All posts filed under: books

To the River

I was pulled to the Ouse as a magnet is pulled to metal, returning on summer nights and during the short winter days to repeat some walks, some swims until they amassed the weight of ritual. I’d come to that corner of Sussex idly and with no intention of staying long, but it seems to me now that the river cast a lure, that it caught me on the fly and held me heart-stopped there. And when things in my own life began to falter, it was the Ouse to which I turned. To the River, Olivia Laing   In the summer of 2009, after ‘one of those minor crises that periodically afflict a life’ — the loss of a job, and then a lover — Olivia Laing set out to spend a week walking the length of the River Ouse, forty-two miles from source to sea. The Ouse, ‘a pretty, middling river’ flows through Sussex Weald and Downs and into the English Channel at Newhaven. If it’s famous for anything, it’s for being the …

Remembering

‘Barty and I were very happy in the Fens. We had two children — boys. They were both killed in the Great War — the First World War they call it now.’ Mrs Bartholomew did not cry, because she had done all her crying for that so long ago. from Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (first published 1958) And, oh, how I cried as I tried to read these lines from the final chapter of Tom’s Midnight Garden to T and the Moose outside our tent last summer. Twice last year I was undone by the ubiquity of loss in that generation — the loss of husbands, sons, brothers. A loss so catastrophic that it permeates children’s literature in such a matter-of-fact way. In The Borrowers, it is Mrs May who tells Kate about the tiny people who live in houses and ‘borrow’ things from humans. But it was Mrs May’s younger brother who met Pod and Arrietty and told her about them, ‘He was such a tease. He told us so many things …

Things I Don’t Want To Know

  Now that we were mothers we were all shadows of our former selves, chased by the women we used to be before we had children. We didn’t really know what to do with her, this fierce, independent young woman who followed us about, shouting and pointing the finger while we wheeled our buggies in the English rain. We tried to answer her back but we did not have the language to explain that we were not women who had merely ‘acquired’ some children – we had metamorphosed  (new heavy bodies, milk in our breasts, hormonally-programmed to run to our babies when they cried) in to someone we did not entirely understand. Things I Don’t Want To Know, Deborah Levy We’re speeding now, towards the summer holidays. Two weeks and two days to go. And yet, there’s so much to be fitted in. Sports day, the school summer fair, the Moose’s visits to T’s school which he will start in September. Play dates and picnics and holiday preparations. It’s all fun, but it has the …

Open City

We experience life as a continuity, and only after it falls away, after it becomes the past, do we see its discontinuities. The past, if there is such a thing, is mostly empty space, great expanses of nothing, in which significant persons and events float. Nigeria was like that for me: mostly forgotten, except for those few things that I remembered with an outsize intensity. from Open City by Teju Cole It seems to me now, that to hear anything about this book before reading it would be to profoundly change your experience of it. Perhaps this is true of all books, but I think it is especially so here. So, don’t think of this as a review, don’t even think of it as my thoughts on the book; just think of someone pressing it into your hands, someone pointing you in its direction. What more can I say, without saying anything, to help you know that it’s the book for you? You might know that you have to read Teju Cole, as I did, …

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 …

Oxford

Painting from nature is not a matter of copying the subject, but of expressing one’s feelings. Paul Cézanne On Saturday I had an adventure all of my own. A day with no responsibilities, no requirements, no restrictions. I took myself on the train to Oxford, to the Ashmolean to see Cézanne and the Modern. The whole day was magically mine in a way that no other day has been for far, far too long. The exhibition, and the whole Ashmolean, were a revelation: small enough to enjoy, but vast in scope and perspective. In the exhibition a Van Gogh lit up an entire room, an electric shock of colour. But my favourites, the paintings that I chose to stand or sit in front of and just breath in, were quieter. Cézanne’s still life watercolour of three pears, so exquisitely simple and lucid. A small oil study of a male bather. And another nude from behind, this time a woman by Degas. I seemed to be particularly attracted to these figures seen only from behind – there’s …

No Country For Old Men

The stories gets passed on and the truth gets passed over. As the sayin goes. Which I reckon some would take as meanin that the truth cant compete. But I dont believe that. I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. It dont move about from place to place and it dont change from time to time. You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt. You cant corrupt it because that’s what it is. It’s the thing you’re talkin about. I’ve heard it compared to the rock – maybe in the bible – and I wouldnt disagree with that. But it’ll be here even when the rock is gone. It isn’t often that I read a book because I saw the movie. But this is how it was with my first Cormac McCarthy novel. I read No Country For Old Men because I watched the film. And I only watched the film because I love the Coen brothers. (Yes, slightly late. The film …

Dubliners

When the short days of winter came dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played until our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent streets. from ‘Araby’ by James Joyce It’s hard to come to a book without expectations. The author, the context in which you select the book (a review, a random find in the library or charity shop), the cover (oh, the cover!), the blurb – everything conspires to give you a sense of the space the book might occupy, the position it might take in the shelves of your mind. It’s even harder to come to a book without expectations when it was first published a century ago and has been discussed and written about ever since. And so it was with James Joyce’s early short stories …

Pleasures elude me

It’s been a tough week. Not for any reason in particular. Just hard to regain solid ground. Hard to move towards some sort of equilibrium after the Easter break. To reconcile myself to the limited time I have to read, to write, to idle. I’ve noticed that even in my daily writing (the fifteen minutes of something small), I don’t want to be fully alone with myself. I try to trace these feelings of suffocation and constriction back to their source. They seem to be simply a rising panic, a strange desperate sense that I should be doing more. That something small is not enough. I feel like I’ve reached this point before: notebooks full of words; scraps and observations; ideas and beginnings. But nothing finished. Nothing complete. I start writing a poem in an old notebook. The poem on the page before is dated May 2009. Five years ago. Two children ago. With time at my disposal, say an hour in the evening after the little ones are in bed & before B gets …

The Children’s Bach

Vicki went to the boys’ room and fortified herself, as women do, with the sight of sleeping children, the abandonment of limbs, the oblivious breathing, the throats offered to the blade. ‘If anyone came to harm them,’ thought Vicki, ‘I would kill. Without even thinking twice.’ I have a theory that having children is, among other things, simply to re-live one’s childhood from the other perspective. Sometimes, re-reading can have the same perspective-shifting effect. One Sunday night I returned to Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach, devouring it in a single sitting under a blanket on the sofa. If pressed to choose, I would say that this slender novella is among my favourite books. Dexter & Athena Fox live in the Melbourne suburbs with their two small children, precocious Arthur & autistic Billy. It’s the mid 80s. The Children’s Bach is the story of what happens when their gentle, constrained domesticity rubs up against the casual presence of drugs, music & sex brought into their lives by Dexter’s old university friend Elizabeth, her boyfriend Philip, and …