motherhood, reading, stray thoughts
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Eight

Good Behaviour by Molly Keane | edgeofevening

East Wittering postcard

East Wittering postcard flip sideEight’

“Dear Flo & Alf here we are enjoying the blue sea the weather has been perfect up till now

hope you are enjoying your rest & feeling better

time passing all to [sic] quickly

love to both Anne”
postcard of East Wittering dated August 1949 found in a second-hand copy of Molly Keane’s ‘Good Behaviour’

One of the things I love about reading is the connection a book makes with the place where it was read. There’s hardly a book on my shelves for which I can’t call up some kind of physical memory of reading. For The Great Gatsby, I’m a sixth-former sitting on my friend K’s bed in her university halls in Southampton; another me (re-reading) is propped up in bed in our old flat nursing the Moose. The English Patient takes me to the turquoise bath of a basement flat in Putney, the first place B & I shared without flatmates. Lolita, an isolated barn near Carcassonne in the early weeks of my first pregnancy.

Thinking of the book I was reading at any particular time is somehow a way to re-access who I was then, to apprehend the shape of days otherwise long-forgotten. Little flashes; lightning glimpses into the past. There’s something almost autobiographical about the trail of books we leave in our wake. (This reminds me that two of my favourite end of year reading round-ups last year were shaped around this link between book and place and personal history: here & here.)

A glimmer of reading memory led me to lift Good Behaviour off the shelf last week. It’s the book that I had with me eight years ago when T was born. I can still see it lying on the hospital bed. I bought it entirely for the postcard tucked between its pages. There’s something about the fragmentary nature of that mundane message; something about how an object as emphemeral as a postcard has somehow survived for over 65 years. It seems to possess its own clues: ‘time passing all too quickly’. And it makes me wonder — for surely Anne wouldn’t have expected the weather of that August week to be preserved for so very long? — what unexpected fragments of our own words might endure, tucked into books or otherwise.

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Good Behaviour is a brilliantly dark read. Though it does contain perhaps one of the most chilling mother-daughter relationships I’ve ever read, so perhaps not recommended reading for those about to give birth to a daughter.

4 Comments

  1. Rose Roberts says

    Such a beautiful line of thought, Sarah. After reading your reflections, “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” is the first book that springs to mind. I read it decades ago during a time of upheaval and angst. Lines underlined, words circled. It is so well-loved the first 65 pages fell out and are nowhere to be found, probably lost during one of our moves. But even now, I can feel my chest expand, breathing in hope and strength as I read this exchange between Stephen Dedalus and his friend: ” And were you happier then? Cranly asked softly, happier than you are now…..? Often happy…often unhappy. I was someone else then…. I mean, said Stephen, that I was not myself as I am now, as I had to become.”
    Thanks for sharing…it stirred fragments of words….and fragments of memories! best, Rose

    • Thanks, Rose — that’s so beautiful! I was thinking again this week of the stories in Dubliners. I only read them for the first time a year ago, but what surprised me was how clear so many of them still are in my mind. Maybe it’s time for me to branch out into some more Joyce. You’ve definitely got me tempted.

  2. THIS is why you’re my favourite blogger in the universe. So good! And now I want to read Molly Keane.

    • Too kind! But, yes, do read Molly Keane. I found it a shocking book — all ‘good behaviour’ on the surface, but something far nastier beneath.

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