Sunday, 26 December 2021
Ho, ho, ho
Wednesday, 8 December 2021
Three postmen chatting on Palatine Road
Friday, 3 December 2021
Some other things
a quarter tone
of missing persons
the world over
From the Old English:
the coast's open maw
pointing the way
to the whale road
gap in the teeth
of a terraced street
I ordered 'The Small Backs of Children' by Lidia Yuknavitch and was very disturbed by it. It is an interesting technique where a writer does not give characters names, but identifies them by other means, in this book they are called 'the writer' 'the photographer' 'the artist' and so on. It allows you to stay a step back from their experiences. There were a lot of fucked up people in this story. I did not like it and wished I had not read it, to the extent that I was not going to mention it at all, but decided that the blog is supposed to record all my reading. I don't think I am in a place right now to cope with the darkest side of humanity in my reading. Having said that she is obviously a very well respected writer with interesting things to say.
I found 'Natural Novel' by Georgi Gospodinov in the Oxfam bookshop, where all the best European literature can be found. And who doesn't like a nice self referential storyline, where the writer himself is the main character, and he observes through the novel his own disintegration. Or something like that, I'm not sure to be honest. But a bit of experimental writing never hurt anyone. This is a quote pulled at random:
Good news and sad news
Threads of Ruin
Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Winter is coming
Wednesday, 27 October 2021
'The Hummingbird' by Sandro Veronesi read much better in a long stretch; it confused me when I was reading it in fits and starts. It jumps around in time, telling the story of Marco Carrera in a mixed up order, hopping from childhood to middle age and back again. It is interspersed with letters between himself and Luisa, the love of his life, a relationship that is crushed at its start by the suicide of his sister. It is the life of a flawed human being, who knows this about himself. His world crashes down several times but life just goes on, as it does, and he copes even though he convinces himself he is responsible for the crashes. He turns to people and asks for help but also has unexpected reserves of strength. He devotes his life to his daughter, his parents, his granddaughter. By the end of the book I was hugely fond of this man.
Monday, 27 September 2021
I felt ambivalent about 'Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights' by Salman Rushdie (though the front page of his website is an interesting collage of images). In it the world is invaded by strange forces and even stranger beings, and Geronimo Manezes, a perfectly ordinary bloke, finds he has the fate of the world in his hands. The human beings are just powerless victims of the jinni that have arrived, but the jinni are just all powerful destroyers with no particular aim in mind and little to distinguish between them. It makes numerous references to 1001 Nights and I kept expecting tales to emerge during the story, but it just turned into a battle for the world, with a somewhat predictable ending. Faintly unsatisfying. Sometimes I dislike a book when you get the feeling that the writer is trying too hard to be clever, but this is Salman Rushdie; I just was unconvinced by the fairyland thing and the motivations of pretty much everyone. Sorry.
I ordered 'Pandemonium' by Andrew McMillan after reading a Guardian review. They manage to be both clever with words and images, creating allusions to more abstract thought and emotion, and also about something real. That's a hard thing to pull off in my opinion. Really liked this one, from the section entitled Knotweed:
how many evenings have I thought the garden done
walked out and seen fresh clumps of weed mithering
the dirt some people cannot tell the difference
between what should be there and not I'm one of them
ignorant till one thing overgrows another
or gets choked there is always something needing
to be tended a small salvage down in the muck
I've grown to think if I go out at night
I might catch them at it but the soil lays still
beneath the harvest moon that is the size
of your sadness and growing waxing until
its whole face peers over at our house pockmarked skin
like a ploughed field picked clean of all its crops
still you will not come outside
It seems like the library has mostly done away with actual audiobooks, what with the downloading thing that everyone likes to do, but I found this one, when I went searching for this book (probably another Guardian review). 'Doppler' by Erlend Loe is about a bloke (lot of them about) who begins to question everything about his life, and so walks away into the forest and abandons everything and everyone. He kills an elk (to eat, not for the fun of it) and is then adopted by it's orphaned calf. They have a nice contented, quiet life together, pilfering from unguarded houses and suchlike, until people begin to intrude back into his life. It is quite surreal and made me laugh out loud, which is not something that reading has done for me in a while. He talks to and about the elk as if it were a friend, it's a nice relationship. I totally get where he was coming from when he tries to steal a giant toblerone. You can't help but admire his single minded pursuit of avoiding the world, but somehow keeps drawing it to him. The unabashed thievery is refreshing. An unlikely hero for our time. Highly recommended.
'An Island' by Karen Jennings was serious reading, longlisted for the Booker this year. I see she is South African but the book feels like it has been translated from something east european. The country is unspecified but has a troubled and chequered political history. Samuel lives as a lighthouse keeper, but mostly it emerges because an extended prison stay has left him unable to function around people. He looks after his chickens and grows some vegetables and once a fortnight the boat brings him some supplies. A man washes up on the shore, alive rather than dead like most of the flotsam, and over the course of the following days an uneasy relationship develops between the two, who cannot understand each other. We learn the story of the rest of Samuel's life; as a young man he joined a political organisation opposed to the government. He was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, then ostracised by the other prisoners when they suspected him of collaborating. He is eventually released after 25 years but understands little of what has passed in the world outside. You begin to understand the suspicion he feels towards the man.
"There had been thirty-two of these washed-up corpses during the twenty-three years that he had been lighthouse keeper. All thirty-two nameless, unclaimed. In the beginning, when the government was new, crisp with promises, when all was still chaos, and the dead and missing of a quarter of a century under dictatorial rule were being sought, Samuel had reported the bodies. The first time officials had come out, with clipboards and a dozen body bags, combing the island for shallow graves, for remains lodged between boulders, for bones and teeth that has become part of the gravelly sand.
'You understand,' the woman in charge had said, as she looked down at a scuff mark on her patent-leather heels, 'we have made promises. We must find all those who suffered under the Dictator so that we can move forward, nationally. In a field outside the capital, my colleague found a grave of at least fifty bodied. Another colleague discovered the remains of seven people who had been hanged from trees in the forest. They were still hanging, you understand, all this time later. Who knows how many we will find here? I am certain it will be many. This is an idea dumping ground.' " (p.5)
The story gradually builds up the tension between the two men. At first Samuel is sympathetic, the man is afraid when the supply boat comes and Samuel hides him, but later he feels threatened as the man tells him something he cannot understand but with a finger across the throat gesture that seems unambiguous. His feelings of weakness and impotence are made worse by memories of his youth when he participated in an unsuccessful protest and was unable to kill a soldier in a fight. He feels the security of his life on the island is threatened, he thinks the man wants to take it all from him, he is old and fears he can do nothing to prevent it. Things are bought to a head when another body washes up. I liked this quote, it is as if the island has become a microcosm for his country, that he is trying to protect, the man becomes like the Dictator in his mind. The trauma he has experienced is both personal and national, but all he has left in his life now is the island:
"It seemed a hundred years since he had last been here. A century within which he had trebled, quadrupled in age. He was older now, very old; older than any man had ever been. His body was in pain, as were his bones. His mind hurt to think of anything other than home and bed. He could capture nothing, everything had become intangible, a dream. There was no man on the island. There was no one but himself. He was alone.
He caught hold of the man again in his mind, forced himself to remember him. The threat of him. Would he be able to avoid death for a fortnight, keep alive until the supply boat returned, then flee to the jetty, beg to be let on board, hurrying them to start the motor, to go, to make haste? The island, the tower, the cottage, the wall, and his vegetables. All of it would be left behind, to be taken over and ruled by this other man. The smotherweed would be allowed to grow wild. It would cover the buildings, the garden, the land. The stone perimeter would collapse as the sea moved in, carving away the island, making away with it, until nothing remained.
He could not allow that to happen. He would not give up his land; he would not leave; he would never leave. The land was his always." (p.146)
An excellent read, thoroughly absorbing, and frightening, and troubling, so yes, I had a lot of reactions to it.
Stay safe. Be kind. It's Banned Books Week, enjoy a banned book.
Sunday, 19 September 2021
Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Saturday, 28 August 2021
Post 5 - Assembly
"But it's there. Dread. Every day is an opportunity to fuck up. Every decision, every meeting, every report. There's no success, only the temporary aversion of failure. Dread. From the buzz and jingle of my alarm until I finally get back to sleep. Dread. Weighing cold in my gut, winding up around my oesophagus, seizing my throat. Dread. I lie stretched out on the couch or on my bed or just supine on the floor. Dread. I repeat the day over, interrogate it for errors or missteps or - anything. Dread, dread, dread, dread. Anything at all could be the thing that fucks everything up. I know it. That truth reverberates in my chest, a thumping bass line. Dread, dread, it's choking me. Dread." (p.28)
But with the boyfriend:
"But what it takes to get there isn't what you need once you've arrived.
A difficult realization, and a harder actualization.
I understand what this weekend means. Pulling back the curtain, he's invited me to the chambers beyond. It's not acceptance, not yet. It's just a step further, closer. I must learn to navigate it. Through him, and Rach, I study this cultural capital. I learn what I'm meant to do. How I'm meant to live. What I'm supposed to enjoy. I watch, I emulate. It takes practice. And an understanding of what's out of reach. What I can't pull off.
Born here, parents born here, always lived here - still, never from here. Their culture becomes parody on my body." (p.50)
It's a hard book to read because it is bringing out the infinite subtleties of how endemic racism is in our culture, that this one person's experience is symptomatic of millions of experiences, and why the lie of assimilation is so awful, because whatever she does it will not be enough. Here she talks about the anniversary party for the boyfriend's parents that they have come to attend:
"I will be watched, that's the price of admission. They'll want to see my reactions to their abundance: polite restraint, concealed outrage, and a base, desirous hunger beneath. I must play this part with a veneer of new-millennial-money coolness; serving up savage witticisms alongside the hors d'oevres. It's a fictionalization of who I am, but my engagement transforms the fiction into truth. My thoughts, my ideas - even my identity - can only exist as a response to the partygoers' words and actions. Articulated along the perimeter of their form. Reinforcing both their selfhood, and its centrality to mine. How else can they be certain of who they are, and what they aren't? Delineation requires a sharp, black outline." (p.68-9)
"Is it true that his family's wealth today was funded in part by that bought freedom; the loan my taxes paid off? Yes. And he is an individual and I am an individual and neither of us were there, were responsible for the actions of our historical selves? Yes. Yet, he lives off the capital returns, while I work to pay off the interest? Yes. But, here I am now, walking through the fruits of it; land he owns, history he cherishes; the familiar grounding, soil, bricks and trees stretching metres high; the sense of belonging, of safety, of being home. He has that here, always, to return to? Yes. Sleeping this morning, did he look renewed? Yes. Yes, of course. He is home." (p.93)
I belong in this country and take it utterly for granted. She talks in places about colonialism and the ongoing impact it has on the world, and it is so huge. And I don't know what needs to be done.
Stay safe. Be kind. Think about what needs to change.
Post 4 - Little Fires
"And here was Mia, causing poor Linda such trauma, as if she hadn't been through enough, as if Mia were any kind of example of how to mother. Dragging her fatherless child from place to place, scraping by on menial jobs, justifying it by insisting to herself - by insisting to everyone - she was making Art. Probing other people's business with her grimy hands. Stirring up trouble. Heedlessly throwing sparks. Mrs Richardson seethed, and deep inside her, the hot speck of fury that had been carefully banked within her burst into flame. Mia did whatever she wanted, Mrs Richardson thought, and what would result? Heartbreak for her oldest friend. Chaos for everyone. You can't just do what you want, she thought. Why should Mia get to, when no one else did?
It was only this loyalty to the McCulloughs, she would tell herself, the desire to see justice for her oldest friend, that led her to step over the line at last: as soon as she could get away, she would take a trip to Pennsylvania and visit Mia's parents. She would find out, once and for all, who this woman was." (p185-6)
Stay safe. Be kind. Cause some chaos.
Post 3 - The Children Act
Post 2 - three women
So Eve, who has just been sacked, and Sally, who has just left her husband, meet on a tow path and rescue a 'trapped' dog. As a result of the chaos they find themselves agreeing to take a narrowboat to be repaired while its owner, the crotchety Anastasia, goes into hospital.
I liked it because it felt like a suspension of 'real life'; the canals are a world unto themselves, somehow apart from everything, and slow, so slow. And the slowing down has an effect on the characters. I think I liked Sally because she just dives in and loves everything about her new existence, but I also like this quote because of 'Chipper', because anyone would think it was the 1950s, nobody ever uses the word chipper now:
"She stood up, ready to throttle back as she approached a bridge and moored boats. 'Thrupp', said a sign on the wharf. Sally added this to 'clutter' as another word she liked the taste of and would never have spoken, even to herself, before. When she reached Yardley Gobion (was she creating these names from the depth of her happiness, or had they always existed?) Eve was waiting for her. A bit red in the face, a bit damp and muddy.
'I hit a bump,' she said, climbing aboard as Sally slid the Number One into the side. 'And fell off.'
'Are you all right?'
'Chipper. I bounce, or so it seems.' " (p.103)
Other quote from the end. Chatting to my friend Julie the other day by text, about her wanting to quit her job and do something else and I asked her what she wanted from a job and she said she wanted to feel competent at something, and here we have Sally, feeling competent, and how important that can be:
"Owen did talk to passers by, but briefly, and never diverting his attention from the state of the lock. He did have ways of doing things that were a bit different to the ways that Anastasia had taught Eve and Sally, but Sally felt safe. She relaxed; she drove the boat perfectly, in full control. If Owen was watching out for her, checking to make sure she did not need any help, it was not obvious. And she no longer had to be responsible for Noah. The dog had been ecstatic at Owen's arrival, which Owen reciprocated by informing him that he was an atrocious dog, possibly good for only one thing, but no one had worked out what that one thing was. after this, for as long as Owen was with them, Noah ignored Sally, much as he had done when Eve was on the boat. She'd been demoted to fourth place in his affections.
After the first eight of the flight of fifteen, they swapped over. Sally strode ahead and engaged in the usual conversations with other boaters - Where have you come from? Where are you headed? Have you heard there are problems on the Llangollen locks? Do you know where the next water point is? Isn't it a lovely day? ... The inexperienced boaters were always keen to share their lack of experience. Listening to a woman from Wolverhampton explaining her total inability to grasp how a lock worked, Sally remembered that she had done this, too, that first week. Apologised for being useless. She had never felt less like apologising or less useless in her life than now, working her way down the Audlem flight." (p.268)
Stay safe. Be kind. Feel competent.