Joy Cancer, by Lily Markova - 4.5 Stars

I tend to read Lily Markova books in one sitting because they’re so heart-wrenchingly cool. This one, the only one I hadn’t got to yet, took two sessions. Hmm. I guess that sets it below the level of The Loneliest Whale but a first book equalling the standard of a third would be expecting a lot. I didn’t pick this up and read it for a long while because I thought it was about someone dying of cancer, which it isn’t. Joy Cancer actually turns out to be the main character’s name, odd choice, so that’s one abysmal chasm of depression avoided.

Lily’s books up to this date have not been about everyday artificial candyfloss meaningless like dating, consumerism and cars; they’ve been oblique insights into the human condition, often first person philosophy from an observer with wide eyes for both the world of today and the shadowy internal that’s ubiquitous and timeless. Markova’s tales run through the Id (the now desires – I am thirsty) to the Ego (satisfying the desire in a socially responsible way) to the Superego (morality, right and wrong), then, amazingly, spin off into a new classification around the meaning of life and need for existence that disconnects from what an individual person might want. Some people think it’s about friendship, which it isn’t. Some think this is a writer caught in a spider’s web of her own mind and she can’t fathom it. Every one of her books exceeds Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, drifts up, finds rarefied air and loses sight of crowds on the ground who pace their lives by sales, news and their pointless meal times. Lily doesn’t seem to view the world like a human being looking up, she sees it in the way that an ethereal spirit looking down might, lost in time. How can she have this much life experience already? I want to hypnotically regress Lily to see what she was before – probably Buddha, possibly drunk.

This is not her best book, probably a four and a half stars job, but it’s unusual, original and timeless. This author is like a new instrument in the philharmonic, a new sound after all these hundreds of years, but wise and worthy at the same time. Can a library of the classics be complete without something by Lily Markova?

“I just – in order to write something worthy, I have to be unhappy, but when I start writing, it makes me feel so happy I can’t write anything worthy any more, and that makes me feel so unhappy, but not unhappy enough to write something worthy.” This sounds like a shallow and pretentious line that’s unrepresentative of the main body of the manuscript but I think it’s the author talking, not the character, which is why she hasn’t phrased it to her usual effortless high standard. The author says many of the characters hold views opposite to her own but the character Joy’s predilection for ending it all and her melancholy must be the author’s.

Do you know what this reminds me of?

We Real Cool, by Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917 – 2000

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.