Little Glimpses of Reading

There just aren’t enough hours in the week to review all the books I read, and some of them I don’t even feel compelled to review. This weekend I also had two DNF experiences one after the other! However, the ones below fall into the interesting category, so I will share some snippets from them to give you flavour.

Jane Campbell: Cat Brushing

This collection of short stories has a viewpoint that is seldom seen in Western literature: the desires of older women. In the title story, the narrator finds similarities with the once-beautiful, now elderly cat that she brushes, reflecting upon her own sensuous past and how both of them are now unnecessary and ‘on sufferance’ in her son’s household. Several of the stories reflecting on past loves and missed opportunities, but some are also about making the most of the present, even if you are in a care home.

‘All the old people here have exercises recommended for them by our inhouse staff.’

A great wave of hatred surged through me. Was I, having struggled over long years through the heartbreak of lovers deserting me, good fortune eluding me, children disappearing, money slipping from my grasp, of having survived all the random acts of cruelty that life can inflict upon an ordinary person, was I to be denied the luxury of wallowing in a bit of giref and sadness and melancholy if I wanted to?

Aristophanes: Lysistrata, transl. Patric Dickinson

A classic Ancient Greek comedy, and an anti-war pamphlet too. The women of Athens and Sparta (and other Greek cities) resolve to deny their men any sexual fulfillment until they put an end to the civil war ravaging the country. All the more remarkable for the portrayal of militant women, when we know that their status in Ancient Greece was very low, they were not considered full citizens. Amazing also, how current the political statements still are!

Like the raw fleece in the wash tub, first

you must cleanse the city of dirt.

As we beat out the muck and pick out the burrs,

you must pluck out the pace-seekers, sack the spongers

out of their sinecure offices, rip off their heads –

then the common skein of good sense:

blend the good aliens, the allies, the strangers,

even the debtors, into one ball;

consider the colonies scattered threads,

pick up their ends and gather them quick,

make one magnificent bobbin and weave

a garment of government fit for the people!

Javier Marias: Your Face Tomorrow, 2: Dance and Dream, transl. Margaret Jull Costa.

I will almost certainly review the entire trilogy once I finish it, but I’m taking my time to savour reading this. There are so many times that I nod along in recognition when I read those hypnotic, spiralling sentences. He really does get me, this author, and it would be a shame not share at least a fragment of one of those endless sentences as I go along.

No, you are never what you are – not entirely, not exactly – when you’re alone and living abroad and ceaselessly speaking a language not your own or not your first language… the word ‘absence’ loses meaning, depth and force with each hour that passes and that you pass far away from home – and then the expression ‘far away’ also loses meaning, depth and force – the time of our absence accumulates gradually like a strange parenthesis that does not really count and which shelters us only as it might commutable, insubstantial ghosts, and for which, thereferoe, we need render an account to no one, not even to ourselves…

10 thoughts on “Little Glimpses of Reading”

  1. Cat Brushing sounds fascinating, Marina Sofia. The writing style in the bit you shared seems to go with the story type, too. And you’re right; there’s not much of that perspective in a lot of Western literature – at least not that I’ve read.

  2. Hi Marina

    One of the great attractions when I attended my external London University College in Hendon was that they had just won a competition for a production of Lysistrata under the tutelage of the great Ed Stanley, the drama teacher. It may have been the beginning of my anti-war position and of my empathy with the mixed students that I met there, but whatever it was, it contributed to my abiding love of literature.

  3. So far, I’ve only read Berta Isla from Javier Marias. But since then, he’s been high on my Must Read More list. Aristophanes tempts me too, Cat Brushing does not. I’m too near the age when the horrors of a care home are definitely to be avoided!

  4. Cat Brushing caught my eye. I’m a trustee for a charity supporting older people and changing perceptions of old(er) age so am always delighted when I see writers who avoid the well worn idea that being old also means you are incapable of thought and emotion

  5. I have fond memories of reading this second instalment of the Your Face Tomorrow, largely because it was only at this point in the series that everything began to slot into place. It also got me through some very difficult days at home while recovering from a fractured pelvis, an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So, thank you for this lovely reminder of this author’s meditative prose!

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