Skip to main content

Posts

And then I remembered a quotation from Cassandra at the Wedding , which I read seven years ago. And of course I’d put it on here. So I found this old dear old thing again, how wet behind the ears. There I am, young self: voluble, enthusiastic. I miss old credulities. It’s time to bring this thing out of the closet and into the end of this decade. To tell that old self: I am reading Savage Detectives again, after all these years.
Recent posts

The Private Life of the Diary

I’ve kept a diary since I was twelve. While I composed nearly illegible autobiographical scratchings in my first years of primary school at my teachers’ request, it wasn’t until I was on the brink of becoming a teenager that I felt I needed a more permanent arrangement. I suspect it had to do with reading The Diary of Anne Frank. My diary’s function has changed over the years – it once had a name (having discovered that Zoe was the Greek word for life, I thought my choice extremely clever), and I used to like my diaries in a variety of shapes and sizes, spangled with glitter, ruled with wide lines, shackled with locks and keys. For at least eight years my diary was the space in which to vent my feelings, and offered some form of therapeutic comfort. This meant it was largely about boys and is, as a result, very tedious to reread. But while the function of my journal has changed, each volume has been a solution to the manic desire to scribble. As I discovered reading Anne Frank, each e…

Eire go Bragh

St. Patrick’s Day came a little late this year. This arrived in the mail on Friday.

Between the promise of O’Connor, finishing Tim Robinson’s magisterial Connemara trilogy, whizzing through the second season of The Fall, and Patrick Radden Keefe’s New Yorker article on the bodies of those “disappeared” during the Troubles (March 16th issue), March has proved an Irish excursion. I’m almost in the mood for a thimbleful of Guinness.

Monologuing

My previous experience of Rachel Cusk is restricted to her travel book on Italy, The Last Supper, which was withdrawn in Britain because of objections from individuals who found themselves featured, unflatteringly, within its pages. It's very difficult not to write a book about Italy without being smug.

Then I read reviews (especially hatchet jobs) about her controversial divorce memoir, Aftermath. I confess I’m suspicious when a writer writes memoir after memoir, as if his own life is the only field of interest. I read memoirs – I am moved by the familiar voice – but I’m wary of their cultural predominance. Self-knowledge is a good springboard for knowledge of others. Orbiting one’s own life without ever calling into question the limitation of it seems myopic. (This, however, is not to say that personal writing can be divorced from art, or that it should be.)

But Outline is an expose of how fascinating and selfish and dreary and inescapable monologues on the self can be. The plot …
I’m reading the journal of Katherine Mansfield. Every so often reading gives you a jolt of recognition or kinship: some kind of connection to the absent voice. This morning I read:

January 22. Weather worse than ever. At tea-time I surprised myself by breaking down. I simply felt for a moment overcome with anguish and came upstairs and put my head on the black cushion. My longing for cities engrosses me.

January 23. The old man breaking stones again. A thick white mist reaches the edge of the field.

The year is 1915 and a space of exactly a hundred year stands between Mansfield and me. One January is as bleak as another. Why is it so comforting to read about another’s misery? Why is this true about diaries and not Facebook? I imagine this is because diaries are private consolations, places to put despair so that it doesn’t leak into public life. Facebook, on the other hand, becomes a means of redefining a version of the public by one’s despair.

My brilliant, imaginative friend and forme…

Blast-beruffled plumes

I’ve returned to Minnesota to find it transformed into a Brueghel painting.



Our hunters are gone north or even south, wherever there are more deer. This has been a bad year for deer, threatened by the cold of last year’s polar vortex and the high population of coyotes, which now carry a bounty on their heads.

So, while it’s still autumn in England (I’ve been assured), winter has come. The nights are long, the wreaths are out. I’ve been reading restlessly – Robert Walser and GB Shaw. But some nights, Thomas Hardy feels just right for November melancholia. Here’s ‘A Darkling Thrush’:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
Th…

The Short Story Season I

The New Yorker Fiction podcast, which I’ve now gobbled up in its entirety, has recently been a lifeline while I’ve been travelling from house to house, city to city. It’s been responsible for kick-starting my renewed interest in the short story – more to come – and for introducing me to writers I’ve long known by name but never read: like Elizabeth Taylor.

Paul Theroux read Taylor’s ‘The Letter Writers’ this past January for the podcast and the story remains one of her best, alongside (and forgive the list) stories such as ‘Taking Mother Out’, ‘Swan-Moving’, ‘A Sad Garden’, ‘The Ambush’, ‘The True Primitive’, ‘The Little Girl’, ‘Hare Park’, ‘The Prerogative of Love’, and ‘The Thames Spread Out’. Travelling with the hefty paperback on planes, trains, and automobiles, I feel I’ve dragged round my little plot of England to keep me company.

(A quick note on editions: an NYRB edition of her stories has just been published but it is a selection, rather than Virago’s Complete Stories. Forgo t…