All posts filed under: reading

Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich | edge of evening

Of Woman Born

I don’t know why I thought I could get away without reading Of Woman Born. Its canonical status felt off-putting; its age (it was first published in 1976) surely meant it would be dated, unnecessary. But still, it was always there. It was reading, and loving, Rachel Zucker’s Mothers, itself interspersed with quotes from Rich’s classic, that finally pushed me to read it. And, of course, I was wrong. Reading Of Woman Born, during long February evenings on the sofa as B played acoustic guitar beside me, I felt it cracking open the very ground I find myself standing on. As Rich writes in her 1986 introduction, “Some ideas are not really new but keep having to be affirmed from the ground up, over and over. One of these is the apparently simple idea that women are as intrinsically human as men, that neither women nor men are merely the enlargement of a contact sheet of genetic encoding, biological givens. Experience shapes us, randomness shapes us, the stars and weather, our own accommodations and rebellions, above all, the …

The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer | edge of evening

The Pumpkin Eater

A womb isn’t all that important. It’s only the seat of life, something that drags the moon down from the sky like a kite and draws the sea in and out, in and out, the world’s breathing. At school the word ‘womb’ used to make them snigger. Women aren’t important.The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer I‘ve been doing a lot of rereading these past few weeks. Looking back at books I’ve loved & trying to  see them afresh, wondering always how they cast their magic. But one new-to-me book I have read is Penelope Mortimer’s slim 1962 novel, The Pumpkin Eater, now reissued as both a NYRB Classic and a Penguin Classic. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of a woman married to her fourth husband, an up and coming screenwriter (based on the author’s husband, John Mortimer) and the consequences of his infidelities and her focus on their home and many, many children. The writing is so fresh — funny and moving by turns — with wonderful dialogue and a great deal of space between what is …

Hot Milk & Eileen | edge of evening

The female body: Eileen & Hot Milk

It’s up to you to break the old circuits.Hélène Cixous, ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’, epigraph to ‘Hot Milk’ by Deborah Levy So often with reading, it’s all about the connections. The secret conversations between one book and the next. And, blue covers & Booker shortlist connection aside, the two books I ended last year with had a lot to talk to one another about. Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen and Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk could stay up all night talking about mothers (alive and dead), fathers (alcoholic and abandoning), alienation, boldness, sexuality, and the female body. They’re also both compulsively readable novels. I came to Ottessa Moshfegh through her short stories which are fearless and physical and altogether unlike anything else. I highly recommend ‘Bettering Myself’ in the Paris Review (subscription or free trial needed to read the whole story). Eileen is set over a few days before Christmas in 1964 and narrated by a much older Eileen looking back on her twenty-four year old self and what turned out to be her last few days in X-ville, the …

Human Acts by Han Kang | edge of evening

Human Acts

Some memories never heal. Rather than fading with the passage of time, those memories become the only things that are left behind when all else is abraded. The world darkens, like electric bulbs going out one by one. I am aware that I am not a safe person. Is it true that human beings are fundamentally cruel? Is the experience of cruelty the only thing we share as a species? Is the dignity that we cling to nothing but self-delusion, masking from ourselves this single truth: that each one of us is capable of being reduced to an insect, a ravening beast, a lump of meat? To be degraded, damaged, slaughtered — is this the essential fate of human kind, one which history has confirmed as inevitable?Human Acts by Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith It’s Wednesday morning, the last week of term. Later, I will pick Pops up from pre-school early & together we will go to church for the school Harvest Festival service. The sky is a high distant blue streaked …

all the books | edge of evening

All the books

Ten years ago this September, we went on holiday to the south of France. We were staying in a remote barn about an hour from Carcassonne. We got lost on the way, famously going the ‘wrong’ way — or at least the long way — round a mountain, on a road so narrow we couldn’t turn back. When we finally reached the road the property was closest to, we bumped up a steep and twisting 2km unpaved track in our rental car. Parked outside the stone barn there was an ancient yellow Citroën 2CV which looked like it might never make it back down the track. The barn was owned by an actor who lived in Barcelona & she’d furnished its open-plan room simply but perfectly: a low double bed, two desks each beneath its own window, a small sofa and armchair in the middle of the room, & a kitchen in one corner. There was a woodburner in the centre of the room & the September evenings in the mountains were cool enough for us to use …

The Baby in the Mirror by Charles Fernyhough | edge of evening

The Baby in the Mirror

She wove language from the plainest of threads. Before she could talk, she could spin lengths of undifferentiated sound, just by voicing an outbreath and letting the noise push out on a flow of exhaled air. By eight weeks she could shape her mouth to make a contented ur-ur, expressing satisfaction at the way the world looked and the fact that she was at the centre of it. Her growing awareness of reality meant multiplying objects of desire, new ways for her material ambitions to be thwarted.The Baby in the Mirror by Charles Fernyhough It’s strange, but I’ve read so much about motherhood that it’s easy to overlook how very little I’ve read about fatherhood. Nicolson Baker’s wonderful Room Temperature. Peter Carey’s essay A Letter to Our Son. I think of Gilead but although that is a wonderful book of fatherly love, it is, of course, written by a mother not a father. It doesn’t amount to much. So it was wonderful to read The Baby in the Mirror, a tender and searching account of the first three years of life from a …

Geranium | edge of evening

Headlong

Last night the knife slipped when I was making dinner. When I uncurled my right hand from the middle finger of my left, ready to see the fresh red of my blood, there was nothing. Looking closer at a finger that throbbed numbly but wasn’t bleeding, I saw that I had sliced right through my fingernail. A thin line of red appeared: a backslash on the nail bed. I called B to come and finish chopping the onion. This morning I’ve come out to the coffee shop to be looked after by the beautiful young people. Girls with glossy long hair and impossibly thin waists. Boys with plaid shirts and black skinny jeans. They bring my coffee to me and I sit and watch them work and read Kate Zambreno. The place is full of newborns. I feel like I’ve been crying all night — though in reality the tears are constantly at the back of my eyes, prickling, threatening to fall. “What has been omitted?” asks Zambreno. “What has been scratched out? Days, lives, wives.” She is writing …

Her Thirty-Seventh Year by Suzanne Scanlon | edge of evening

Her 37th Year: An Index

HAMLET (see also: Baby, The), We watch three film versions of Hamlet. I cry even when it is Bill Murray playing Polonius. I imagine my baby as Laertes. “Do you know how it is when someone dies? Birth is like that, too, just in reverse,” I say. Just before you announce the impending awkwardness, I ask aloud, “How could I have created something, someone, whom I will someday lose?” I think, How could life mean anything more, ever, ever again? . JOY (see also: Mother, Question, and Skunks), as experienced when in a dark room I lie next to Magoo and his cousin. Every so often, just when I think they might be asleep, a high voice with a serious question: “Are there skunks in Pittsburgh?” or “Do old-fashioned cars go faster than convertibles?” Four-year old musing & inquiry; for a moment I wish that Magoo would be four years old forever, that I might spend a life in this room with two four year old boys. There are times it feels like Heaven to …

In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower | edge of evening

In Certain Circles

Whether the expressions so recently shown on her face belonged to the luminous quality of her eyes, or to the shape of her mouth, or to her nature, neither Zoe nor her mother yet knew: she was only seventeen. Zoe had awakened in this square stone house on the north side of Sydney Harbour, and learned soon afterwards from her family and their friends that she was remarkable. There was a big garden. There were people of her own size for company. At the end of the short street of old houses in long-established gardens was a white curved beach with rocks, rock pools, very small waves, shells, pebbles, fine sand. She swam before she walked. In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower Sometimes you read a book which contains answers to questions that you haven’t yet fully articulated. I’ve just been sitting on a bench in the garden, beneath the magnolia, with a riotous racket of birdsong going on all around me. I went out there to leaf through In Certain Circles, to remember why I loved it so. …

February

February. I’m not so sure about February. January is so stark and clean: the year stretching ahead, the diary empty, the slate wiped & resolve high. Then February comes along & things start to get muddied by reality. Who knows whether I’m achieving everything I wanted to when the year began? Certainly not me because I’m not opening my diary to find out. (This is also how I found myself running back to school with a hastily made packed-lunch yesterday morning after forgetting that it was the day of the Moose’s school trip to the science centre.) Still. Here’s what I know I have done. I finished Anna Karenina last Saturday night. I loved it & keep waking up thinking about it. Whenever I read a classic I find myself thinking oh! that’s why it’s so famous & beloved! and wondering why I didn’t read it years ago. My mind is still fizzing with remembered connections and echoes, and it seems the kind of book that needs to be revisited at different stages of life. (Clearly I’ve already missed some angles!) …