Winding Down and Wrapping Up (4)

Just when I thought the bad summer months had passed and I was about to turn things around with a quiet writing holiday at last… things continued to not work out according to hopes and plans. However, this did lead to some major reading therapy, so the year finished strong at least in that respect.

My second brush with Covid led once again to a weakened immune system, and thus infections with all the viruses life could throw at me, plus more severe symptoms as soon as I caught something for the rest of the autumn.

The week-long October holiday in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside would have been the perfect rest, combining creativity with long walks and visits to Shibden Hall and Hebden Bridge… but alas, I was plagued by a vicious migraine and nausea for most of my stay there, and could barely make it out of bed. I hobbled down to Slaithwaite one morning, and managed to translate about 3000 words, but that was all I had to show for my much longed-for writing retreat.

Things got worse when I came back home. My younger son, whose nickname used to be the Duracell Bunny for his endless energy and sunny disposition, which made him a firm favourite whenever we visited family back in Greece or Romania, suddenly admitted he was deeply depressed and expressed suicidal thoughts.

I can take any amount of bad things happening to me, but bad things happening to my loved ones are much harder to face. I’ve spent these past few months trying to reassure him, get help, keep talking to him without becoming the pushy, prying mum… Above all, find a way to kickstart his engine and reawaken his joie de vivre and natural curiosity. Although I’ve experienced similar feelings myself in the past, although I have been a trained volunteer for the Samaritans, it’s horrible to see how all that becomes inconsequential when it’s your own child. It’s like treading on eggshells all the time. I am aware that it’s not a situation that can be fixed quickly or fully, so we take each day as it comes. I also feel very alone in all of this, as he won’t allow me to mention his fears and depression to his father or brother (for good reason, I suspect, as his father was very dismissive and unhelpful when I was depressed). Luckily, his school has been very supportive and we are collaborating on this quite well. But he has his A Levels this year, so things are… complicated.

Given the emotional and physical lows of that month, my reading was very escapist and not entirely memorable. The crime book I enjoyed most was The Shadows of Men by Abir Mukherjee, the latest book in his delectable series set in pre-independence India, and I probably related a little too much with the treacherous middle-aged academic in Vladimir by Julia May Jonas (not pictured above because I like neither the US nor the UK cover).

Winter in Sokcho and Mateiu Caragiale were perhaps rather melancholy choices for the month, but they were both beautifully written – at opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum, simple and unadorned to ornate and baroque. However, I have to admit it was a struggle to read Diamela Eltit’s Never Did the Fire during this period, because of the grim subject matter, and I might not have been able to finish it if I’d not had Daniel Hahn’s translation diary alongside it. And, much as I love Marlen Haushofer’s writing style, her novella The Loft or her biography were not exactly light reading matter either. Luckily, my other reading choices for German Literature Month were somewhat lighter: Isabel Bogdan’s The Peacock was delightfully farcical but not silly, while Franz Schuh’s Laughing and Dying may sound grim but is actually a collection of essays and anecdotes, poems and little plays exploring what it means to be Viennese (review to follow in the Austrian Riveter in early 2023).

In November, my older son came home for what was going to be a delightful week-long stay to impress us with his newfound cooking and cleaning skills. However, his sore throat and cough got worse, morphed into glandular fever and ended up requiring multiple calls to NHS 111, emergency out-of-hours service and finally the A&E at hospital. He passed on at least part of the virus to us two as well, so November passed by in an interminable blur of collective ill health.

Perhaps not the best backdrop to read challenging journeys through someone’s convoluted brain and memories, such as Solenoid by Mircea Cărtărescu or Javier Marias’ trilogy Your Face Tomorrow (which I’ve been reading at the rate of one a month, and still have to review). Even the speculative crime novel In the Blink of an Eye by Jo Callaghan, fascinating though it was as a premise (who is less biased and better able to solve a case, a live detective or an AI one?), had a theme of suicide and ill health, so was not quite as escapist as I’d hoped.

However, December dawned more hopeful: a lovely trip to Newcastle Noir with two of our Corylus authors, Tony Mott from the prettiest town in Romania, Brașov, and Óskar Guðmundsson from Iceland. In celebration, I read several good crime novels to end the year: Ian Rankin’s latest, featuring a retired but still very rebellious Rebus, Trevor Wood’s first in a trilogy featuring an ‘invisible’ homeless man solving crimes he witnesses on the streets, and Keigo Higashino’s entertaining mix of police procedural and psychological depth.

Older son recovered fully and enjoyed a ski trip in France, coming back full of nostalgic stories about French food and books, pistes we had both loved, and oodles of Swiss chocolate (he flew via Geneva). I am looking forward to some cosy film-watching with both of them (we started with Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio yesterday, on the first day of holidays), lots of reading, favourite Christmassy foods… and will ignore gas bills, ongoing concerns about family members, several substantial literary and translation rejections, or my own precarious health.

Hope really does spring eternal – and in 2023 I resolve to be more physically active, take better care of myself as well as others, and not take on too many additional projects.

I will probably post a few more book reviews between Christmas and New Year, but I will sign off for a few days (other than the usual Friday Fun post) and may your holiday period be as unstressful as possible!

25 thoughts on “Winding Down and Wrapping Up (4)”

  1. I am very sorry to hear about all the health issues which have affected you and your sons over the year. I hope that 2023 proves to be a healthier and happier year for you all. Sending you a gentle hug.

    1. At some point I just had to sit down and laugh at how everything was going wrong, even little things like water leaks, the gas boiler, the washing machine etc. etc. But thank you for your kind words and hug, much appreciated.

  2. There is nothing worse, Marina Sofia, than seeing someone you love suffer. I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through trying to help your son. I hope he is on a more even keel now, and is feeling more stable. I wish you well as you navigate those choppy waters. I’m happy for you that you’ve had some good reading to keep you sustained. May the new year be better for you!

    1. The thing is that once this fear enters your heart, you are never free of it again. I will now forever worry about him (more than you worry about any child of yours anyway under normal circumstances). I hope as he grows older, he will realise, as have we all, that life is a cycle of ups and downs, especially since he enjoys rollercoasters so much, and that you can come out of the tunnel after all.

  3. So sorry to hear about your son, Marina. I do hope that you’ll be able to get the help he needs. It’s been a tough year for you. Very much hoping 2023 will treat you more kindly.

    1. Thank you, Susan. Keeping my fingers crossed that he will also be open to receiving help! It’s been a tough year for so many people, so I feel somewhat guilty about complaining. But I think my tolerance for bad things hammering down on me has frayed a little in my old age…

  4. What a hard time you have had recently! Bills and our own health issues can be dealt with, but when the kids are quite sick, it’s so very , very hard. I give you a big virtual hug.
    Escapist murder mysteries are , at times, just the thing we need. But I am amazed at all the other reading you have still been able to do.
    May 2023 bring you and your sons better health, less stress, and a measure of happiness.

  5. It was in some ways the autumn from Hell for you. I so hope it goes well for your younger son, N., and this is something in which I am certain you are far from alone, even when it feels that way. I have ordered all the Mukherjee novels thanks to you, and I send very best wishes.

    1. It has been rather grim, but I’ve got some friends who have had an even tougher year, so I really shouldn’t complain. Hope you like the Mukherjee novels, I certainly found them very educational as well as fun.

  6. Sorry you’ve had such a hard time over the last few months. Reading can be a comfort, but it can also be difficult to concentrate on anything challenging when you’re feeling stressed. I hope 2023 will be a much better year for you and your sons.

  7. Oh my goodness, what a difficult time you’ve had Marina. There’s nothing worse than seeing a family member struggling and wanting to help them and not quite knowing how to do this – I’ve been in that position myself and it’s awful. So I hope you and yours will have a peaceful and healing Christmas, and that 2023 will be kinder to you. x

    1. I suppose I should be grateful he at least mentioned how he was feeling to me… but it’s so hard to find that balance between concern and interference, between support and making him over-reliant on others.

    1. Perhaps it’s my body telling me I need to slow down a little bit… Thank you for your good wishes, and I likewise wish you all the best, much joy and good health in 2023!

    1. Oh, no, sorry to hear it – for you too? I suppose we all expected it to pick up after the rather grim 2020/2021 years, but it’s not lived up to expectations, has it?

  8. Thanks for sharing, Marina. Loved this series of posts and the way you have written about both books and life. Hope these last days of the year are beautiful and you have a wonderful time with your loved ones, and hope the new year starts well. Happy holidays 😊

    1. Thank you for reading them all in order, Vishy. It has certainly been a year for reflection. Let’s hope next year will be one of more action and positives for us all!

    1. Thank you. I suppose I shouldn’t complain really, as I’m sure others have had far worse of a year, but I’m getting a bit less resilient in my old age…

  9. What an awful year you have had! Hope you and your sons have a Merry Christmas, and all my hopes that 2023 will turn out to be a better one for you and yours!

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