David BlaizeSeptember 24, 2010
Sometimes I read a book and know exactly what I want to say about it, and writing about it is easy and fun. Other times, it’s a struggle. I don’t know what I think of the book, and I write about five half-posts before I come up with something that says about half of what I wanted to say.
I think David Blaize falls into the latter group. So, things:
- I think the real problem here is the structure. There’s pretty much no plot. In the first half of the book, David goes to a school called Helmsworth. In the second half he goes to a school called Marchester. He has some friends. He gets into trouble a couple of times. He plays some cricket. At the end, he gets horribly injured, and the whole chapter feels like it ought to be in a different book. It’s like E.F. Benson just wrote whatever he wanted about his main character, without really bothering to make sure all the parts were related in any significant way. And somehow there’s almost no narrative tension to be found anywhere.
- Because David Blaize is episodic and unstructured, it’s hard to say what the book is about. I sort of want to say that it’s a book about two gay boys in love with a straight boy, but it’s never really about Frank or Bags for more than a few pages at a time. I guess it’s about the life of David Blaize, but in that case, where’s the story? David doesn’t really grow as a character.
- All boys’ school stories are exactly the same, except when they’re not.
- The lack of structure brings realism. There are contemplative bits, lighthearted bits, awkward and uncomfortable bits, etc., and there’s usually no indication of what’s going to come next. That’s weird in a book, but completely normal in real life.
- There’s this scene where David gets out of a bath and sees Frank. Frank smiles, and David feels uncomfortable and leaves. Frank apologizes and David forgives him and they’re good friends again. This is, I suppose, the point where their friendship could take on a sexual component, but David is pure and innocent, and Frank likes him that way, so he decides to be as pure as possible, too. It’s pretty impressive, how much E.F. Benson manages to say and how much he manages not to say simultaneously. It’s a very strange scene, and even though Benson refers back to it a lot, it doesn’t get any less strange.
The thing is, I really liked this book. A lot. The things about it that bothered me mostly bothered me in retrospect. Except for that bathroom scene, except that it didn’t bother me so much as it fascinated and puzzled me. David Blaize is a lovely book, full of intense feelings and genuinely funny bits and a whole chapter about how Frank and the Headmaster get David’s class to stop cheating on their homework, which felt like it was written particularly for me.
When I read a book, I like to a) enjoy it, and b) understand it, at least to some extent. B) is usually easier than a), but in this case, my experience was almost all a) and almost no b). So I pretty much loved David Blaize, but I’m still kind of confused.