I treated myself to a taxi. I rode home through the city streets. There wasn't a street, there wasn't a building....that wasn't connected to some memory in my mind. There, I was buying a suit with my father. There, I was having an ice cream soda after school. When I finally came in, Debby was home from work...and I told her everything about my dinner with Andre.
Wednesday, 17 February 2016
Leave Cancelled by Nicholas Monsarrat
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What a strange and unexpected little novella this is, somewhat frank and racy for its time (1945) - something I’d imagine would be “banned in Boston”. Who knew Monsarrat would have written this?
The novel takes the form of a letter written by a man to his wife, describing the last 20 hours or so they spent together in London on their honeymoon (which was cut short) before he was sent away overseas to fight the war. I would imagine it had a lot of resonance at the time for young newlyweds separated.
The monologue touches on shellshock, fear, attitudes toward soldiers, hopes and fears of society after the war, cafe culture, nascent feminism, risque jokes between men and women, and about the nature of and the sustaining power of love. Also has some interesting vignettes of London during the blitz. The author himself even makes an appearance in the novel, cynically expounding on a somewhat Darwinian future at odds with the hopes of a just society held by the husband, who wishes for a more socialist vision - but whatever, it shows that people were thinking life, after all the sacrifices and death, would be different after the war - in fact maybe demanded, and so it was in the UK.
Some of it might seem little quaint to modern ears, but I think you have to place it the context of a war, and all the social upheavals and uncertainty that engendered. Anyway, it held my interest. It’s very short - maybe a three to four hour read.
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Posted by stephen at 20:47
Friday, 5 February 2016
Rummaging through Camilla's bookshop in Eastbourne, and unearthed an interesting looking stream-of-consciousness novel, published anonymously in 1939. But it did have a curious quote by George Bernard Shaw on the cover,
“You have a talent which is more irresistible than Shelley's and Tolstoy's rolled together... You will be one of the greatest of English women writers, in fact one of the greatest of all English writers before you thirty-three”
Intrigued I tried to find out more about her - there's not a hell of a lot of info on her,
She was born in 1881, the only child of a revolutionary Victorian preparatory-school headmaster, whom she hated. For her education she turned to someone very different, her cousin Rupert Brooke, who taught her subjects beyond the school curriculum. He revealed the secret of sexual ethics and the mystery of aesthetic socialism. To complete her education he took her to Bernard Shaw’s plays.
She began writing to Shaw, signing herself “Miss Charmer”. Shaw described her first letter in 1905 as “the greatest nonsense” which she took for a Shavian compliment. Then Shaw began sending her tickets for his plays. This was good but not enough. She wanted to enter his world, be close to him, declare her need for love. She began driving up to his house on a motorbike and sleeping in the wood nearby, knocking at the door at all times of the day or night.
So, she had unrequited love George Bernard Shaw, and was dtermined to become his lover...
Poor Erica Cotterill was allowed to entertain her hopes of conquest too long, but one doubts whether it was because Shaw was toying with her affections: he probably believed that by an application of common reason he could fill her head with something else besides passion. Shaw’s friendships were so disinterested as to be hardly recognizable as friendship. He lent money to acquaintances of good character but would never grant a loan to his friend Charles Charrington, whose bad character he would forgive but not abet. He supported Wells in the Fabian power struggle until the moment when Wells’s reckless indolence was proved, whereupon he destroyed him overnight. Shaw can appear callous only to the selectively compassionate — i.e. to nearly all of us. Most of us love unreasonably, tell half-truths and favour our friends. The world is like that — which is what I mean by saying Shaw was out of it. He was a moral genius.
. . .
I was too forgiving, of course, about Shaw’s behaviour vis-Ã-vis Erica Cotterill and his other female acolytes: he did toy with their affections. Sexual dysfunctionality, like power worship, is one of those things about Shaw that are best admitted outright, so as more quickly to face the problems posed by his overwhelming charm.
Clive James - from A Dinosaur at Sunset
Eventually Shaw’s wife sent her a strong letter (drafted by Shaw) forbidding her to come to the house again.
[11 October 1910]
My dear Miss Cotterill,
I think I had better write to you to explain exactly why I intentionally shewed you that I strongly disapproved of your presence in my house, and that I did not—and do not—intend that your visit should be repeated. You might easily think that I was merely annoyed by your coming at an inconsiderate & unusual hour—as indeed I was—or that I disliked you. That was not it at all. I should object to your coming at tea time just as much as I do not particularly dislike you. On the contrary, it is because you are in some ways rather fine and sensitive, so that it is very difficult to be unkind to you, that I am determined to put a stop at once and for ever to any personal intimacy between us.
The matter is a very simple one. You have made a declaration of your feelings to my husband; and you have followed that up by coming to live near us with the avowed object of gratifying those feelings by seeing as much as possible of him. If you were an older and more experienced woman I should characterize that in terms which would make any further acquaintance between us impossible. As you are young and entirely taken by your own feelings, I can only tell you that when a woman makes such a declaration to a married man, or a man to a married woman, there is an end of all honourable question of their meeting one another again—intentionally at least. You do not understand this, perhaps; but you will later on, when you are married and know what loyalty men owe one another in that very delicate and difficult relation. The present case is a specially difficult and dangerous one, for my husband is not a common man; if you become at all intimate with him he would become a necessity of life to you; and then the inevitable parting would cost you more suffering that it can now. I could not trust him to keep you at a distance: he is quite friendly and sympathetic with everybody, from dogs and cats to dukes and duchesses, and none of them can imagine that his universal friendliness is not a special regard for them. He has already allowed you to become far more attached to him than he should; and I do not intend to let you drift any further into an impossible situation.
If I must end by saying that this letter does not admit of any argument or reply, and that I do not mean it to lead to any correspondence between us, do not conclude that I am writing you in an unfriendly spirit. It would be no use to discuss the matter now; and later on, when you are married and as old as I am, it will not be necessary. Meanwhile believe that my decision is quite inevitable and irrevocable.
Charlotte F. Shaw
She occupied herself in various ways from teaching cricket at a girls’ school to managing a farm in north Devon. Before the second world war she changed her name to Mrs Erica M. Saye and somehow adopted two boys. She produced several self-published books and a Shavian play (while GBS borrowed her character for two of his plays). Her single novel, “Form of Diary”, contains a quote from one of Shaw’s letters prophesying she would be “one of the greatest of English women writers”. She had genuine literary talent but her prose is hypnotic.
When she died in 1950 Shaw felt a sense of relief and sadness. “Nobody who had not seen her and known her could possibly believe in her existence,” he wrote. “She was not mad but born before her time.”
Posted by stephen at 16:25
Sunday, 1 November 2015
“living in a place like this makes you possessive of the discomforts, they're all you've got”
Christopher Isherwood - A Meeting by the River
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I can see why some people think this book is a mess - it certainly isn't as good as some of his other books. Still, I quite enjoyed it. I like the way the Brothers were both lost in their own way, flailing about trying to "find themselves", and how this lead to themselves becoming unreliable narrators to others, and to themselves for that matter. They still look for validation from each other and rely on mothers and wives and lovers and gurus and gods and sex. That each felt threatened by the other brother doing their own thing, and yet seek external fixes, for escape or crutches, but do discover something of internal strength through their meeting over a few weeks. It felt fairly realistic of a mildly fucked-up family, and though the ending had an air sentimentality about, it felt true enough.
I wonder if people who have lived or experienced such dysfunctional families or problematic relationships might relate to and value reading this book more than those who haven't? Poooooossibleeeee.
Not one I am going to read again, but it passed a couple rainy afternoons by the seaside.
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Posted by stephen at 12:54
Monday, 19 October 2015
“and she asked Max if he did not think it often was the case that certain things people remembered about when they were children were important to them only because they were far more important to someone else”
Henry Green - Party going
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The fog never lifts. It would be difficult to think of a more narcissistic tiresome bunch of people, without wit or self awareness - and yet Green keeps you interested. The mysterious interesting people are on the periphery - Miss Fellowes in her 50s who falls ill after washing and wrapping a dead pigeon; a strange man who's elusive accent shifts, and who seems equally at home/not at home wherever he goes; maids prone to fits; and who was Daisy, committed to an asylum? It hints that these young have it alls might not have such a secure future, and WW2 is on the horizon - although this was written before the outbreak of war but seems oddly prophetic of the malaise at the heart of European life.
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Posted by stephen at 22:48
Sunday, 15 December 2013
Hah. I'm writing a novel... well, a something. Although I've written over 10000 words, I see no narrative forming. Nope. I'm on the Isle of Skye; it's winter; here, there is no sun. No, I lie; I saw it once when I walked to the top of a glen, for about 30 seconds, very low on the horizon, just above the mountain ridge with an unpronounceable Gaelic name. The colours are grey, rust, yellow. The burn is dark, rushing water, has white foam, background white noise. I can see it from the window. Oddly, the sky, at 3:30ish turns all colours: red, orange, pink, yellow, mauve; all the shades of blue to indigo. Strange eerie colours that bathe. Its windy. I mean windy. Today, the wind was blowing the waterfall back up the mountain before it could reach its drop pool. No TV, radio or music. No people. There isn't another building within over half a mile. And no one is there, closed for the season. The next person is 10 minutes drive away. I've spoken to my landlord twice, when he came to see me when I arrived. To check the roof after a storm. I hear the wind though. The roof rattles; the slates move in waves. The telephone line whines and hums. The grass whooshes. The rain. It rains every day. Yes, every day. Except the time it snowed. Its easy to spook yourself up here, Alone. I've been here nearly three weeks. I will go home, to Brighton, just before Christmas. No one is there either.
Posted by stephen at 23:52
Wednesday, 25 April 2012
“It seems to me that the life of man on earth is like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your captains and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall. Outside, the storms of winter rain and snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one window of the hall and out through another. While he is inside, the bird is safe from the winter storms, but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. So man appears on earth for a little while – but of what went before this life, or what follows, we know nothing.”
Venerable Bede’s History of the English People
Posted by stephen at 23:43
Saturday, 21 April 2012
Thursday, 16 June 2011
"That was Macaulay," she said, "the historian. He just made it up after the event. The people gave it the other name years before they had any cause for weeping."
"Is that the Macaulay who wrote 'Horatio at the Bridge'?", I asked, trying hard to remember the poems of distant high school.
"Yes," she said. "The same one. He was one of those people who went through history picking and choosing and embellishing." She paused. "Still, I guess when you look at it now, one meaning can be true and the other can be accurate."
"Where did you say you come from?"
"Oh," I said, startled by the simplicity or complexity of the question. "From Cape Breton"
"Perhaps that's why he became so interested in history," she went on. "He felt if you read everything and put the pieces all together the real truth would emerge. It would be, somehow, like carpentry. Everything would fit together just so, and you would see in the end something like a perfect building called the past. Perhaps he felt if he couldn't understand his immediate past, he would try and understand his distant past"
All of us are better when we're loved.
From No Great Mischief, by Alistair MacLeod
Tuesday, 17 May 2011
But I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.
From Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood
Rereading Cat's Eye after twenty years revealed my own distortions of memory. And exposed perhaps memories, and a longing, too, I think, maybe for something that didn't exist... Also, I was surprised to discover the forgotten source of a number of memories of moments, that had bedded down in my mind - memories that had become "detached from any context", of, in this case, this novel. But that retained a well formed potency in my mind. They had become my stories.
But more than that...
Over the years I had recommended this book to a number of people, not for a recollection of the plot, the narrative, the writing, which had become "forgotten" - but rather on a more diffuse feeling that the book encapsulated the feeling of Canada - of a happy, if somewhat melancholy childhood. So they might understand better my memories of Canada - - - -
- - - - but I was shocked to discover on rereading that no, the book actually explored a traumatic childhood in Canada, of a little girl growing up, and an artist grown up looking back, struggling to come to terms with her past - to free herself of her past.
As the woman in the story had suppressed her childhood memories, I had suppressed the real story of this book, and its echoes of my childhood. And perhaps then the import of my own childhood... I wonder - perhaps twenty years ago, I wasn't ready to confront my own self that this book urged. But I must have recognised myself, none the less, on some level.
And so I'm left with the stories of two late forty something artists, in differing degrees fictional, coming to terms with their past.
And Canada itself - Edmonton? It at least allowed me the escape into beauty, of wheat fields, and blue skies, and snowscapes - to fill me with wonder, despite being adrift.
Posted by stephen at 21:23
Saturday, 14 May 2011
Sunday, 8 May 2011
Saturday, 7 May 2011
Saturday, 9 April 2011
"We, amnesiacs all, condemned to live in an eternally fleeting present, have created the most elaborate of human constructions, memory, to buffer ourselves against the intolerable knowledge of the irreversible passage of time and the irretrieveability of its moments and events."
Geoffrey Sonnabend - Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter.
Here is an overview by Valentine Worth