I have been an avid theatregoer for well over fifty years and if there is one thing I have learnt in that time it is that where theatre productions are concerned some you win and some you lose. It’s very often the case that if you want tickets for a show that is going to be particularly popular you have to book weeks, if not months, before the show even opens. At the beginning of next week I shall be reserving tickets for productions at Stratford for this time next year, while on Saturday I’ll be using a ticket bought twelve months ago.
Given that this is the case you are in for a lifetime of disappointments if you don’t accept right from the start that where some of the productions are concerned they are simply not going to cut the mustard. On the other hand, there will be shows that you booked just on the off chance that turn out to be simply brilliant. I was very dubious about the RSC’s decision to stage Wolf Hall, which is what I am going to see on Saturday, but it’s taken five star reviews across the board and I certainly wouldn’t have got tickets for it now had I decided to wait until after it had opened.
Well, the same is true of books and especially of books that you let other people choose for you. I was really pleased when I received the January parcel from Heywood Hill because so many people whose opinions I value had enjoyed Javier Marías’s novel All Souls. Well, maybe I would enjoy All Souls too, but I’m sorry to say that I got absolutely nowhere with A Heart So White.
In fact, I suspect that I wouldn’t appreciate any of Marías’ novels because the real stumbling block was his prose style. I think the politest thing I can say about it is that it rambles. And when, round about page 55, it rambled on and on over paragraph after paragraph, page after page, about the difference between translators and interpreters I quite simply lost the will to live and bailed out. I like a book with plot and by that stage I pretty much convinced that Marías had lost his.
The advantage of a book over the theatre, of course, is that it is so much easier to bail out if you decide your time could be better spent. You don’t have to navigate your way through a forest of legs before stumbling up badly lit stairs in a desperate search for an exit sign. Nevertheless, I still felt a certain amount of embarrassment as I admitted to Lisa that I was never going to be a Marías fan and could we try something with a bit more story to it next time, please.
So, February’s parcel arrived and in it was a novel by an author of whom I have never heard and a note from Lisa saying that she thought this was one of the most underrated books she had ever read. The Dawning by Milka Bajić Poderegin was first published in 1987 and the translated version appeared in the UK the following year. According to the publisher’s information it is
a family saga evolving against the turbulent background of the problems in Southern Yugoslavia as it emerges from five centuries of slavement in the wake of the collapse of the Turkish and Austro-Hungarian empires. The dramatic outline of the novel, in which romance and tragedy, intrigue, melancholy and iridescent vitality create a penetrating portrait of a family, reflects subtly the old customs and way of life, the fight for national identity and the historical events resulting in the First World War.
Well, this sounds much more my sort of thing. Definitely some plot in there I would have thought. I’m hoping to be able to start it this coming weekend so look out for a progress report next week. In the meantime, can any of you who enjoyed All Souls enlighten me as to what it is I am missing in Marías writing and perhaps persuade me that it would be worth giving his work a second chance through another novel?