Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Bohemia" by Veronika Carnaby


"Using revolutionary Paris as their backdrop, bohemians challenged the status quo by rejecting mainstream values and mocking the bourgeoisie."

 "However, Bohemia remains difficult to define. Participants, including writers, artists, students and youth, all contributed to the feelings and ideas of bohemia in different ways; the one attribute they shared was their rejection of the bourgeoisie."
 "Degenerates are not always criminals, anarchists, and pronounced lunatics; They are often authors and artists."  -Max Nordan, Degeneration


"The years immediately after the Second World War saw a wholesale reappraisal of the conventional structures of society. Just as the postwar economic boom was taking hold, students in universities were beginning to question the rampant materialism of their society. The Beat Generation was a product of this questioning. They saw runaway capitalism as destructive to the human spirit and antithetical to social equality. In addition to their dissatisfaction with consumer culture, the Beats railed against the stifling prudery of their parents’ generation. The taboos against frank discussions of sexuality were seen as unhealthy and possibly damaging to the psyche. In the world of literature and art, the Beats stood in opposition to the clean, almost antiseptic formalism of the early twentieth century Modernists. They fashioned a literature that was more bold, straightforward, and expressive than anything that had come before. Underground music styles like jazz were especially evocative for Beat writers, while threatening and sinister to the establishment. To many, the artistic productions of the Beats crossed the line into pornography and therefore merited censorship. Some dismissed the Beat Generation’s literature as mere provocation – a means to get attention, not serious art. Time has proven that the cultural impact of the Beat writers was far from short-lived, as the influence of their work continues to be widespread."
"With a little time, the movement becomes chic, and some members of the dominant culture may even descend into the counter-culture voluntarily, creating a second generation of the movement. This was the case with the bohemians of 19th century Paris as it was with the Hippies of 1960's America, and so on."

I had the pleasure of being asked to review Veronika Carnaby's debut novel, Bohemia. I am a bibliophile, and while I have heard of "beat" artists and authors, I have little knowledge of the "bohemian" lifestyle and its history other than my knowledge of it morphing to the "hippy" movement and the musical "Rent".    Heck, you can find traces of it in the most popular stable (which wound up consisting solely of Shawn Michaels and Triple H) in professional wrestling history, "D-Generation X":

"The group originated in the midst of the WWF's "Attitude Era" from 1997 to 2000.  Their gimmick was that of a gang of rebels who broke the rules, acted and spoke as they pleased, no matter how provocative and/or insulting. Noted for their crude, profane humor and sophomoric pranks, the stable has been dubbed multiple times as the "most controversial group in WWF/E history".

Veronika Carnaby's variation of bohemian/beat culture in the '60's which is narrated by the main character, Valerie Freed.  Valerie and her best friend Emma drift from one fancy to another after the club they danced regularly at, "The Ladybug", became too much of a place of ill repute for Valerie's liking.  Emma wishes to become a regular dancer at "The Ladybug", an increasingly seedy night club that causes Valerie to walk out after the band who has been keeping a dark secret of the owner Bud, quits.  She and her friends ramble from one place to another, one experience to another, with Valerie playing the part of a female Jack Kerouac.  She describes a new age suffragettes protest equal rights for women,  Valerie through one intense occurrence after another, in the hopes of finding her own voice and her own destiny:

"After so many months spent shadowing the foot tracks of others, the time came for me to move on in a direction of my own.  I had nothing holding me back, nothing to chain me down, no one to follow.  Freedom meant everything and I held it in my fingertips."

While there were a few mistakes along the way (I am not sure if they are only on the e-reader edition of the book and not the printed version), speaking as a rebel, I really enjoyed Valerie Freed for being so ahead of her time, and I also enjoy Veronika proving that men are not the only ones who can blaze a path all their own through the evolution of Bohemia, into the "beat" generation, into the "hippy" movement.  She molds all of her notes and observations into a manuscript she peddled around Boston with no success.  She gets hit with nostalgia and boils down this time in her life:

"One thing I did realize was that this is our revolution.  We weren't going to be held back as prisoners by the social and cultural ideals of our predecessors.  I ran like the vagrants of the old south carrying a bindle and thumbing north, tumbling like weeds of the Wild West, for I knew there was a whole lot left to conquer and even more left to write about."

While Valerie's journey is fictitious, it is an example of what countless women had gone through during the most tumultuous time in American history.

Veronika Carnaby is an American beat-style author and poet who is currently working on a follow-up to Bohemia

"Bohemia" on

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