mercredi 26 décembre 2012

Books by my bed

Before the year turns, I clear the book-paper-writing pile from the narrow space between my bed and the window. This is the inventory of what I find: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez. Pickwick Papers, Dickens. The various Haunts of Men, Hill. As I lay Dying, Faulkner. Cassandra, Wolf. Le Géant inachevé, Daeninckx. Why be happy when you could be normal? Winterson. Still here, Grant. The Gift of Therapy, Yalom. Ragnarok, Byatt. As I lay Dying, Faulkner (somehow got this twice). Les origines de l'écriture. Battlehorn, Vaye Watkins. Strangeland, Emin. Mrs Dalloway, Woolf. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung. L'ignorance, Kundera. Doctor Faustus, Mann. Old Love, Bashevis Singer. Les Larmes d'Aral, Delafosse. A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz. Ignorance, Kundera (another double in English and French). Love's Executioner, Yalom. My Uncle Oswald, Dahl. The Sound and The Fury, Faulkner. The Scapegoat, Du Maurier. American Wife, Sittenfeld. The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fowles. The Unconquerable, MacInnes. North from Rome, MacInnes. La douleur, Duras. The Saturday Morning Murder, Gur. Le monde magazine, décembre. A green Indian accountancy notebook (used as journal.) M'as-tu vu? Calle. The Road Home, Tremain. Two more Indian accountancy notebooks in blue and red (used as journals). A stale bottle of water, a piece of tangerine peel, two pens, two hairbands, a cardigan (?) and a very large amount of dust bunnies.

mardi 18 septembre 2012

The mechanics of beginnings

Read many books since I last wrote here - discovered the detective novels of Batya Gur, the philosophical questions posed in Elie Wiesel, savoured The French Lieutenant's Woman - admired the easy unexpected dance of his contemporary narrator in a historical novel- read Jeanettes' Winterson's painful and thoughtful last book. But, right now, I am reading to write and examining with a magnifying glass how novels start : Kundera's Ignorance, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. The mechanics of beginnings: through plot, character, form, feeling? The French Lieutenant's Woman opens to the image of the cob, a thin stone strip cutting into the sea, a couple walk, a woman waits. In this beginning, a triangular relationship, a landscape composed of architectural and natural elements, the foundations of the novel set in time and place. My favourite beginning, a book that you fall into as though diving into water, immediately plunged into another world - Pascal Mercier's Night train to Lisbon. You don't even want to come up for air! A man crosses a bridge, walking to work in the rain, a woman appears ready to leap from the bridge and then rushes towards him and writes telephone number on his forehead. Nothing is ever the same....

jeudi 15 mars 2012

Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City and sandwiches

I've been wanting to write about several things: Armistead Maupin, the act of re-reading, Jane Austen and the daily practise of writing by hand ( as opposed to using keyboard and screen). Tales of the City has been my pre-sleep book of late; it's light, entertaining, caustic, witty. Just what you need when Murakami seems far too heavy but you don't want to dumb down to airport trash, moments to reach for Ian Rankin, Fred Vargas and Armistead Maupin. If Tales of the City were food it would not be a banquet, or four-course French gastronomie but a well-made high-class snack. I imagine this book as a sourdough sandwich, filled with roast tomatoes, organic goats cheese and  local mesclun, served with hand-made beetroot crisps. 
P.S To clarify, I consider sandwich-making an art.

mercredi 29 février 2012

admiring silence

Just whizzed through Admiring Silence by Abdulrazak Gurnah; a study of identity, belonging and home. The story of a man's escape and subsequent return, many years later, to his native Zanzibar. These are themes which are close to my heart. Good writing about home can be found in the books of Nancy Huston and Milan Kundera, particularly the book Ignorance. Ignorance, another story of a bitter home-coming, echoes the themes in Admiring Silence, how we create our identities culturally, the honey trap of nostalgia, the impossibility of belonging once you have left. Admiring Silence is particularly brilliant in it's satirical insights into our many-layered post-colonial cultures. 'The ruins are one of the many things which make England a nation, along with a certain over-confident, hedonist cynicism which passes for sophistication and street-wisdom. Because the England of those ruins does not exist anymore'.

mardi 21 février 2012

A Writer's Diary

I've just finished ploughing through the blustery pages of Woolf's A Writer's Diary. It feels like she lived such a cyclical existence, falling from one book to another; first draft, second draft, layout, publication, she waited for the fallout and then started again. I never realised how prolific she was, how much fiction and how much literary criticism she wrote. I love the entries where she describes forming a book in her mind, as without word-processing the action of moving from thought to page is radically transformed; the novel much imagined before words hit paper. There is so many things to say about this book: it informs us technically about the different stages of her writing process, illustrates how she reads - the classics, falling like rain- how she lives, moving from country to town and the book also contains jewelled morcels of descriptive prose that could be framed and hung upon the wall.    

jeudi 12 janvier 2012

Reading : Issac Bashevis Singer, The Family Moskat

I am reading Issac Bashevis Singer, again. Really, even his name trips off the tongue like the start of a yarn, whispered in your ear by a plump white-haired grannie, as she serves you buttered toast and a mug of sweet, stale tea, slapping your thigh when the story gets raucous. The opening pages of this book, for I have only just begun, gallop forward, from character to country. A cinematographic description of a market scene in Warsaw in the 1900's, complete with cameo roles for jugglers, ragpickers and washerwomen, leads us to a scene between a precocious young man come to the city to study and a learned, mocking scholar. I love the way his writerly hand pans back and forth, describing people and places from the inside out and, then, from the outside in. Bashevis Singer writes both contemporary and historical books. In The Seance and Other Stories, the short story The Seance, begins in 1946 in the living room of Mrs Kopitzky on Central Park West where the walls are decorated with trance paintings. The story, if I remember rightly, discusses belief, love and betrayl and the post-WW2 battered Jewish community. The characters, as in The Family Moskat, are whole, faulty and so richly portrayed that one feels like you can reach out and touch them.