Reading dates: 15 August — 24 October 2013
I cannot say I enjoyed reading this. It has the characteristic Dickens pace, the interesting details, but when he is describing Paris pre-1789, he is like fish out of water. Yet, the last third of the book, the period of La Terreur where all the threads tie together, is absolute genius. It is elegant, dramatic, incredibly orchestrated. For example, towards the end, there is an encounter between two women in an empty flat, assessing each other, mortal enemies. One speaks French, the other English and without knowing the other’s language, they understand the threat they represent, the moral, political and national opposition they are to each other. That part is phenomenal to read. The first two thirds of the book, of course, set this up. I know this is necessary, but these parts are too unconnected, too bitty, too difficult to understand in terms of narrative. The book is a perfect example of why you should bear with it sometimes, complete its reading and assess it in its entirety. This story needed the drama of the guillotine, the true protagonist of the novel. For the feeling it left me with, and for those last wonderful passages, it gets more than the 2/3 of 5* it deserves.
Reading dates: 04 – 18 October 2013
After the difficulty she must have experienced in writing her first graphic novel memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, the fact that Alison Bechdel goes back to explore her Oedipal relation to her mother is no less than a Sisyphean feat. The novel is heartbreaking, deep, yet vulnerable as, at the same time as her mother, she explores her own writing of Fun Home and her relation to D. W. Winnicott, Virginia Woolf and Adrienne Rich. Those are three writers I either don’t know very well or at all, and she made me explore their ideas in a more systematic way.
Alison’s mother, also a writer, tells her, once her book about her dad is published, that no good writing comes from an engagement with the self. Walt Whitman, her favourite poet, never wrote with ‘I’ and yet composed some of the most wonderful transcendental works. The gulf between her (do we ever get to know her name?) and Alison is unsurmountable. Winnocott’s list of why would a woman hate her baby, however, makes it more manageable. Mothers and daughters make for a complicated relation. If you are a daughter, or a mother of a daughter, I am sure you have your own comic drama to tell.
This graphic novel has a lot to it (in the references, in the drawings, also by Bechdel) and, in the personal, it is political and universal.
Reading dates: 10 – 17 October 2013
So, after reading Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette? I found it very hard to continue reading my current list — The Rainbow, A Tale of Two Cities , Du côté de chez Swann — because I did not find them energetic enough (especially the Rainbow, which I am on the brink of ditching). Neil suggested I try David Peace, as I really enjoyed the TV adaptation of Red Riding. I also wanted to experience his style, marked by repetition, quick fire dialogue and non-resolutions. My copy of 1974 has an endorsement from the Independent on Sunday: ‘Breathless, extravagant and ultra-violent’. For once, this is spot on, especially if I simply take ‘extravagant’ to mean lacking in restraint. I want to read the rest of the quartet, of course, but I need to pace myself. This book is of the stuff from which obsessions are made. It helps that I know the terrain; I know Yorkshire, and it is very well portrayed, especially in language. I read it with an accent. The story takes no prisoners, a little like the TV show The Wire: you consider the worst that could happen and something even worse develops in the narrative, leaving you drained of your blood. This is the North, where they do what they want to, and I witnessed it with eyes half-closed in disbelief and disgust. I did most certainly find energetic writing, and in my favourite genre too.
You are cordially invited to
READING AS ART. TURNING THE PAGES OFVICTORIAN PSYCHOLOGY
Convened by Sharon Kivland and Mura Ghosh
SENATE HOUSE LIBRARY
UNIVERSITY of LONDON
Malet Street, London
TUESDAY 15 OCTOBER 2013
5.45 p.m. for a 6 o’clock start
and ending some time around 7.45 p.m.
Evoking a wind that blows through a library, opening books, prompting unexpected stories, this evening of readings, art, and performances engages with Victorian psychology from the library’s collections
Debbie Booth, Kate Briggs, Jan Campbell, Jamie Crewe, Vincent Dachy & Bridget MacDonald, Karen David, Annabel Frearson, Rachel Garfield & Janet Hodgson, Chris Gibson, Laura Gonzalez, Jane Harris, Peter Jaeger, Kreider + O’Leary & Paul Bavister, Catherine Linton, Hayley Lock, Sophie Loss, John McDowall, Forbes Morlock, Hester Reeve, Naomi Segal, Sarah Sparkes, Holly Stevenson, Julie Westerman, Sarah Wood, Gillian Wylde
This event is free but places are limited and must be booked through the Bloomsbury Festival.
Reading dates: 26 – 30 September 2013
What a lovely book this is! I devoured it with enjoyment. I don’t remember reading more energetic prose than Maria Semple’s. The story is wonderfully woven and the satire of American upper middle class is spot on. I never thought I would like a book like this but its writing and its rhythm lifted me up, made it compulsory to read, pleasurable, also thoughtful. This is not poetic writing, but she does not set to do that. I think what I like most about the book is that it fulfils the promises it makes and delivers something extra in the form of lovely twists and settings. I did like Antarctica and I did learn something about it. It is such a satisfying read. The only reason why it does not get the full 5* is due to the fact that I am not sure how it would fare re-reading — my criteria for the top marks. I may need to try in a few months and review my rating. I very much wish to forget all about its details, or misremember, so I can encounter it anew.