Year: 2015

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald | edge of evening

Penelope Fitzgerald: The Bookshop

In 1959 Florence Green occasionally passed a night when she was not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not. This was because of her worries as to whether to purchase a small property, the Old House, with its own warehouse on the foreshore and to open the only bookshop in Hardborough. The uncertainty probably kept her awake. Seven years ago, when I turned thirty, we were in East Anglia to celebrate the wedding of our friends A & I. We spent the eve of my birthday in the small coastal town of Southwold. T was fifteen months old. We walked on the beach with her, looking out into the bleak North Sea, then sat on a bench outside a pub drinking pints of Adnams while she watched us from her pushchair. The skies were vast and pearly with opalescent cloud. It was our first hotel stay with a baby and when she’d fallen asleep we read together in the bathroom, taking it in turns to lie in the bath. The next morning it was raining. We ate …

neon pink sunset | edge of evening

Last night: wonder & knowledge

Running round the nature reserve listening to an interview with Mary Ruefle. Swans on the path with their two nearly grown cygnets, brown feathers still in clumps on their wings. Ruefle the wisest and most thought-provoking of companions. She prefers wonder to knowledge. With wonder, she says, you dwell; once you know something you move on. She would prefer to dwell. Tall daisies — ox-eye? — are fading on their stems. The sky is quilted with clouds. Later this quilt will glow neon pink as the sun drops behind the trees. Ruefle recalls the moment her life changed: age thirteen, lying in the basement of her parents’ house, a cast on her leg, hearing Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ read by her older sister or perhaps reading it to herself from her sister’s college poetry anthology. Whichever way, heard or read, she can still see her sister standing at an ironing board. Later she talks about technology, about how she believes in her right to personal privacy and in the right to decide where she wants to direct her …

Agnes Martin by Gianfranco Gorgoni, 1974 | edge of evening

Agnes Martin

I lived in the present, which was that part of the future you could see. The past floated above my head, like the sun and the moon, visible but never reachable. from ‘Landscape’ by Louise Glück, in the collection Averno   Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not just in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life.Agnes Martin, 1989 My paintings have neither objects nor space or time nor anything — no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form.Agnes Martin, 1966 Last Saturday we took the train to London & walked from Waterloo along the South Bank to the Tate to see the beautiful and lucid works in the Agnes Martin exhibition. I’d read that her work doesn’t reproduce well, and now I agree: the subtleties of texture and tiny variations in colour were invisible in the books and prints they were selling outside the exhibition. I think it’s the imperfections in her quest for perfection that make her work so captivating. Now she’s looking down on …

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion | edge of evening

Run River, Play It As It Lays

Somebody holds the door open for Lily in a hardware store, and she thinks she has a very complex situation on her hands.Run River by Joan Didion Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life. If she could keep that in mind she would be able to play it through, do the right thing, whatever that meant.Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion I read Run River (1963) and Play It As It Lays (1970) back to back. Then I tried to remember what I had once read Zadie Smith saying about Didion’s fiction. I recall two things: (1) it was high praise; (2) it was in the days when my lunch hour used to take me to the Waterstones on Piccadilly pretty much every day and I would run up & down its art deco staircase high with the freedom of being out of the office, the wooden handrail smooth under my loose grip. These two points not being much to go on (giving me only Zadie Smith circa the time of On Beauty; myself …

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman | edge of evening

Binocular Vision

Iread Susan Dominus’s Motherhood, Screened Off last week as I guess a lot of you did too, coming to it, yes, through a link on Twitter while I was in the kitchen ostensibly preparing tea. I loved her evocation of her mother’s address book, which made me think of my own mother’s address book and telephone book — and the earlier telephone book, spiral bound, whose white plastic binding eventually disintegrated with age and use. But the guilt I felt reading Dominus’s argument that our smartphones make our actions — checking the weather, looking up a friend’s address — mysterious to our children, was all focussed on the book she was reading on her phone at her sons’ soccer practice when another mother called them both out on staring into their devices: Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision.  Because Binocular Vision has been sitting on my shelf unread for a year or so. A charity shop find that I was so very pleased with because I’d read the reviews of this collection of Pearlman’s selected and new stories, …

37

Age doesn’t necessarily bring anything with it, save itself. The rest is optional. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson Last week mainly took me to places I didn’t want to go. It took me to being 37, the age that for the longest time I have not wanted to be because at some point being 37 will mean being older than my father was when he died. I used to be suspicious of people who were 37. They were never as grown up as I thought a 37-year-old should be. They didn’t have all the answers any more than I had all the answers, but I knew that they should have them because they were 37. Then, once I was in my 30s, I realised the impossibility of being as wise and sure and grown up as a 37-year-old parent is to an eleven-year-old child, which is, of course, wiser and surer and more grown up than any 37-year old — or at least this 37-year-old — actually is to themselves. The day after I turned 37 I found …

The Story of the Lost Child

There are moments when what exists on the edges of our lives, and which, it seems, will be in the background forever — an empire, a political party, a faith, a monument, but also simply the people who are part of our daily existence — collapses in an utterly unexpected way, and right when countless other things are pressing upon us.The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante I spent six happy days torn between my inability to put down the final book of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet and my desire for it to never come to an end. I think that this was probably exactly what Ferrante was trying to do to me. I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because …

Into the forest

I’m alone in the house. The Pip-Pop, now two and three-quarters, started at forest pre-school this morning. He’s the exact age that the other two were when they became a big sister/brother. Sometimes that seems very small, but most often it seems plenty big enough. He’ll be going to pre-school one morning a week to start with, then gradually increasing until after Christmas he’ll be doing his fifteen funded hours. He’s been really excited about going. He thinks that he looks like a fire engine in his new red waterproof dungarees. We dropped the older two at school, walked back to the house together hand-in-hand. As I strapped him into his car seat he said, ‘Mumma, why do I have to have my first day without you?’ I told him I didn’t know, but that it would be a lot of fun. When I got home again, I didn’t know what to do because there was so much that I wanted to do. To read, to write, to go for a walk alone. Even to …

There was coffee, there were books

It must seem to my children that my two main interests in travel (or indeed in life) are books and coffee. And they have a fair point. One of the things I love the most about being anywhere new is imagining what it must be like to live there — thinking about how climate and place shape our lives; wondering what a normal day looks like to someone who lives there. Cafes and bookshops; coffee shops and book stores; they don’t, to me at least, seem the worst place to start. I set out with just two books, The Grapes of Wrath & Joan Didion’s Sentimental Journeys. I came back with seventeen. We had to buy an extra bag for the return flight. This is just a selection. You can blame most of it — the excellent bookshops, the great coffee places — on Nicole Gulotta’s wonderful blog Eat This Poem and the fantastic collection of literary city guides she has curated there. We had the best guides — to Sonoma County, to San Fransico, …

Notes from the Golden Land

I suppose that what I really wanted to say that day at my daughter’s school is that we never reach a point at which our lives lie before us a a clearly marked open road, never have and never should expect a map to the years ahead, never do close those circles that seem, at thirteen and fourteen and nineteen, so urgently in need of closing. ‘Pacific Distances’ in Sentimental Journeys by Joan Didion I‘ve only been to the States once before: in the spring of 1992, we stayed with English friends who were spending a couple of years in Connecticut. I was thirteen. I went to school with my friend Jane (who was by then Jayne) and stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, and marvelled at the unregulated opportunities to eat fries and donuts and drink thick milkshakes that the lunch hall provided. But when we arrived in LA in the late afternoon, it seemed that I knew the tropes — the palm trees, the golden light, the impossible clarity and size of that blue, …