This is not quite a return to blogging, as I don’t think I have the peace of mind to do it systematically. It’s more of a summary of a crazy month, and a note to self about future things. A reminder that future things still exist, even though it might be hard to remember them when you are stuck in the morass of present-day sludge.
The fun (and far too small) exhibition ‘Cats on the Page at the British Library confirmed that I really do know my moggies, literary and otherwise. I was born to be a cat lover, beats me why I waited so many years to get my first pet cat! (And she is an absolute pet…)
I also went to see a play that was billed as ‘optimistic and loving’ by a friend who clearly thought I needed some therapy. This was Gently Down the Stream at the Park Theatre, starring Jonathan Hyde as an aging American pianist living in London, who has played with all the greats in the past. He meets and falls in love with young lawyer Rufus (Ben Allen), who is fascinated by the past but represents the new generation of gay men, who have never had to be ashamed of their feelings. It was sweet, romantic, but rather melancholy, so not quite the boost of optimism that my friend had planned.
Once again, I made the most of my Mubi subscription and watched lots of films (particularly suitable when you are hiding under your bedclothes at the weekend), but realised that most of them are depressing as hell: Brothers of the Night, about young Roma men from Bulgaria hustling for money in Vienna, while all the while despising the men who buy their bodies, the heart-rending Iranian film A Separation directed by Asghar Farhadi, the classic noir Laura (with Gene Tierney as a beautiful blank canvas for men to project their fantasies on) and, in the cinema Can You Ever Forgive Me? – which is a comedy tinged with quite a lot of sadness and loneliness. Or is it just me finding the dark side of everything at the moment?
I probably didn’t do myself any favours by picking quite depressing books this month, although when I became aware of this tendency, I wove in some lighter reads. It frequently happens that a theme emerges once the month is over, a theme that I’m not really aware of whilst in the midst of it. This month, it has been biographies of famous writers. A couple of them qualify for the #EU27Project, which fortunately has had its deadline extended… just a teensy bit!
Mihail Sebastian: Women – a series of interrelated novellas about a Romanian man abroad and the women he meets, mostly in a romantic context but not only. This is early Sebastian and feels less accomplished than some of his later works, as well as demonstrating a certain amount of mysogyny, which is perhaps more typical of the time and culture, rather than of Sebastian himself (who doesn’t seem to display that in his diaries). Not his best work, but interesting to see his evolution.
Ersi Sotiropoulos: What’s Left of the Night – spend a few days in Paris in this fictionalised account of Cavafy’s awakening to his own sexuality and to his poetic inspiration. As you might know, I am a huge Cavafy fan, so this was an interesting riff, oozing with sensuality and strangeness (a bit like the poet himself).
David Peace: Patient X – Akutagawa Ryunosuke was one of the best Japanese short story writers of all time (the most prestigious literary prize in Japan is named after him). David Peace sticks quite close to Akutagawa’s life and literary influences in this book, but some of the references are quite subtle and not that well known to those outside Japan (the Kappas, for instance). So perhaps one for Japanophiles rather than the casual reader, or those who really like Peace’s fragmentary, rhythmical, hypnotic prose, which works quite well with Akutagawa’s troubled psyche.
Baudelaire: A Self Portrait (in letters, edited and translated by Lois & Francis Hyslop) – well, this one was a surprise! Another poet that I revered as a teenager, it turns out he must have been the most difficult son for a mother to love: constantly in debt, constantly asking for money, chiding his mother for having a life of her own (he hated the man she married after the death of his father), unwilling to ‘corrupt’ his art by getting a real job, falling prey to dodgy women (or so it must have seemed to his mother), prosecuted for indecent verse… And of course, no real success to boast of in his lifetime.
Tove Ditlevsen: Early Spring, transl. Tiina Nunnally – Danish poet, one of the most prolific and well-loved in her home country (although relatively unknown abroad) – this is her memoir of growing up in a poor working-class family in Copenhagen who does not quite appreciate her literary aspirations.
All quite worthy, as you can see, so, for fun:
Christopher Morley: Parnassus on Wheels – charming little book about books and romance and that it’s never too late to break free – what’s not to love? Found it hard to believe that this was written a hundred years ago, it still feels remarkably fresh, like a modern writer writing a novel set in the past.
Mavis Doriel Hay: Death on the Cherwell – another piece of escapism, because who doesn’t love a campus novel, a murder mystery set in Oxford and an excitable group of female undergraduates who try some sleuthing?
Rod Reynolds: Cold Desert Sky – escapism of a different sort, into the gritty world of 1950s Hollywood and Las Vegas (before the latter became the glitzy famous place it is now) – very Chandleresque but more in keeping with our present-day sensibilities
Julia Boyd: Travellers in the Third Reich – this turned out to be so interesting – an account of living through ‘interesting’ times without the advantage of retrospective wisdom. I’ll definitely write a proper review of this later.
Bits and Bobs
May is going to be my month of French revolution – or rather, one in particular – the Paris Commune. And, since it might be quite a mouthful to swallow 5 books on the same topic in just one month, I will embark on some of the reading in April. Plus continue with my #EU27Project. Can I just ask publishers and translators why they want only miserable, earnest, highly experimental books from Eastern Europe? They are making my head ache a little when they come in quick succession one after the other.
In other news, my older son has had a conditional offer for the sixth form of his choice and is going through more mock exams. My younger son’s hairline fracture is getting better, but he has to see a physio and do exercises. What with shepherding them to different schools, doctors, physio appointments and what not else, I’ve had a pretty unsettled time. Exacerbated by braying ultimatums and threats, uncertainty and panic, and offers that keep coming back unchanged, even if they’ve been voted down (that refers to both Brexit and my ex, by the way).
One piece of good news, however: my younger son has mastered the art of the chocolate fondant cake. After many, many attempts that were either too liquid or too hard, he finally created a perfect one. He now ambitiously plans to bake the Apple Rose Custard tart below. Just in time for Mother’s Day, I hope!
Update: the real-life product involved Mum’s close supervision for nearly 2 hours and came out looking like this. In other words, there’s no such things as unicorns. It was quite tasty, though!