But that’s just ordinary life!
Ivan Bugeja: Ġimgħa Sibt u Ħadd, Merlin Publishers Ltd., 2012, 228pp. €8
An initial look at the cover of Ivan Bugeja’s Ġimgħa Sibt u Ħadd, a first-prize winner in Konkors Letterarju għal Rumanzi għaż-Żgħażagħ, gives an indication of what the book is about: a series of snapshots capturing random instances from life in general. The narratives contained within give a sample of the daily occurrences for a number of people with their typical concerns.
Nothing really extraordinary happens; it’s just an ordinary life and an imperfect one for most. The book almost takes the format of a diary, but held by different characters.
In fact, it contains pictures, snippets of newspapers, calendar images and scribbles just as if it is a clippings folder bursting at the seams with the pulsing energy of youth and the angst that growing old entails.
It reminded me a lot of the TV series Seinfeld, which was proudly marketed as being about nothing because it merely depicted thedaily existence of a group ofpeople whose lives intertwinedin hilarious and sometimesdisastrous circumstances.
The book’s chapter headings are all labels that society uses on a daily basis to denote the passing of time; things like the days of the week, digital depictions of time and numeral representations of years.
It is as if the author did not want to separate the different moments in the book by chapter titles but desired to create the sensation of interconnected lives passing by. Average lives filled with thecontrasts created through day-to-day existence: youth/old age, beauty/ugliness, self-pity/self-confidence, passivity/aggression, introversion/extroversion which basically addresssome of the main concerns in the unfolding of every human life.
So while on the surface this book appears to be just a fictitious anthropological survey of different strata of society, it manages togrip our attention through the underlying smouldering and explosion of emotions that accompaniesall these growing-up and growing-old stories.
Interestingly, the author has chosen to underscore the headings and physically separate the occurrences through the use of Morse code symbols. Each heading, each interval is echoed through a Morse code which acts as a secret subtext within the narrative.
This code is made of a series of symbols which can be decoded by skilled listeners without the use of any equipment and can be measured in words by the minute.
Within the narrative, the use of this code seems to graphically represent the non-verbal encryptions characters are constantly sending to each other. These are silent messages of pain, desire, hate, fear and other emotions that humans emit through subtle cues than obvious words.
Inside the cast of characters there is a central need to be accepted: Ruth, with her surface snobbishness is hiding the pain of being invisible to her money-obsessed father; Isabelle has her father’s attention but suffers from body dysmorphic disorder as she desperately seeks a partner; Mark is the typical lost youth who spirals into oblivion as he lacks an inner core; Oliver and Conrad, the twins, who are victims of domestic violence but who try to live an ordinary life. The older generation is represented by Ġenju, Joe and to a certain extent, Caroline.
They are a cross-section of the young ones growing up and the old ones growing old in contemporary Malta. Their narratives unfold like a reality TV show for the readers to observe them like a group of disparate species living in an aquarium.
Underlying all these stories there is a vein of humour which somehow paralyses any empathy readers might feel for these characters but just leaves one with a sense of pity. The novel’s humour denotes a hint of the absurdity of life.
The book is a short read and flows with a rapid pace which has become necessary for today’s attention-challenged society. It will surely appeal to young adults as many will definitely identify with the younger characters and also because of its brevity.
It is also a good read for people who still find time to enjoy reading in Maltese. Such books prove that some local young contemporary writers certainly make Maltese literature proud and have produced works which definitely would have a wider audience if translated.