他人接受那些規範,令世界的種種人和事收納至一個人可理解、接受、容納的範圍。小說透過一個不能內化社會規範的人的處境,重新檢視那些規範的真實性,令人明白它們其實只是與「店員」的規則分別不大,都是人創造出來罷了。

  以審視社會主流價值為題材的作品俯拾皆是,由《簡愛》對女性壓迫和限制的書寫,至現今社會對性小眾文學的關注,都是當時被社會規範邊沿的聲音。但是,《便利店人間》的獨特之處是主角完全不以個人的價值抗衡社會,而是積極地融入,不斷提出問題,思考如何令自己正常,為能做社會的齒輪而快樂。讀來非常有喜感和親切感,但同時頗為震撼,因為融入「正常世界」是大多數人會做的,但沒有反思的事。

  另外,小說非常巧妙地,對比古倉這種未能內化規範的人和社會上消極的失敗者(白),令人明白小說不是為所謂的「失敗者」發牢騷。所謂的「成敗」是真實或是虛構的價值,都是作者的提問。白羽雖然經常在控訴社會價值對他的「壓迫」,如要他工作、娶妻等,但他卻以那些價值來批判、排斥其他人。他只不過借批評那些價值,令自己好過一點。而古倉則觀察到了「正常社會」排斥異物這一現象。

  此作品短小簡潔、輕鬆易讀、節奏明快,且內容有深度,非常值得一讀。

*譯者: 王華懋 出版社: 悅知文化

2017年8月12日 星期六

Review: "The Professor" by Charlotte Brontë

  The Professor is Charlotte Brontë's first novel but it was published posthumously. The hero of the story, William Crimsworth, is an orphaned young man who has just graduated from Eton College and is trying to build a suitable career of his own. He first worked as a clerk for his brother, Edward Crimsworth, who is a rich mill-owner. After a few months, he starts to feel that trading is not the right job for him. He is very much bored by his work and is not respected or appreciated by his boss. Then, with an introduction letter by Mr. Hunsden, a gentleman he met at a party in Crimsworth Hall, he went to Brussels to work as a professor of English. The story mainly centers around his relationship with Pelet and Zoraider Reuter, the principals of the two schools he teaches in, and Frances Henri, a teacher-student in the girl's school. It is basically about how William overcomes his obstacles and frustrations, and lead to a fulfilling and happy life of his own.

  The story is not as elaborately developed and exciting as her later novels. Bronte intended to create a realistic character who can achieve moderate success by individual efforts, and a romance that is heartwarming but not extraordinary. It is a story that honors the individual spirit, hard work and honesty or sincerity. Charlotte Bronte understood why it was rejected by publishing agency: 'Men in business are usually thought to prefer the real; on trial, the idea will be often found fallacious: a passionate preference for the wild, wonderful and thrilling...- agitates diverse souls that show a calm and sober surface.' Charlotte Bronte did not just write to entertain the reader and to attract attention from publishers, but to try out her own ideas and to express herself through an art form. The novel is her first step to developing the originality of her writings.

  In fact, I was at some point bored by the novel as the plot is unexciting and predictable. But I kept reading because the protagonist is quite relatable and I was curious to see how those mundane characters make a meaningful story. I was a fresh graduate last year and I am also very much frustrated by 'the real world' and not sure about the next step I have to take. Crimsworth is also quite disappointed about his first job and he is trying to make a difference to his life. The story does give me some sort of encouragement that everything will turn out fine if I dare to take a step forward. Having read so many personal essays and novels recently, I was quite surprised by how my experience and emotions resemble many described scenarios. Yet, I somehow feel that my life is too ordinary and sometimes meaningless. If I can write about my experience and other people's stories like those writers do, I might feel like this life is as meaningful and interesting as those character's.

  In terms of the writing, it is much better than I thought it would be.The character's personalities and temperament are described vividly in the novel, especially through the way they speak. Mr. Hunsden, a supporting character, interests me quite a lot. He is outside of the story's central conflicts but does influence the actions of the protagonist and moves the plot forward. He appears as a mean and sarcastic person who is unagreeable and unlikable, but he does care about people and cherishes friendship. He is described as a 'man of originality' by Frances, and he holds on to his own beliefs and loves to challenge others. He is disinterested in many of the protagonist's concerns, and he seems to be providing some commentary to the situations and struggles of Crimsworth in a subtle way. For example, when Crimsworth starts to hate his job, Mr. Hunsden tells him how unsuitable it is for him and how his boss is a tyrant. While the main characters are attached to England more than Belgium. Hunsden tells them that he is a man of the world but not especially nationalistic about his home country. I wonder if this character is to create a more distant and critical point of view of the story.

   The thing I don't like about the novel is that the relationship between men and women are always described as potential love interests. The girl students are described as 'blooming young creatures' and the description of them seems to focus too much on appearances. The novel can explore different possible kinds of relationships between men and woman, such as teacher and students, and friends. I also feel a bit uncomfortable about the kind of prejudice against non-protestant Europeans in the novel. The introduction says it is due to the general mindset of Victorian England.