In my dream world, I would be able to work on a shady patio, drinking in the fresh air, rejoicing in the cheerful chirp of birds and friendly breezes playing with my hair. In the real world, I get attacked by insects, cannot bear the heat, have my hair buffeted around by angry winds and fail to read anything with the glare on my screen. But this is all about dreaming, isn’t it?
So, with so much work coming up over the next few weeks that I’ll be mostly missing in action again, here are some places I will be working from (in my mind).
Where do you like to work – in your dreams? And in real life?
What better way to start a week full of hard work and worthy projects than with a delightful bit of procrastination? Thank you to Susan,Annabel and David for the impetus… I think…
The rules are simple: make an acrostic of your name using the books you have read recently (or, in some cases, not all that recently). I have used books that have truly impressed me, that I have rated 4 or 5 stars. The links are to reviews, although not all of the books below have received the reviews they deserve from me. I don’t think I’ll have time to do them justice in the near future, so I’ve completed with brief comments taken from my Goodreads archive.
M Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson
An island, a lighthouse, a garden: what more could you want? The book where we get the clearest picture of the tensions between Moominpappa and Moominmamma, yet also a story of the triumph of family love and the beauty of impractical dreaming.
A The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Amazing how the author manages to inject such a serious and heartbreaking subject, so many rather shocking and sad events, with humour, tenderness and the practical, no-nonsense yet vulnerable mindset of an adolescent. Beautiful and emotional piece of work.
S Scarred Hearts by Max Blecher
Such a modern feel to this one: Blecher does not shy away from the good, the bad, the ugly, the things we would rather not acknowledge. Not for the squeamish or hypocritical. A burst of candour and poignancy, an urgent love of life, from a character (and an author) doomed to die. Heartbreaking.
O Our Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy
This inspiring collection of poems has something for all tastes: from the playful and linguistically inventive (particularly for those among us who are more auditively inclined) to the deeply moving pathos of the title poem, which had me in tears even while queuing for 1.5 hours at US borders. Captivating voice and a willingness to be brave, honest and experiment, rather than showing off.
It appears that just like there are women who keep on taking on losers in the hope of changing and redeeming them, so many of us love abandoned old buildings and dream of restoring them to their former glory. Did you know there is even a name for all those websites showing pictures of houses in decay? Ruin porn. Yep, it’s a trend.
I prefer my living spaces clean and airy, but just occasionally I succumb to the romanticism of the ruins.
This next one is especially for Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, who likes disaffected railway stations. Here’s a renovation project for you…
However, if you want to see how an Australian couple are lovingly restoring a gorgeous chateau in the south-west of France, their website and blog are a great source of inspiration.
I’m off on holiday and, since I don’t like not being able to respond to your comments immediately, I have only scheduled this Friday’s fun item and next week’s. Besides, I think you could all do with a bit of a breather from my posts, couldn’t you?
However, should you have a craving for earlier posts of mine which you may have missed, here are a few of my personal favourites:
It’s been roughly a century since the French riviera and countryside were discovered by foreign writers. Here are a few of their villas and chateaux for your envious gazes…
After his separation from Angelica Bell, Bunny Garnett (former lover of Angelica’s father Duncan Grant) spent the rest of his days at this chateau in the south-west of France.
Vanessa and her family spent every summer in Cassis in the south of France. Virginia Woolf also visited them there.
Somerset Maugham lived in this spectacular villa near Cap Ferrat for over thirty years, until his death in 1965. It was remodelled and renovated for him by American architect Barry Dierks. Everyone who was anyone visited Maugham here: writers such as T.S. Eliot, Noel Coward, Ian Fleming but also political figures, including Winston Churchill. It is now a boutique hotel.
The villa where F. Scott Fitzgerald allegedly wrote ‘The Great Gatsby’ was up for sale in 2012. Although the Fitzgeralds moved in and out of several villas on the Mediterranean, the “price upon request” (read: an arm, a leg, and your first born) property in Cap d’Antibes boasts those delightful unnecessaries found in 19th-century homes: staff accommodations, pool terraces, a sauna, portholes, and “immaculate” gardens.
Above, the kind of hotel Rosemary might have stopped at on the French Riviera in the first part of Tender Is the Night.
And finally, this little treasure below. I could not establish any literary connections for it, but it’s in Provence near Avignon, it looks fabulous and it’s available for rent. When I have my next $9000 or so to throw away spend, I will stay a night or two there, invite all of you writer friends over and then it will have us as its literary connection!
Bibliobio is organising another Women in Translation Month this year, a challenge with very few prescriptions other than to read as many women authors as possible. I’m reading plenty and I hope to review a good few.
The apparition of these faces in the crowd : Petals on a wet, black bough.
Even before I knew anything about Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd, I thought of the above poem by Ezra Pound. Only to find that the book is indeed named after it (at least in the English translation, more about the title below) – and has a poignant story to share about the origin of this poem (I have no idea if it’s true or not).
I’ve previously criticised ‘vignette’ type novels, calling them more of a collection of prose poems or flash fiction. That doesn’t detract from the beauty of the writing but the book just doesn’t hang together in a narrative arc that has taken me on a journey and left me emotionally charged or changed. And that’s what I expect from a novel.
However, this novel (and yes, I think we can call it a novel) is different. While the narration is fragmented, there is control and precision at work here. Every thing mentioned at an earlier point in the novel is then referred to again later on. It’s like a solo instrument introducing a melodic theme, then it gets picked up again by other instruments, until finally it is amplified and performed by the whole orchestra. So the structure is beautifully mastered and truly experimental ‘a horizontal novel, told vertically’, not just pretending to be experimental. There us indeed a fearless (and erudite) imagination at work there, not just someone trying to be achingly hip and cool.
The narrative alternates initially between two times and places: a young mother trying to find the mental peace to write her book in Mexico City; and her remembrance of the days when she was a young woman working in publishing in New York City.
The difficulties of writing with small children will sound very familiar:
Now I write at night, when the two children are asleep and it’s acceptable to smoke, drink and let draughts in. Before, I used to write all the time, at any hour, because my body belonged to me.
A silent novel, so as not to wake the children.
Novels need a sustained breath. That’s what novelists want. No one knows exactly what it means but they all say: a sustained breath. I have a baby and a boy. They don’t let me breathe. Everything I write is – has to be – in short bursts. I’m short of breath.
Yet the conversations with the Boy also anchor the story, adding a wonderful touch of humour and instantly recognisable to anyone who has children or works with children.
Who are you hiding from, Mama? From Papa?
From Without? [the house ghost]
If you want to hide, Mama, you have to find a more hidey place.
Isn’t the bed hidey?
No, the bed’s springy and a bit nuisancey when I want to run.
The narrator is aware that she is wallowing in nostalgia for something that perhaps never existed in the first place. She describes her simple New York routines, her far from glamorous, tiny apartment, her fear of loneliness and compulsive sharing of her apartment keys with friends.
All that has survived from that period are the echoes of certain conversations, a handful of recurrent ideas, poems I liked and read over and over until I had them off by heart. Everything else is a later elaboration. It’s not possible for my memories of that life to have more substance. They are scaffoldings, structures, empty houses.
So it starts off innocently enough as a contrast between then and now, between young adult and motherhood, which would have been interesting enough in itself, although perhaps not very original. But then it becomes something far richer and more satisfying. The young narrator becomes obsessed with the life and works of a Mexican poet called Gilberto Owen, who lived in New York in the 1920s. She fraudulently claims to have found a collection of poems by Owen, supposedly translated by a better-known American poet Joshua Zvorsky. (By the way, both poets did exist, although the name of the American one has been slightly modified.) But then, when there is real danger that her forgeries will be detected, she turns to fiction instead and from that point on we move between Owen’s story and the other two strands. It all gets more knotted, more intricate, with apparitions in the subway (a woman in a red coat, Ezra Pound, Federico Garcia Lorca) until we have a fine danse macabre of ghosts and possibilities, a braided narrative of alternative universes perhaps.
I think this is what the author is getting at when she talks about the multiple deaths a person can go through. All the dead ends or paths we did not take, the things we did not become.
Naturally, there are a lot of deaths in the course of a lifetime. Most people don’t notice. They think you die once and that’s it. But you only have to pay a bit of attention to realize that you go and die every so often. That’s not just a poetic turn of phrase… Most deaths don’t matter; the film goes on running. Except that that’s when everything takes a turn, even though it may be imperceptible, and the consequences are not always apparent straightaway. I began to die in Manhattan, in the summer of 1928. Of course, no one except me noticed my deaths – people are too busy with their own lives to take notice of other people’s little deaths.
The title of the book in Spanish is ‘Los Ingravidos – The Weightless’ and that perfectly captures the sense of drifting in and out of lives, floating above and diving into our different selves (the imagined ones, the real ones, the discarded ones). You will occasionally have the impression, like the narrator, that you are ‘the only living girl in a city of ghosts’.
So don’t be put off by the book’s manifest ‘strangeness’: it is a very pleasant, often funny and emotionally candid read. Phew – this became a much longer review than I expected! That’s because this was a book I relished reading, with a style and openness to experimentation that reminded me of Clarice Lispector and Virginia Woolf.