Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hail to the Harp


I haven’t been able to read for a few days.

Needless to say, this is like insomnia. Nothing feels the way it should and my room which used to feel so womb-like and warm is estranging.

So let’s talk music.

Ben Ratliff wrote in the New York Times: “Why is it that compression is considered the best way to make a mark in the world? People like to talk about Joanna Newsom because she gives them a lot to talk about.”

True: She’s a vocalist, a harpist, a word-smith, a story-teller. Her variable voice is characterized by vocal squeaks and piercing upper notes, has been characterized as “child-like” by reviewers and as “un-trainable” by Newsom herself.

I am most familiar with Ys, an album with five songs which range from seven to sixteen minutes in length. The title refers to the Breton legend of a damned drowned city, the inverse of Paris (Par-Ys), a reference that had popped up in Possession and in Debussy’s Sunken Cathedral.

In Ys, Newsom is a bard, a traveling storyteller accompanying herself with plucked strings. The orchestra is an echo, muttering strings a texture surrounding her voice and answering the harp, as though the audience can hear it and the singer can’t.

The originality of her voice and the use of a harp is only half of her allure; her impish poetical cleverness is the other half. Newsom’s exquisite lyrics, her precise images and phonic crispness, is what I love best about her.

In "Emily", a song named for her astro-physicist sister, she writes:

You taught me the names of the stars overhead, that I wrote down in my ledger –
Though all I knew of the rote universe were those Pleiades, loosed in December,
I promised you I’d set them to verse, so I’d always remember…

In "Monkey & Bear", she tells a fable of an escaping pair of circus animals:

So, with the courage of a clown, or a cur,
Or a kite, jerking tight at its tether,
In her dun-brown gown of fur,
And her jerkin of
Swansdown and leather…

Unusual, stiff, supple and antiquated words for a then-24 year old: “I wasn’t born of a whistle, or milked from a thistle at twilight./ No; I was all horns and thorns, sprung out fully formed, knock-need and upright…” ("Sawdust & Diamonds")

Listening to Ys, I feel as though someone was pouring fresh, cold mountain water into my brain, a cleansing shock.

According to friends, Newsom’s other recordings are more pop-like, less epic. But apparently what she lacks in depth she makes up in breadth with the recent release of her three-disc album, Have One on Me, which waits for me at the Library.

This is going to be a golden summer for music (though I think I saw a white butterfly the other day); Imogen Heap in June at the Paramount, and Joanna Newsom is at the Moore in August. This will make up for all the concerts I have sloppily missed while being in Seattle.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pablo: The Other Man in My Life


Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's sensuous and often fantastical poetry is filled with images and song: with oranges, the salty sea, odes to seagulls, dictionaries and chairs, freshly-baked bread, straw for a broom, a cry for liberation.

His volume of poetry is the best thing to carry around (a happy brick) and dip into from time to time with funny phrases: "What a world! What deep parsley!" or (his specialty) love poems: "I love you as one loves certain dark things,/ secretly, between the shadow and the soul./ I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries/ the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself..."

His world is ripe and reading him is like laying out in the sun.

Here from his One Hundred Love Sonnets is a unusually tender and domestic poem:

LIII

Here are the bread-the wine-the table-the house:
a man's needs, and a woman's, and a life's.
Peace whirled through and settled in this place:
the common fire burned, to make this light.

Hail to your two hands, which fly and make
their white creations, the singing and the food:
salve! the wholesomeness of your busy feet;
viva! the ballerina who dances with the broom.

Those rugged rivers of water and of threat,
torturous pavilions of the foam,
incendiary hives and reefs: today

they are this respite, your blood in mine,
this path, starry and blue as the night,
this never-ending simple tenderness.

(trans. Stephen Tapscott)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Man in My Life


I look at this every day because it makes me so happy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

An Old Friend


Confession: I saw the movie before I read the book. Between high school and college I worked for six months in a small bookstore called Wordsworth’s which was the first bookstore George ever had. One night towards the end of my stint there, my manager Liesl invited the predominantly female staff to her house to watch I Capture the Castle, a marvelously melancholic film, saturated with color and inter-war shabbiness and Dario Marinelli’s beautiful score (he also did Pride & Prejudice and Atonement).

The next day I bought the book and devoured it.

I Capture the Castle is structured as journal entries in a series of diaries by seventeen year old Cassandra Mortmain, beginning with the iconic “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink…” Cassandra and her impoverished bohemian family live in a run-down castle in Suffolk. Her father was the author of a single book, a mixture of fiction, philosophy and poetry called “Jacob Wrestling” (something like Finnegan’s Wake or Ulysses, I imagine), and after a brief spell in prison following an incident with a cake-knife has retreated into writer’s block. Cassandra’s young eccentric step-mother Topaz was an artist’s model and sunbathes in the nude. Her older sister Rose is a discontented beauty (“poor Rose hates most things she has and envies most things she hasn’t”), and her younger brother Thomas is a schoolboy.

Cassandra writes of their extreme poverty and frugality (“Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing”), the edgy interactions between family members as they dance around Mortmain’s fragile abilities and frequent moods, and the godlike gardener Stephen (“fair and noble-looking but a bit daft”) who nurses deep feelings and plagiarizes poems for Cassandra. All is ordinary and dreary.

Until –

two American brothers, the Cottons, neighbors who own the castle, run across the Mortmains. Like an Austen novel, Rose must marry one of them and better the family circumstances. Simon is the elder, the heir, pale and bearded (which the girls hate), and has taken to England well. Neil, the younger one, raised in the American west, is rougher and laughing (“who thinks England is a joke…”).

When Simon and Rose are engaged, it seems to be the end of the Mortmains’ worries. And yet things fracture and fall out of place, and Cassandra falls in love unexpectedly. More than Cassandra’s romantic awakening, this is about a young woman determinedly finding her own voice, being disappointed but refusing to settle for the fulfillment of someone else’s lower expectations.

Kristin and I read it aloud in St. Louis so many years ago; I gave it to many fellow booksellers at Third Place Books; I’ve shown the film on obliging friends (several times) and still the book loses none of its magnetism or its poignancy.

Sometimes you are lucky to come across books that sink very deeply into you and define a personal era, and this book is one of these. It was formative. Christopher Isherwood said “I think it is a book that will be very much lived in by many people; because you can live in it, like Dickens” and this is true. I could speak of the characters, of the Mortmains, the Cottons, the Fox-Cottons, as if they existed. (They do.) It has shaped the way I celebrate Midsummer; the Rites. I will always be grateful to my friend Andrea for driving with me to the Salt Water State Park two summers ago to find a fire pit as the sun set, and then run around it whooping like hooligans. We did not sunbathe nude, but if I live in a castle that will change.

Tragically, according to Julian Barnes Dodie Smith (who wrote 101 Dalmatians) became senile and could not remember that she was a famous playwright or novelist. I Capture the Castle was written after she and her husband emigrated to Los Angeles as conscientious objectors during the 1940s, and as consequence it is suffused with longing for home and extreme Englishness.

Yesterday I found a first American edition at Half Price Books for $5. I've been looking for a first edition because I wanted to turn pages someone first turned in 1948, when the characters were crisply created. This one is missing a dust-jacket and so isn’t worth much on the rare book market (jacketed books go from $200) but it was Meant To Be. The cover is stamped with a lovely blue imprint of a moated castle with the motte set away on the Suffolk fields. I can’t get rid of the first copy because it’s the one I read as an eighteen year old (and I think parts of me are still stuck or sewn into the pages) but this one is magnificent. Let me show it off:





Today is Shakespeare’s and Cervantes’ Death Day. Also the Feast of St. George, patron of England. Rumor has it that in Spain it is the Catalan holiday Rose & a Book Day. So give someone you love a rose & a book. It’s much better than Valentine’s Day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Fortunately, as the years have gone by, the word "spinster" has gone out of fashion. We no longer fear Miss Havisham or pity old maids. This may change after reading Stephen Benatar's Wish Her Safe At Home which, like the Grey Gardens or Jean Rhys's Good Morning, Mr. Midnight, might be subtitled "A Cautionary Tale."

It starts with a delightful (though not surprising) premise: Rachel Waring, a middle-aged spinster (there's that hated word) has been left a Georgian mansion by her mad great-aunt. It has been left in decrepitude and some work is required to fix it up. With wild abandon, Rachel throws off her grey pre-inheritance life, her desk job and chain-smoking roommate, and immerses herself in a life of determined vivacity. She begins a garden, discovers the house’s history, and starts to write a historical novel.

But, with more than a little Blanche Du Bois and Scarlett O'Hara, Rachel's gay enthusiasm and imagination is tainted by a whiff of delusion which grows steadily throughout the novel. Rachel begins to look a lot like her great-aunt Alicia. “Is she mad?” Rachel once asked her mother of her great-aunt. “…she’s perfectly happy,” was the reply, “There are many who’d even envy her that type of madness.”

The book is a pastiche of fantasy Hollywood-style: obsessions with youth and beauty, actresses of the Vivien Leigh variety (“kittenish but strong”), dreams of Lawrence Olivier, and frequent snatches of Bing Crosby songs. There is a very pointed connection to A Streetcar Named Desire throughout:

…I loved that bit where Blanche sings in her bath,

O, it’s only a paper moon,
Floating over a paper sea,
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed me…

and I was very much moved once more by her pathetically brave declaration: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Many years ago I had been told I looked like Vivien Leigh. This was the only meaningful compliment anyone had ever given me and I tried to savor it sparingly. Over the years, though, it had gradually turned sour….

This gives us a clue, a twinge of uneasiness. Because it’s clear that Rachel sees the character of Blanche Du Bois as “pathetically brave” rather than a deluded woman rather like herself. And if a one-time comparison to Vivien Leigh is the “only meaningful compliment” she has ever received, this is evidently a lonely life.

Benatar’s first-person narrative mixes inward observations with external activity so well that one is unsure – and terrified – of how much of Rachel’s thoughts are voiced aloud. Here: in the church, near the end of the sermon which is not a happy text of welcome, but a prompt of social responsibility Rachel finds grotesque and insultingly uninviting:

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.”
“Some hope!” I said – quite wittily – staring around me in defiance.
He ended as though he had decided to simply throw this in for good measure: “For now we see through a glass, darkly.”
“Do we indeed? That may be what you think. But take a referendum among the rest of us.”
There was a pause. I almost picked up my handbag and gloves and walked out right there and then. That might have stirred things up a bit. Yet just in time I stopped myself. People mustn’t, absolutely must not, be allowed to see how deeply they hurt me.
But during the next hymn I didn’t sing.”

An exuberantly explored text-book example of the unreliable narrator.

My response to the novel was similar to when I watched Notes on a Scandal. I wanted to call up all friends and hug them and yell “I don't want to be alone” like a mantra. Of course, that is why the novel succeeds. We recognize that Rachel is an exaggerated example of a person suffering from extreme versions of the neuroses we experience regularly: the close measuring of social situations, sudden changes in mood, the endless second-guessing of motivations, hoping for the best, glossing over the worst with optimism.

John Carey’s introduction to the NYRB edition says “The veracity of her psychology is worth emphasizing, because a mere summary of the book might give an impression that it is fantastic or comic. Though it is composed almost entirely of Rachel’s fantasy, and most of its events are ludicrous, it is terribly and seriously real. It is also, I believe, wholly original. Theorists hold that there are only a dozen or so fictional plots, all of them present in classics of early literature, which later works re-jig. But Benatar’s work does not correspond to any of the prototypes…or only in ways that are so remote as to emphasize its singularity…”

Presently, I’m pushing Wish Her Safe at Home on almost all of my co-workers. The Times ran an article about Stephen Benatar worth reading here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Festivities


Allow me, for one moment, a soapbox.

The biennial Calvin College for the Festival of Faith and Writing, held last week, was an ideal venue for Image, a quarterly literary arts journal. Image seeks to publish artists and writers who struggle to “integrate faith, reason, and imagination” and showcases art which “grapple[s] with religious questions even when their makers profess no faith at all.” Greg Wolfe, founder and editor of Image, strongly disagrees with the modern assertion that religious art is an anachronism, and Image is the proof. As an arm of the Center for Religious Humanism, Image embodies the Renaissance view that religious faith is not incompatible with art, craft and belles lettres. The journal has published Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel Laureates, and more. Many of the writers, poets and speakers at the Calvin Festival have been published in Image, and many are friends.

I interned at Image for six months, a job Greg warned me should be avoided for those suffering “sentimental romanticism” about the literary life. He told me of the sheer grunt work involved in producing an arts journal that readers sit in their leather armchairs to digest at leisure. The industry, he said, is sweat and tears, phone calls about venues, blogs, menial work, thankless work. He told me to mull it over. He was right; it is a grounding which every book-sniffing literary idealist needs. “You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” he chuckled.

But for all the emails and the phone calls, the broken ink cartridges and mailing dilemmas, there was the vast rewards of looking through the slush pile, sending off rejections (which, for no good reason, was one of my favorite tasks), proof-reading, coffee breaks, meeting the wonderfully talented Image staff (Mary, the managing editor par excellence; Anna, financial & computer whizz, most likely to make a million dollars on a quiz show featuring television trivia; Dyana, poet, programs director and MFA co-conspirator; and Taylor, Image's new stylish assistant managing editor), watching something excellent take shape from suggestions around a table, introductions to other literary people and vigorous conversations on Eliot’s 4 Quartets, Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mauriac, and Battlestar Galactica. And on top of all this, Greg was kind enough to invite me to the festival to assist him at the Image booth.

The festival’s exhibition hall where we were based was set up was a strange pairing of more conventional popular Christian publishers with the less conventional and more ambiguous (Image). Our booth stood across from a publisher’s booth which showcased Christian fiction starring young Amish woman with curly hair and heart-shaped faces.


Image has a strict stance against artistic didacticism, and for those who have a decided concept of what “Christian art” is or should be, this may be startling. Image’s patron saints range from Flannery O’Connor, T.S. Eliot, John Updike and Cormac McCarthy, to musicians Stravinsky and Sufjan Stevens, and film directors Andrei Tarkovsky and Wim Wenders. Greg and I sat at the booth, talking to passersby about Image and the Seattle Pacific University MFA program (which he leads) and inviting all and sundry to our Friday night reception.

Greg kindly let me flit around to events that peaked my interest. From the poet Scott Cairns, who proved his vocation by using the beautiful phrase “my own smudged and recalcitrant nous*” in his opening keynote address; to the essayist Scott Russell Sanders, who spoke of writing into puzzlement and confusion; to the sparkling octogenarian Luci Shaw, whose poetry reading sent verbal flints sparking into the air; to Richard Rodriguez who thundered “If you want to write, be lonely! If you want to think, be lonely!” and Mary Karr, whose acerbic humor closed out the festival with wit and sharpness.

Among others, I was introduced to John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, and – thrillingly - to Thomas Lynch, whose book The Undertaking has been formative to my thoughts and feelings about death (and it's on my list of books you ought to read). Greg treated me to his Annie Dillard story, his friendship with Malcolm Muggeridge, and his own years at Oxford. (In case you think I floated away on some all-time book high, this heady education was tempered with nights comatose in front of the television at the hotel, guzzling coffee and watching Braveheart, Gladiator, and Friends re-runs.)

And of course, I came home with a hoard of books I couldn’t afford from Warren Farha at Eighth Day Books: a copy of Scott Cairns’ poetry, Recovered Body, the first volume of the Philokalia, a collection of writings from various early monastics and theologians important to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and George Steiner’s Real Presences.


I spent most of the time traveling to Grand Rapids and back reading the letters of Flannery O’Connor, a must-read for anyone interested in making art, or in the dialogue between faith and art. She is a sharp writer and her letters are a mixture of humor, earnestness, philosophical and artistic inquiry, and acid.

My time at the journal was challenging. I couldn't be happier. Many thanks to Greg for allowing me to help; it was a matchless opportunity.

And Hooray for Image and her twenty-one years! May there be twenty-one more to come.

*Many thanks to Greg's sharp editorial eye for the revelation that the hellenic-ly inclined Mr. Cairns meant nous, the philosophical Greek word for the intellect (mind, consciousness, reason) rather than noose, which is what I heard him say.

(Flannery O'Connor woodcut by Barry Moser, 1994; image of Greg Wolfe taken from Marriage Portrait by Catherine Prescott, 2008)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Little Girl Lost


Henry James is a man I met by an extension of an accident involving the television.

During the summer of 2006 (I say as though it were fifty years ago) I lived with my parents in our house in George, living the luxurious life of a waitress terrified to death by a tyrannical Italian who had the power to turn me into a cross between a mouse and a jellyfish by requesting a cup of coffee. Most mornings I spent leaning against my bed with a book in hand, hiding from the inevitability that Work Would Happen.

But I caught several colds, a reprieve from the late hours, meager tips, and humiliating wine-bottle-opening incidents of the restaurant. One orange-juice-sodden morning, I caught a showing of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth on e-tv with Gillian Anderson and Eric Stolz. It promised lame mid-morning period drama, but I watched the whole thing with increasing fascination and then limped to the library to read the book. It was followed by Age of Innocence (not as good, though it won the Pulitzer). One fin de siecle drama led to another and I was introduced to Mr. James himself with his dazzlingly rich and complex Portrait of a Lady

It's been over a year since I read a James novel and clearly I'm out of shape. What Maisie Knew required a constant retracing of thought and description, demanding that I read the sentence out loud so that I could follow the dense psychology and convoluted moral atmosphere.

Maisie is the unfortunate baggage shipped between her freshly divorced parents; she is to stay with each for six months. Though initially her parents demand her promptly, seeing her as a vessel of revenge, a carrier-pigeon to wound the other, when her parents sense she is not likely to continue delivering their darts, she becomes the weighty ballast each parent desires to shrug off.

Maisie is the victim of gross instability; she is denied continuous, dependable affection, her education is irregular, and promises and plans are easily explained away. Her mother remarries abroad, her father remarries her governess. Maisie adores her step-father, Sir Claude, and who can blame her for hoping this avuncular man will make a home with her instead. Of course, the initial warring pair is replaced by two more couples-at-arms and Maisie eagerly gives her loyalty to whoever demands it. Her only constant is a sad sack of a governess called Mrs. Wix who begins feebly but grows in moral strength throughout the novel until the climax.

James is rigorous in the pursuit of Maisie's mind and her comprehension of the puzzling behavior of the adults who refuse, consciously or unconsciously, to do their duty by her. The reader is restricted by her limited view of the world, but is also able to see the sexual intrigue she is too young to recognise - which motivates the constant disruptions, the promises made and broken, the secret compacts and affected fondness - something that might be called "moral depravity."

A child is a puzzle. As is the book. As do most books (I now discover), it demands a re-reading in the near future.

I am winging my way home from the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, which I've attended by assisting Greg Wolfe, the editor and publisher of Image. More to come.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Stopping in the Middle


To finish or not to finish? It seems to me that, like finishing all the food on one’s plate, it is rude not to finish a book once it’s begun. How can you adequately judge a book by its contents if you flake out sometime in the middle? Perhaps you use the Page 69 Litmus Test advocated by people I overheard at CafĂ© Allegro’s last Friday and turn to the 69th page of the book which should apparently – in a nutshell – tell you whether to keep reading or not.

I am sorry to say that I have put aside many books begun this year. I have become a quitter. I did not finish Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, I did not finish the Story of Britain, or Agaat, and just last week I did not finish John Banville’s new book The Infinities, or Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. All of these books are good. I was attracted to them suddenly and fell away from them in degrees.

I both disapprove and approve of this new habit. On the one hand, it suggests moral laxity, intellectual ineptitude, restlessness and a disinclination towards perseverance to give up on a book. If the reader is bored, perhaps it is because the reader is boring, or doesn’t have enough concentration. On the other hand, the meaningless plodding onwards in a book one has ceased to find engaging seems like a purposeless drudgery in a world where there are so many books in print, there is bound to be another better suited to your time. Is there any point to masticating a tasteless piece of writing?

Often enough – let’s just tell it like it is – it’s because I’ve started another, much better book. I am a literary adulterer. Eventually, I feel shamed by the ball and chain the first book has become and put it back on the shelf, and ride off into the flamboyant, neon sunset of the newer book.

Here’s a solution: perhaps there ought to be a large reading authority who one could appeal to. Like The Book of Answers or even a Magic-Eight Ball. Q: Should I finish this book? A. NOT worth it...

Ideally, I suppose reading should begin with a burst of curiosity and optimism and, if needed, as I believe worthwhile things taken effort, duty can carry it through.

And so I've laid On the Road aside, but I will soldier one with Henry James' What Maisie Knew, even though I have to read every sentence twice.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Feast Day


I am thrilled to have Diarmaid MacCulloch's new book Christianity: The First Three thousand Years, a historical tome weighing in at 1016 pages. As a self-professed "candid friend of Christianity" and a Professor of Church History at Oxford University, MacCulloch covers not only the two thousand years of Church history from the crucifixion of the Jesus to it's current state, but also investigates the inheritance the Jews and the Greeks gave to the faith.

This history is written for Christians and non-Christians, for those who love and hate it, and the author is a conscientious host who invites the reader into the web. MacCulloch writes:

"I make no pronouncement as to whether Christianity, or indeed any religious belief, is 'true'. This is a necessary self-denying ordinance. Is Shakespeare's Hamlet 'true'? It never happened, but it seems to me to be much more 'true', full of meaning and significance for human beings, than the reality of the breakfast I ate this morning, which was certainly 'true' in a banal sense. Christianity's claim to truth is absolutely central to it over much of the past two thousand years, and much of this history [the book] is dedicated to tracing the varieties of this claim and the competition between them...There is, however, an important aspect of Christianity on which it is the occupation of historians to speak: the story of Christianity is undeniably true, in that it is part of human history."

I opened the book last night as I sat down to my nightly coffee at our dinner table, and read the first opener paragraph about the Logos, John's invocation that the "Word became human flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." Cue electrical failure, every light out and me sitting in the dark. It was like a vigil all over again. The lights flickered several more times. So I fetched a zoo of candles (what is the proper collective noun for candles? a troop? a pool?), lit them by matches and grouped them around the book and me. It was a beautiful experience seeing the flickering lights on the crisp pages of this magnificent book. I look forward to reading more and perhaps hearing the author in person in the future.

There is a review from the New York Times here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Poem for Easter


in

Spring comes (no-
one
asks his name)

a mender
of things

with eager
fingers(with
patient eyes)re

-new-

ing remaking what
other
-wise we should
have
thrown a-

way(and whose

brook
-bright flower-
soft bird
-quick voice loves

children
and sunlight and

mountains)in april(but
if he should
Smile)comes

nobody'll know.

- e.e.cummings

photo from local artist Jenny Vorwaller here

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Dorothy Edwards’ single novel, Winter Sonata (1930), much admired by David Garnett, was meant to model itself on the musical sonata form. Having spent many hours once upon a time with a pencil and sheaves of music, parsing the harmonic progressions and the form’s variations, I tried to engage the novel with musical analysis. (Not for long; it is too metaphorical a comparison.)

This isn’t a long novel, nor is it dramatically complex. Arnold Nettle has gone to winter as a telegraph clerk in a small village for his health. He plays the cello and it is because of his cello that he is invited to visit the home of Eleanor and Olivia Neran, two beautiful neighborhood girls living with their aunt Mrs. Curle and portly pseudo-philosophical cousin George. Nettle is vaguely in love with Olivia, having seen her through a window, though he cannot seem to gather enough strength or courage to continue an ordinary conversation – with anyone.

Nettle lives in the village with a landlady and her daughter, Pauline, whom the landlady calls a slut, or in company “flighty.” Pauline is somewhat aggressively flirtatious and her laughter unnerves Nettle. The small circle of villagers is extended when Mr. Premiss, a friend of George’s, a “very distinguished critic, quiet famous,” and something of a vague flirt, comes to stay with the Nerans.

This is a novel without much conflict. The characters seem to be wandering in their own orbits of unexplainable sadness, loneliness, solitude, and the thoughts which cushion them from each other. When Olivia, Eleanor and George walk together, depression soon sets in and they walk, arm in arm, lost in their individual half-articulated thoughts.

Mr. Premiss tells Eleanor that flirting is the thread that sews people together:

“…in this world we poor mortals stand alone, rather far from each other, and it is not altogether easy for us to met. But when one makes love a little – not too much – it is like sending little messengers out to communicate with each other. If you were ever so kind as to condescend to flirt with me, it would be like a little white dove flying towards me,” he laughed. “And I should send to you – what bird do you think I should send?”
“A kingfisher,” she said spontaneously.

Nettle is to be pitied, of course. He is fragile, physically and emotionally, and he is unable to contribute to discussions or to summon enough strength to make the most of social visits. His shyness restrains any natural communication, and the reader is aware of his jubilance in visiting the Nerans and their unease with his awkward and agitated silence.

It seems as though Edwards spent more words on the physical makeup of the village and the seasons as they passed from the last day of autumn (“the sun shone quite warmly through the clouds, but the earth had already hardened itself for winter, and did not respond”) to the first heralding of spring (the tips of snowdrops). She repeats several words and images like firs, hard earth, black branches, grey skies, red suns/ sunsets/ sunrises, rain, the grey church spire, and I couldn’t decide if this was an emphasized depiction of the monotony and melancholy of winter, or if this was to act as the musical themes of the “sonata” which continued to bind the work together.

There’s nothing I like more than an appropriate read. Though it is spring and – what’s more – Holy Week, Seattle is a frozen tundra of cool and wuthering winter winds and slanting rain. This weather and Yo Yo Ma’s cello have brought Winter Sonata to life in my little room.

Happy Holy Saturday. May the world spring back to life tomorrow.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Elsewhere

I had the privilege of contributing to a film blog, Bright Wall, Dark Room, this past week. If you're interested at all, go Here.

Funnily enough, watching this film was the first time I've ever taken a pen and paper into the theater. I clearly had not depressed the pen nib enough because at the end of the film, after scribbling on my lap in the dark for two hours, I was rewarded by a largely blank page.