Thursday 31 January 2013

Thank you for calling

'A Widow's Story : A memoir' by Joyce Carol Oates
It takes someone like Joyce Carol Oates to write a memoir about the death of her husband without it coming across as mawkish or self-pitying. She muses intermittently through the book that maybe she didn't know her husband very well, that there were things that they both hid from each other, and yet they were such a tightly bound unit, the ultimate married couple. I didn't feel as if I got to know Ray well, it is only towards the end that she gives some background about him, but she certainly lets you inside her own head, unstintingly and unashamedly honest.

"In writing this, I feel I am betraying Ray. Yet in not writing it, I am not being altogether honest.
There is no purpose to a memoir, if it isn't honest. As there is no purpose to a declaration of love, if it isn't honest." (p.361)

The book is very long, and in places repetitive, but all the more powerful, because you get such a strong sense of the emotional turmoil she is in. Her husband Ray dies very unexpectedly and suddenly of pneumonia; you get the impression she suspects he contracted a further infection while in hospital but having refused an autopsy there is no way in retrospect to find out. As a result she blames herself, for insisting that, having fallen ill, she take him to the germ infested place and leaves him there. She berates herself for her naive trust in the medical system. She recounts her descent into madness and the intense nature of the loss she suffers. It is as if she has been divided in half; the half that experiences the loss and the other half, the half that is watching, curiously, how she reacts to this loss. She keeps this sense of distance by constantly referring to 'the widow' in little paragraphs in italics, as if trying to comfort herself with the notion of how many other widows have gone through the same experience, acknowledging that her emotions are not unique, that it is of course an everyday experience for a woman to become a widow. But also that being a widow is a 'role' that must be played, people expect certain things and certain kinds of behaviour, and how unnatural and unreal it all seems. 

"The widow's terror is that, her mind being broken, as her spine is broken, and her heart is broken, she will break down utterly. She will be carried off by wild careening banshee thoughts like these." (p.88)

"The Widow has entered the stage of primitive thinking in which she imagines that some small trivial gesture of hers might have meaning in relationship to her husband's death. As if being 'good' - 'responsible' - she might undo her personal catastrophe. She will come slowly to realise that there is nothing to be done now." (p.92)

She quotes a message from a friend that says "Suffer, Joyce. Ray was worth it", and she does, going through the gamut of emotions, and forever the lurking fear of being swamped by them. Falling gladly into taking medication, from sleeping pills to a variety of antidepressants, but fearing the possibility of addiction and wondering if they are actually helping at all. She struggles on with the other parts of her life, continuing to teach and keeping her commitments to do readings and appearances. It is almost as if doing these things does keep her sane, she can maintain the idea that life has not disintegrated entirely.

"Nietzsche said 'The thought of suicide can get one through many a long night.' "
"Each night I get through is a small triumph." (emails to friends P.117)

The thought of suicide takes on the imagined embodied form of a glassy-eyed basilisk that stalks her when she is alone and tempts her with the idea that she could end her suffering. It is a sinister and threatening presence throughout the book and was obviously very real to her, but something that she struggled to resist.

"The basilisk, for instance, rarely follows me from this house. Amid a babble of people chattering of politics the basilisk seems to have no power, no presence. If we are asked How are you? we must not say Suicidal. And you?" (p299)

Earlier she makes this interesting observation on how sympathy operates and how one is supposed to react, from a chapter entitled 'How are you?':

"From time to time, in a social situation, an individual will acknowledge that things aren't so good, maybe he/she isn't so fine, which will derail the conversation in a more personal pointed direction. But this is rare, and must be handled with extreme delicacy. For it's in violation of social decorum and people will be sympathetic initially - but finally, maybe not." (p.127)

A picture of their life together emerges in pieces, little snippets between her musing about death and trying to avoid letting on how bad she feels to anyone around her:

"We occupied the house often for hours at a time without speaking to each other, or needing to speak.
For this is the most exquisite of intimacies - not needing to speak."

... and how different it has become:

"Now, I dare not look across the courtyard at the plate-glass window that runs the length of the room. I think that I am terrified to see no one there. Yet more terrified, to risk seeing a reflection in the glass - for in our house there are myriad reflections of reflections in glass - a kind of vertigo springs from such reflections, like the sharp flash of light that precedes migraine.
Mirrors have become off-limits, taboo. As if toxic fumes inhabit these ghost mirrors, you dare not draw too close." (p.146)

Here she finds solace in talking to other women, some widowed, and some divorced, putting her own experience in sharp contrast (love the metaphor in this, it is very graphic):

"Much of the dinner conversation turns upon E's situation - the imminence of her expulsion from her beautiful house - her financial crisis - the ways in which her companion seems to have betrayed her trust.
Where there is betrayal, there can be anger, rage. I am thinking with envy how much healthier, how much more exhilarating, such emotions would be, than the heavyheartedness of grief like a sodden overcoat the widow must wear." (p.269)

I was taken aback by how she resisted asking people for help, or accepting the help that was offered, almost as if she was determined to go through it alone, as if it were some kind of badge of honour. She is lonely and afraid but resists offers of companionship; goes to see doctors but does not really tell them how she is feeling; neglects herself physically, almost as if she is punishing herself for not being a good enough wife. It is only towards the last part of the book that you begin to learn a little of her early life with Ray and how they became this self contained couple, and you begin to understand:

"Yet, somehow: our eight or nine months exiled in Beaumont were often idyllic, tenderly intimate, and certainly productive. In these months we became so extremely close, so utterly dependent upon each other, as we had not while living in Madison Wisconsin, and attending classes, that we were 'wedded' in this way for life, as each other's closest friend and companion.
We established at this time the routine of our domestic lives: work through the day, a late afternoon walk, dinner, reading/work in the evening until bedtime." (p.314)

They met and married within three months in 1961 and were married for 47 years, and she tells us barely spent time apart. She describes in the early chapters how she calls home, to hear Ray's voice on the answering machine, a message that stays there for over a year, despite disapproving comments from friends. This is a tale of love and loss, poignant and heartbreaking, but also a tale of a search for meaning, about what does make life worth living. I found her conclusion quite hopeful. In clearing up some rubbish scattered on the driveway she discovers a lost pair of favourite earrings:

"This is my life now. Absurd, but unpredictable. Not absurd because unpredictable but unpredictable because absurd. If I have lost the meaning of my life, and the love of my life, I might still find small treasured things amid the spilled and pilfered trash." (p.415)

Saturday 26 January 2013

New New Books

... that is, as opposed to new second hand books, which make up most of my book purchases.
Mum and dad gave me a book token for Christmas which I spent in Waterstones a few weeks ago:
Girl Gone by Gillian Flynn - many many people over on Friday Reads have been reading this one, and since I picked up on Stephen King's 11/22/63 from there I thought I would trust their recommendation.
Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles - read about it somewhere and it was on my library request list but when I picked it up and read the first few sentences I knew I was going to love it, so I bought it.
Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins - I reviewed one of his books three years ago and have been intent on some more.

Then I decided to spend my found money collection on books. I quite deliberately wanted to pick a variety of reading experiences, and so this bundle arrived in the post earlier this week:
The Complete Works by Michel de Montaigne (translated by Donald Frame) - having reviewed Saul's book the other week I decided to invest in some serious Renaissance reading, this is going to be quite a long term project at over 1300 pages.
Bento's Sketchbook by John Berger - this one had been on the wishlist for ages, since I read From A to X four years ago I have been planning to read more from John Berger, this is a book about drawing, but more than that.
The days run away like wild horses over the hills by Charles Bukowski - I quoted one of Bukowski's poems some time ago and after reading Post Office I have had it in mind to acquire a book of his poetry.
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly - another from the wishlist, something a bit different from my usual reads.
Dreamland by Madeliene Peyroux -  this was right back at the beginning of my wishlist so I have no idea where I heard about it. I have not bought any music in a long time.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Swimming Home

Alongside the TBR Pile Challenge which runs all year and has strict conditions, I am also partaking in the TBR Double Dog Dare hosted by 'Ready When You Are C.B.' This one runs from 1st January to 1st April and involves only reading stuff from your TBR pile, but there are no particular provisions and can include books you just have hanging around waiting, even ones bought recently, and I have also included books that are on my library reserve list.
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy has been much talked about since it's inclusion on the Booker shortlist last year and I waited in quite a queue to get it from the library. I like the fact that this book is published by a small press called And Other Stories, and they produce their books partly by subscription from the reading public.

This is unabashed literary fiction; a group of people staying in a villa find their relationships disrupted by the arrival of a young woman, but she really just tips the balance in an already precarious situation. So we have this bunch of people taking a holiday together, Joe and Isabel and their daughter Nina, and their friends Laura and Mitchell. Well, I say their friends, Laura is Isabel's friend, old friend with whom she no longer seems to have much in common except a shared past. Mitchell seems to despise Joe, in fact treats almost everyone with contempt. Nina is struggling with adolescence and a fraught relationship with her mother who is a journalist. But just as Isabel runs away from things at home, travelling the world as a foreign correspondent, equally Joe hides behind his poetry, it is always a means to demand to be left alone. Their shenanigans around the pool are overseen by the elderly Madeleine Sheridan, who watches from the neighbouring balcony. Kitty Finch is the untamed young woman who they find in their swimming pool, and, invited by Isabel to stay in the spare room, she begins to unravel their carefully constructed defences. She is the one person we don't really get to know as we watch the reaction of the others around her to her slightly odd behaviour. I felt that there was something a little sinister about her and couldn't help thinking that the denouement of the story was something she deliberately manipulated.

It is a beautifully written book; as I have found before, it is all about writing that you barely notice. Try this for an example of how to avoid using a cliché and to tell us something subtle about another character:
"Kitty Finch's eyes were grey like the tinted windows of Mitchell's hire car, a Mercedes, parked on the gravel at the front of the villa." (p.8)

Wonderful subtle images:
"Claude could hear the voice of Rita Dwighter fall out of the receiver and disappear into the clouds of hashish smoke." (p.109)
"As they strolled down the the Promenade des Anglaise in the silver light of the late afternoon, it was snowing seagulls on every rooftop in Nice." (p.127)
"He wanted to close down like  Mitchell and Laura's shop in Euston. Everything that was open must close. His eyes. His mouth. His nostrils. His ears that could still hear things." (p.145-6)

Here the relationship between Isabel and Joe is unravelling:
"She had not so much distanced herself from him as moved out to another neighbourhood altogether." (p.104)

Although it was a good novel it left me a bit cold. I found I did not care enough about the characters, they were all a little self obsessed, except Jurgen, the German hippy who is caretaker for the villas, who has a genuine fondness for Kitty. You feel that without Kitty as a catalyst they might all have continued along their narrow paths failing to acknowledge their problems. So when Joe spills this diatribe you feel quite pleased to finally see one of them reacting:

"I can't stand the DEPRESSED. It's like a job, it's the only thing they work hard at. Oh good my depression is very well today. Oh good today I have another mysterious symptom and will have another one tomorrow. The DEPRESSED are full of hate and bile and when they are not having panic attacks they are writing poems. What do they want their poems to DO? Their depression is the most VITAL thing about them. Their poems are threats. ALWAYS threats. There is no sensation that is keener or more active that their pain." (p.93)

It's as if he is angry at Kitty for daring to demand something from him that he is incapable of asking for. He feigns annoyance when people ask him for his opinion about their poems when really he is flattered by it. It's as if he wants the adulation without the responsibility it brings. While I didn't like him much I did like the portrayal of his relationship with Nina, father and daughter drawn close by the absence of Isabel, and in some ways the story is essentially about them. It reminded me rather too much of The Accidental by Ali Smith which I felt was a more interesting book. When books have the same theme you can't help but compare. But I don't want to detract from the lovely writing and she is certainly a writer I might seek out again.

Saturday 19 January 2013

4th Blogiversary

It has been a year of tea and books. So much tea. As you can see I finally solved my bedside bookcase conundrum, well, sort of, at least they aren't piled on the floor any more and I have somewhere for my cuppa.

This year's stats:
147 posts

total number of visitors now standing at just over 60,000!

The top posts remain the Lizard Cake and Margaret Atwood Poetry, though the tutorial for the cake is catching up fast and strangely last year's blogiversary post is now 4th. The highest newcomer is the HESFES holiday post from July, although I don't find many people searching that specifically. I did discover that it was my mum searching my name (they have no bookmark on my blog), so that's ok, I haven't got a stalker.

Over 60 books read
1 novel written (more finished than the last one but still nothing to write home about)

1 cable jumper
1 shawl
1 waistcoat
1 pair of slippers
3 pairs of socks
1 hoodie
1 baby hoodie
1 baby cardigan
1 purse
Half a hexipuff quilt
Half a new Dunky jumper

1 blanket

Some felted table mats for Claire but no spinning. Little bits of sewing and an abortive attempt at artistic creativity.

Various animals have come and gone, some deceased, some moved house (belonging to Tish), though we remain in charge of Andie the rabbit.

One car finally sold for scrap, after being owned for over 10 years and after standing on the drive for over a year.

New jobs contemplated and one even applied for but unfortunately still stuck with the old one (we were threatened with an office move but that is on indefinite hold now).

The loft and wall cavities have been insulated, the garage roof repaired and the kitchen tap fixed ... all jobs that have needed doing since we moved in. Oh, yes, and my wonderful curtain rails as well, they were another long overdue job (still enjoying opening and closing them every day).

Looking forward to another year of random blogging.
(Updated 22.50 as Dunk insisted it was lazy not to add links to all my knitting projects.)

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Rub and polish your brain

"When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me? - Montaigne and being in touch with life" by Saul Frampton. I first mentioned this book two years ago because it is written by my cousin Saul (and it's always good to have a little reflected intellectual glory) and I came back and requested it from the library before Christmas after reading the Alain de Botton book that talked about Montaigne and re-piqued my interest. This is a really intellectual book, but I was pleased to find that it was very readable and, although liberally sprinkled with words I had to look up, accessible to a non-academic audience.

During the late middle ages life for most people was (to quote someone) nasty, brutish and short. The people of Europe were plagued by Plague and beset by religious strife, and into this arena stepped the person of Michel de Montaigne. After the death of his father he inherits his title, land, house and vineyards and proceeds to retire to his library, and spends the next twenty years writing his reflections on life in a series of essays. The essays, published and extensively revised during his lifetime, were widely read at the time, are considered a major contribution to philosophy of the Renaissance and continue to be influential today. The book is much more than a mere biography; it delves into the philosophical  influences that would have been part of Montaigne's education and follows his own reasoning through the essays as he moves away from certain popular viewpoints. There is an interesting mixture of social and political history too, that gives you the background of the world that he lives in. While there are some quotes from the essays the aim of the book is to give you an overview of his ideas, translating them somewhat for the modern reader and also placing them in their historic context.

Montaigne is quoted and referenced extensively through western thought and literature; I discovered towards the end of the book that Shakespeare was a big fan and a speech from The Tempest is almost a direct quote from one of his essays. What is impressive is that he has something to say on every aspect of human life, and what is so engaging about him is that his thoughts and opinions are based on his own life experiences and observations, rather than on abstract reasoning. On warfare, he observes the increased use of gunpowder as a weapon, altering the whole nature of battle, and the unpredictability of civil war:
"Moreover, the natural bonds between people are severed by civil war - the 'divisions and subdivisions' which threaten to tear his country apart - rendering them incapable and indeed scornful of sympathy and fellow feeling. Human behaviour, like that of gunpowder, is now unpredictable: we wander a battlefield in darkness and despair." (p.63)

His fondness for cats (see the title) is extended into musings about the relationship/bond between humans and animals:
"We have cat-fights and bear-hugs, we feel bird-brained and sheepish. And if all goes to the dogs, we can resort to calling people pigs, chickens, or cows - or reach for that symbol of our over-eating, over-heated age: the beached whale. This may be just horsing around, but the more we look at history, the more our debts to animals emerge: where they stand as the silvering to the mirror of ourselves, a differential equation through which our humanness is constantly worked out." (p.100)

On communication (specifically here body language):
"And this opens the way to a cautious optimism: that despite the rifts and divisions opened up by civil war, people retain the ability to communicate with each other. Our bodies are engaged in a form of commerce that ties us together, despite the differences in our thoughts ... Despite our political and religious differences, men have an inbuilt disposition towards communication, and the recognition of this will allow truth - or rather trust - to find a way through. (p.119)

He was well travelled and interested in other cultures and traditions. Though never going to the Americas himself he heard many first hand experiences and developed a quite novel notion of civilisation:
"Montaigne asks: if we are all in fact descended from the same land mass and are in fact all related (as palaeobiology now shows that we are), who is to say, therefore, who is civilised and who is not? Or who will be civilised and uncivilised in ages to come?" (p.145)
And challenged the received opinion that inhabitants of the New World are 'barbaric': 
"It is therefore ourselves who are really barbaric, in corrupting and smothering Nature's beauty with clothing and decoration. ... Montaigne thus turns the tables, and inaugurates a tradition that culminates in Rousseau's idea of the noble savage - a prelapsarian state of nature more to be esteemed that artificial poise." (p.146)
On meeting some Tupinamba Indians and striving to understand, as was his wont, what they might think of his culture,  he notes how they observe and cannot understand the extremes of wealth and poverty alongside each other:
"Montaigne then finishes with an ironic flourish: 'This is all very well, but hang on, they don't even wear trousers' - meaning that we will forever judge others by our own habitual prejudices. But this sense of honour as manifested in an openness to the other person, in a gesture of welcoming them and meeting them half-way, is something that seems to strike a certain chord with Montaigne." (p153)

What is also interesting is that he writes about things that often do not concern other philosophers. The nature of human friendship and it's importance is a strong theme; his close friendship with a poet called Etienne de La Boétie that was cut short by his early death was an ongoing source of grief to Montaigne. 

"In this sense the special nature of friendship is not to do with the fact that it comes with no obligations, but because friendship necessarily activates and invigorates our proxemic senses: it arises when two bodies that had once been unknown to each other meet; as Montaigne says: they 'embraced' each other 'by our names', seeking each other out amidst the throng of a civic feast. Montaigne's writing about friendship thus shows a man profoundly impressed by the stoical composure of his dead friend,
yet also drawn to friendship as constituted by physical proximity, an unspoken, invisible but nourishing force." (p.209-10)

He mourns also the way the civil war estranged people from each other in quite extreme ways; pity and sympathy seen as weaknesses, people divided from one another economically, people hoarding wealth because of fear for the future, neighbour being set against neighbour. He writes an essay 'Of Coaches' describing how they physically divide the haves from the have-nots, making it easier for one side to hate the other.

As he goes along the essays become a means of questioning everything he encounters, challenging commonly held beliefs, a process of self-discovery. I get the impression that if he were alive today Montaigne would be a blogger with a lot to say about the state of the world is in now. I love Saul's concluding reflection on Montaigne's life:
"But in closing the slim manual of Stoicism, Montaigne opens the large volume of life. He states in his later essays that it is 'living happily, not ... dying happily that is the source of human contentment'. And whilst there are no 'skyhooks' on which to hang this morality, neither is there an abyss below: 'When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep.' Montaigne is perhaps the first writer in human history to lay his hand on human consciousness, though not, like Descartes, in an attempt to achieve certainty, but in an attempt to justify life on its own terms. Thinking may allow is to part company with ourselves - 'my thoughts are sometimes elsewhere' - but it is the task of philosophy to 'bring them back' to the human, to slow our walk through the orchard of life, and hold in our mouths, for as long as we can, the 'sweetness' and 'beauty' of living." (p.249-50)

I loved also Saul's description of going to visit Montaigne's house, where you can wander around and stand in the library where he wrote; I can imagine that having lived and breathed such a person in the researching of this book you could not help but develop such an affinity with him and want to step into his life. What a wonderful book, and what a fascinating man. I was left feeling that I got to know and like him, but I also learned something of the period that was unknown to me. A copy of his essays is definitely on it's way here.

(p.s. the post title comes from his essay on education, the idea that travel provides a most important lesson, to "rub and polish our brains with others.")

Sunday 13 January 2013

A Spot of Bother - TBR Pile challenge

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon has been on the shelf for quite some time. His first book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, was such a distinctive and interesting book that as a reader you feel worried about how a writer would follow it up. This story follows the fortunes of George, Jean, Katie and Jamie (dad, mum and their two grown up children), while they all experience their own little spot of bother.

George is having trouble adjusting to retirement and finds himself sinking into depression when he discovers a patch on his skin he believes to be cancer. Jean, while getting out of the house and away from George, is having an affair about which she feels guilty. Katie is planning to get married to Ray, a man considered entirely unsuitable by the rest of the family, and she begins to wonder if she is just doing it to piss them off. Jamie is struggling with commitment issues and upsets his boyfriend by saying he doesn't want to take him to the wedding, and it's only after he's gone that Jamie realises how important the relationship was. It's all very genteel and middle class. People are polite and wary of saying what they really mean, even when they get annoyed at each other, and it is that which makes it both funny and annoying. The story is told in very short chapters that jump from the perspective of one character to another, sometimes relating the same incident from the alternate perspective, sometimes moving to a new incident. None of the spots of bother are particularly a catalyst for any of the others, even though the impending wedding seems to be the destination of the book. They think of themselves as a close family but there are things that they don't talk about or share. All of them have their secrets. Just as in his previous book, as the story continues apace there are plenty of astute observations about family relationships.

George's discomfort with Jamie's sexuality is one of the no go subjects. When he arrives for lunch George jumps in with a comment about him bringing someone to the wedding:
"There. That sounded pretty neutral as far as he could tell.
'No dad,' said Jamie wearily. 'I mean Katie and Ray. What do you think about them getting married?'
It was true. There really was no limit to the ways in which you could say the wrong thing to your children. You offered an olive branch and it was the wrong branch at the wrong time." (p.74-5)

There are lots of observations on parent/child relationships; I like this one (Kate's reflections while driving home from the hospital):
"Besides, she liked being in the back with Jacob. The children. No responsibilities. The adults sorting everything out. Like that summer in Italy when the engine of the Alfa Romeo ruptured outside Reggio Emilia and they pulled over at the side of the road and the man with the amazing moustache came and said that it was completamente morte or something like that and Dad actually vomited into the grass, though at the time it was just another bit of strange parental behaviour and a bad smell, and she and Jamie sat on the verge playing with the binoculars and the little wooden snowflake puzzle, drinking fizzy orange without a care in the world." (p.292-3)

And Jamie reflecting on becoming an adult as he arrives for the wedding:
"The secret was to remember that you were an adult now, that all of you were adults, that there was no longer any need to fight the battles you were fighting when you were fourteen.
That was the problem, wasn't it? You left home. But you never did become an adult. Not really. You just fucked up in different and more complicated ways." (p.384)

I read the whole book on two train journeys and one afternoon at mum and dad's. The story moved along pretty quickly and the characters were all very engaging. I got attached to George, even his erratic behaviour and irrational decisions, and the picture of his lurch into confusion that is central to the book was quite vivid. The trusty Ray, who is seriously underestimated by all concerned, proves to be a solid bloke and everyone starts confiding in him. While the rest of the family are so bound up with their own troubles that they don't take George's problem seriously until a real crisis erupts. 
I enjoyed this book very much, made me laugh out loud on the train in the quiet coach. A portrait of a family in crisis, that manages to pull itself back together and play to its strengths instead of its weaknesses. 

(Second book in my TBR Pile Challenge. Next book picked by the random number generator is District and Circle by Seamus Heaney.)

Sirens of Titan - TBR pile challenge

I get the impression that Kurt Vonnegut did not necessarily want to write novels, it's just that they are a convenient way of getting across his ideas.

In The Sirens of Titan the good old Tralfamadorians raise their unusual heads once again; it seems the whole of human history has been influenced by their need to get a spare part for a spaceship to a messenger stuck on Titan. The whole book is a game of cat and mouse controlled by the (seemingly) all-powerful Winston Niles Rumfoord. He is caught in some kind of curious cosmic loop into which he deliberately flew his space craft, and that causes him to materialise on earth for an hour once every fifty nine days. Thanks to his (we learn later) coming into contact with the Tralfamadorian messenger and a strange ability to see the future, he sets about starting an interplanetary war. After a great deal of time and effort the war is a catastrophe. But it's not really about the war, it's more about the role that a young man called Malachi Constant will play in the unfolding of events. He becomes the mouse who's life is just a plaything to Rumfoord; having been labelled the luckiest man on earth Rumfoord becomes a new and much less benign influence of his existence. In his advice to writers Vonnegut says that your characters all have to want something (even if it is only a glass of water). What Malachi Constant wants is to be reunited with his best friend, but good old Rumfoord has one final kick in the teeth for him.

What I like about Vonnegut is that he has all sorts of things going on in his books. Behind the always surreal story he is always looking at the way people relate to each other on a micro level, and then the way society functions on a macro one.

Malachi's first meeting with Rumfoord:
"Constant had not been bullied into feeling inferior by the tone of Mrs Rumfoord's invitation to the materialisation. Constant was a male and Mrs Rumfoord was a female, and Constant imagined that he had the means of demonstrating, if given the opportunity, his unquestionable superiority.
Winston Niles Rumfoord was something else again - morally, spatially, socially, sexually, and electrically. Winston Niles Rumfoord's smile and handshake dismantled Constant's high opinion of himself as efficiently as carnival roustabouts might dismantle a Ferris wheel." (p16-17)

Unk arriving back on earth after his stint on Mercury:
" 'Thanks God!' said Unk.
Redwine raised his eyebrows quizzically. 'Why?' he asked.
'Pardon me?' said Unk.
'Why thank God?'said Redwine. 'He doesn't care what happens to you. He didn't go to any trouble to get you here safe and sound, any more than He would go to the trouble to kill you.' He raised his arms, demonstrating the muscularity of his faith." (p.159-60)

The failure of the martian invasion sparks a new faith in "The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent". Their guiding testament is the statement that Unk makes on his arrival on earth, "I was the victim of a series of accidents, as are we all", foreseen by the all knowing Rumfoord, summing up the fatalistic beliefs and their acceptance of the essentially meaningless nature of existence, that nevertheless needs a god to hold it all together. I am not sure if Vonnegut really felt that the human race was stupid and gullible or if he is merely parodying people who are. Or is he saying that people would be happier if they accepted the random nature of life and ceased their futile pursuit of meaning. And if there were a grand plan for the universe it makes about as much sense to have the Tralfamadorians in charge of it as anything else.

As an interesting sideline I found this tattoo blog of literary tattoos, and though it is only a random sample of people who get tattoos it is interesting to note that Kurt Vonnugut in general, and particularly his quote "so it goes", appears to dominate the genre. From Sirens of Titan I found this one, "I found me a place where I can do good without doing any harm", spoken by Boaz when he decides to stay in the caves on Mercury and look after the harmoniums. I find I quite like the notion of 'do no harm' as a definition of meaning.

(First book in the TBR Pile Challenge. Hosted here by Roof Beam Reader and Mr Linky of all participants here)

Sunday 6 January 2013

Milestones and Mubi

I spent a pleasant afternoon after christmas folding the pictures from old calendar into these fun little boxes, using the instructions here. I had been thinking about it since the year before and had saved the 2011 calendar as well. They are pretty but I don't have anything in particular to use them for.
Creature and I have been working on the hexipuffs while watching films together the last couple of days and we have reached the 200 milestone. Laid out it measures 130cm by 90cm. There are a couple of very odd shaped ones, which of course Creatures is obstinately attached to just because I want to leave them out, but mostly we are thrilled with how it is turning out. 

We have been watching films online on a service called Mubi, that Dunk discovered. It is like Lovefilm or Netflix, but not. You subscribe for, I think, £2.99 but then have a selection of thirty films; a new one is added each day and the oldest one is removed (though I think some popular ones do come round again on a regular basis). They have an eclectic mixture of the well known, cult films, old 1950's or even black and white, films in foreign and worthy documentaries. So we watched part of Sin City, but had to stop because I found the violence a touch gratuitous (and Bruce had been killed off anyway), so we then watched Chocolat and then Heathers, then Incendiary on lovefilm, which was really enjoyable and more subtle than it at first appears. This morning I watched Two Lovers on Mubi and when Creature came down Mirror Mirror on lovefilm. I have been a bit disappointed with Lovefilm Instants, it promises much and delivers little; their selection to watch online is very limited and mostly crap or soft porn. Creature left me to it again so I will probably pop back to Mubi and watch Bend it Like Beckham.

Friday 4 January 2013

Fluffy and Cuddly: Fibre Arts Friday

Happy New Year dear readers.
I had been joining in with Fibre Arts Friday a few times (over on Wisdom Begins in Wonder) but couldn't cope with the pressure to produce something. I have spent far too much time over christmas doing mindless browsing and watching mediocre films. 
Since Tish finally moved back out a few weeks ago we have been taking care of her rabbit Andie (not to mention Trixie and Nixie the snakes, who are less fluffy and photogenic). Having lived in the shed for the summer I moved her into the porch because it is warmer and more accessible for taking care of her. She goes wild with excitement when you open the hutch to give her a chunk of carrot and then tips her bowl of food everywhere. Am thinking of putting up a warning sign for the postman as I have been leaving her to run loose. Her fur is too short for spinning but she is beautifully fluffy nonetheless.
 I have done a few hexipuffs but the knitting has been very sluggish recently.  I made Dunk his Dunky Jumpy two years ago and had been thinking of doing him another for a while, so I have been working on a cable jumper in some merino/cashmere from Kingcraig (the pattern is called Italianate Cables from Interweave Press). I really enjoyed making my yellow cable jumper and wanted another challenge but I confess it was started back in September and has been sorely neglected. The back and front are finally complete and joined together, planning to get the sleeves done in the next week or so. I am hoping he will be just as cuddly in this one. (Found it impossible to get a photo that shows of the cables properly but never mind.)