books, reading, stray thoughts
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Midsummer’s Eve


…the creation of a character is like listening to something faint and distant. It’s like trying to remember someone one knew slightly, in passing, a very long time ago, but to remember them so that one knows them better than one knows oneself. It’s like trying to know a family member who died before one was born, from looking at photographs and objects belonging to them; also from hearing the things, often contradictory, that people say about them, the anecdotes told.
from Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deidre Madden

This morning, driving to pre-school, the cow parsley on the verges was a head-high veil of flickering white, the fields and roadsides were dotted red with poppies. Sitting here, in our loft room, I can hear the children at T’s school playing outside. The breeze is warm and gentle on my bare arms. The air smells of cut grass and privet. It’s the kind of day that you feel you are swimming out into, floating along in its warmth and fragrance. Days like this always remind me of the first page of Mrs Dalloway,

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave…

Or maybe Mrs Dalloway is where I got that image of plunging into water from…it’s strange how once we’ve read something its images enter us in that way, its phrases linger.

Bee on allium

Last week I read another wonderful book set in one day, Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deidre Madden. In this case, the day is the birthday of the famous actor, Molly Fox, the twenty-first of June, midsummer’s day. The book is quiet and unusual, constructed so that much of it takes place in the memory of its un-named playwright narrator. Friends with Molly Fox for over twenty years, she’s staying in Molly’s house in Dublin, supposedly working on her next play, while Molly is in New York. Her thoughts about identity and friendship, the unknowability of both the other and the self, are at the heart of the story, together with her reflections on writing and acting. It’s thought-provoking and captivating, and I’m really glad to have read it and encountered Deidre Madden’s work. Rachel’s lovely review says more & persuaded me to pick this up at the library.

What about you? Any favourite circadian novels? I think I’m rather in love with the form. Eva Figes’s novella Light – a day in the life of Claude Monet and his family – is another amazing read. We’re planning a weekend in the garden, a dinner with friends. Savouring the warmth and light while it’s here. I hope that you enjoy the midpoint of the year wherever it finds you.


  1. Sarah, thank you for alerting me to Light. I haven’t read Eva Figes (though I did read and admire her son Orlando’s marvellous Just Send Me Word and have The Whisperers on my list…). But I realize I’m making a life-list of sorts — not birds or plants but novellas. I’m so glad to have one more. Light sounds intriguing. And the idea of circadian novels is wonderful.

    • I’d think you’d like it Theresa. My Pallas Athene edition has a lovely blurb from John Berger: ‘This is a marvelous book and I read it spellbound. It’s almost as if light itself written this book…I know of no other book quite like it.’ Sometimes I think that’s what I seek as a reader, that wonderful (and ever harder to get) feeling that I’ve never read anything quite like this before. (Though — am I slightly disagreeing with Berger? — Light clearly owes a lot to Virginia Woolf, which I think you have to be incredibly good to pull off well, and Eva Figes does.)

      • I wonder if anyone who’s read Virginia Woolf can be immune to her influence? Even if a reader or a writer isn’t actively looking for a guide, a model, I think the possibility is there. Her sentences, her rhythms, the way she simply plunges in — the opening of Mrs. Dalloway, which you’ve cited above! — and you follow, entranced. So if light and VW are the muses of Eva Figes, then it makes me even more eager to read her novella.

  2. Pingback: light | ...Theresa Kishkan, writer...

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