Books Talking To Books

3afef1e893f675f1dd6af0348c666c70A librarian friend of mine has this theory that books talk to each other and that whatever book you pick up next it will have some link with the one that you’ve just finished.  I think she formed this one year when she found herself reading several books, one after the other, in which people performed various unmentionable acts with sheep.  I can’t be sure about that.  I have to say that despite her enthusiasm I wasn’t exactly drawn to the subject matter.  Anyway, I found myself thinking about that earlier this week when the Dickens course moved on to Oliver Twist.  One of the critical passages we were asked to read detailed Queen Victoria’s response to the novel and the entry she made in her journal about a discussion of the book she had with Lord Melbourne.  Her Majesty had been much moved by the plight of the people in the workhouse and wished to know what could be done about it.  It was Lord Melbourne who, in this instance, ‘was not amused’.  He wanted nothing to do with the book and Victoria quotes him as saying:

I don’t like those things; I wish to avoid them; I don’t like them in reality, and therefore I don’t wish them represented.

In other words, if I don’t have to look at them I don’t have to acknowledge that they exist and thus cannot possibly be expected to do anything about them.

Coincidentally (or was it really books talking to books again) on Monday I lead a group discussion of Karen Joy Fowler’s wonderful novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.  This followed what was a third read for me and details of the first two and my response to the book can be found here.  One of the things that I appreciate about Fowler’s work is that she recognises that the question of whether or not animals should be involved in developing life-saving drugs is only easily answered if you or a member of your family is not in need of the resulting medication.  Nobody’s arguing these issues are easy, her main character, Rosie, says.  But in an interview the author offers a more nuanced position that is also explored in the book.

What I can say is that I think we should not be doing things that are invisible to us.  I think that people would not stand for the factory farms if they saw them.  We’re removed from this.  And now there’s a great effort to make it illegal to go into these farms and show people what happens…If we can’t bear to look at it then we should not be doing it.

What the eye doesn’t see the heart needn’t grieve over.

Nearly two hundred years apart the sentiments are the same.  Look the other way and we can pretend nothing wrong, nothing evil, is happening. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Sunday Round-Up

142004194470138886_zzjkurbS_fIn theory this ought to be a good day for writing blog posts.  There is, after all, a whole extra hour that can be dedicated either to reading books or to writing about them. Somehow, though, it never quite works out like that.  I get completely disorientated by the change in the clocks and although the autumn experience isn’t quite as disturbing as the one in the spring, when we lose an hour, nevertheless it will be the end of the week before my internal clock resets itself and life returns to something approximating normal.  This doesn’t bode well as I have a lot to get through over the next seven days with a class on Love’s Labour’s Lost to develop and teach, the work for my Dickens class to continue and a book club discussion for the following Monday to prepare, on top of all the other normal weekly commitments.  If I go under and vanish from view then it has been good knowing you all.

Literary Fiction

What do you think of, I wonder, when you hear the phrase literary fiction?  It was bandied around rather a lot last Wednesday when the group reading that book I was finding so troublesome met for our monthly discussion.  Only a third of the group had managed to finish it, although to be fair they had all enjoyed it.  The rest of us, for one reason or another, had admitted defeat.  I did try to battle on to the end, despite all your good advice, but when I found myself setting out to clean the kitchen for the second time in as many days just to avoid reading I knew that a line had to be drawn.  The member who had chosen the book was severely disappointed in us and several times during the evening she commented on the fact that she really enjoyed literary fiction.  The implication was obvious.  This was literary fiction, and it was clearly not for the likes of the rest of us.  The implied hierarchy in both books and readers was fairly obvious as well.

Literary fiction is a difficult thing to define.   I’m fairly sure I know what the fiction bit means but after that I start to fight shy of anything concrete.  On Wednesday it seemed to mean ‘books that you have to work really hard to understand and even then will only appreciate if you are very very clever indeed’.  I tried to think of books that I would describe as literary fiction in the hope that I would find a common thread linking them which would offer enlightenment.  My first thought was just about anything by Colm Tóibín, Jim Crace or Julian Barnes.  When I read works by these authors I have a sense that every word on the page has been carefully weighted to account for what it adds to the novel as a whole before being allowed to stand.  There is a rhythm to their writing, whether it is at the level of the sentence, the chapter or the entire book. I come away from a first read blown away, but knowing that there will be more to gain from a second, third or even fourth read.  Crucially, I look forward to subsequent readings.  I add that last thought because I suspect that my reading group colleague would argue that all that was true of her choice of book. The important difference for me being that I had to fight my way through it the first time and wouldn’t go back to it if I was paid.

I suspect that for some people literary fiction is defined in a negative way in as much as they would see it as that which is not genre fiction.  Now that, I think, really does smack of literary snobbery.  I will fight anyone who argues that Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction is not literary or what about P D James’ crime fiction, especially from her middle period.  I first came across Katharine Kerr’s fantasy novels when one of them was included in a corpus a friend was working with and the quality of the writing stood out so strongly against the other data that we just had to break protocol and find out what it was she was reading.

So, what is literary fiction?  If it is fiction I have to fight in order to even begin to understand it, then I will gladly admit to not being clever enough and let it pass me by.

Emergency Poet

I was going to report on how the Dickens course is going, but this post is long enough as it is.  I will come back to that midweek, perhaps.  I did just want to say, however, that those of you who commented on my entry about Deborah Alma, the Emergency Poet might like to know that Deborah herself came by and left a thank you message in response to your enthusiasm for what she is doing. You can see what she has to say here.

A Moral Dilemma

imagesA brief and late midweek post, I’m afraid, after what has truly been a week from hell; a week that is actually being made much worse by a book.

Tell me, what do you do when a book that has been set for your reading group turns out to be (in your opinion, at least) a duff?

At the moment I am ploughing my way, around fifty pages a day, through a book that I have to be ready to discuss next Wednesday evening.  I know that the person who chose the novel thinks that it is marvellous.  As far as I’m concerned it is as dry as the ships biscuit that I suspect some of the characters survived on, not to mention falling over itself trying to be clever. On the principle that life is too short to continue reading books like this, under any other circumstances I would have tossed it at least a couple of days ago, but this is for a book group and the whole idea is to read other people’s choices so as to expand our literary horizons.  I keep plodding my way on in the hope that at some point it will explode into a blaze of glory and I will achieve enlightenment.  At the moment, I am still fumbling in the dark.

So, what would you do.  Press on regardless and meet your moral obligation or give up and read something to lighten your life instead.  I tell you, just now, even Oliver Twist  is more uplifting.

How To Win At Poohsticks

The-Rules-of-playing-PoohsticksAccording to The Times one of the great conundrums of the civilised world has finally been solved.  Armed with the formula

PP = A x ? x Cd

we can now all go out and scientifically select the ideal twig to ensure we will emerge victorious when indulging in the classic English game of poohsticks.

When Winnie the Pooh dropped that first pine cone over the side of a bridge he set in motion a passion for the pastime that has only increased as the years have gone by.  You don’t have to be a Bear of Very Little Brain to enjoy dropping your twig into a gently flowing stream and then rushing over to the other side of the bridge to see if it will emerge before those of your competitors.  Bears of Great Brain like to play regularly, not to mention those humans who share a home with them.

The formula has been devised by Dr Rhys Morgan of the Royal Academy of Engineering and we can only rejoice that our great minds recognise the national importance of breakthrough research in vital areas such as this.

Dr Morgan has ascertained that the main variables are cross-sectional area, density/buoyancy and drag coefficient.  Thus, the formula for the Perfect Poohstick (PP) states that you need a twig which has a good cross-sectional area, that is, length multiplied by width (A), because the water will have more to push on.  (Much to Pooh’s relief this means that tubby is good.)  It should be of as dense a wood as you can find (?) so that it will sink a bit and not be influenced by the wind.  And, finally, it needs to be rough, because that will create more drag (Cd).  Bark is good as well.

Equipped with this knowledge how is it possible that each and every one of us will not in future emerge triumphant from round after round of our favourite pastime?  Except, of course, as those Bears of Great Brain with whom I share my home point out, by the time I have applied the formula and found the ideal twig they will have finished not only the game but also the picnic that inevitably accompanies it and be ready to pack up and go home.

The Novel Cure Goes International

The postman has just delivered my own copy of Ella Berthould and Susan Elderkin’s book The Novel Cure so at last I can let the library have their volume back.

I’m sure you must all know about this book which came out in 2013 and which consists of a set of reading prescriptions for just about every ailment, physical, spiritual or reading related, that you might think of.  Suffering from a overplus of arrogance?  What else should you read but Pride and Prejudice? Just lost your job?  Try spending an evening or two in the company of Kingsley Amis’ s Lucky Jim.

When The Novel Cure was first published I have to admit that I was sceptical about its benefits and so other than flicking quickly through a copy in the local Waterstones I didn’t pay it very much attention.  However, a couple of months ago The New Yorker published a really interesting article about the pros and cons of the practice of bibliotherapy and it brought the book back to mind.

What attracted my attention most was that The Novel Cure is now being published in eighteen different countries and in each case the contract allows for a local editor and reading expert to adapt and fit up to a quarter of the recommendations to the native readership.  So, the Italian edition, for example, has entires on impotencefear of motorways and (rather worryingly) the desire to embalm.  I would like to ask “embalm what?”, but I’m rather fearful of the answer, although I would love to know what the related recommendations might be!

If you live in India you can get advice on what to read relating to cricket, obsession with.  It says something about the way in which football has taken over as our national game that this entry wasn’t to be found in the UK edition.  It would have been helpful for me if it had been.

Anyway, the upshot was that I decided I should give the book more attention, borrowed the library copy and then realised that I had to have my own.  Even though there are a myriad situations described that don’t match my position, reading the recommendations is great fun and occasionally there is a real find to be had regardless of whether I ‘need’ the book at the moment or not.

The authors offer a personalised service through The School of Life.  It is based in London but you can participate long distance from wherever you might be.  I was wondering if anyone out there had ever tried this or something like it and, if so, what the experience had been like?  I don’t know that I am, as yet, quite such a convert as to spend hard cash on more than the book, but I have to say that I am considering it.

After the Cull

341df81e231750e5c7f0523db256ffa3Quite some time ago I wrote a post about the need to instigate a book cull.  I was perfectly prepared to live in a house where I could hardly move for piles of books in unexpected places but, when it came to having to up my car insurance because I could no longer get my tiny little Peugeot into a reasonably large garage, I decided that something had to be done.  I asked for help.

Well, many of you responded, most often with suggestions as to where I might take the books that were going to have to go.  Unfortunately, that was really no problem.  I have a plethora of charity shops locally, some of whom are even willing to take the academic books that I no longer need.  No, the real problem was sorting out which books to keep and which to send out into the world seeking new owners.  How do you cut once treasured volumes adrift and tell them to go and find another home?

So, I did what any self-respecting bibliophile would do – I prevaricated.  Have I ever told you that I am a world-class prevaricator?  No?  Well now I have. DSCF0001However, (un)fortunately for me, I live with several very decisive Bears who were simply no longer willing to tolerate the risk of being flattened by a toppling pile of books.  Entreaties were made.  And, when they didn’t work, threats were uttered!

Eventually, I had to give in, and although I think there is still some work to be done in the garage (I am never going to lecture in Children’s Literature again, but I do love reading about it) the house side of things is now a little less hazardous for all concerned.

My first act was to separate everything out into fiction and non-fiction. Surprisingly, the fiction was easier to manage.  To start with, two piles – those that I had read and those that I hadn’t.  The second pile was definitely larger than the first.  Like so many bibliophiles I buy far more books than I can ever hope to read. My doctoral supervisor (a man with even worse hoarding problems than my own) once said to me that the day he came to terms with his own mortality was the day he realised that he had more unread books on his shelves than he could possibly get through in his remaining life time even if he were to never do anything other than read for the rest of his days.

Some of the books in that unread pile were definitely mistakes. I have no idea why I bought them in the first place.  Perhaps I felt that I couldn’t possibly come out of whichever shop I was in without first buying something.  As the daughter of a small shop owner, that is actually quite likely.  They went straight into the charity shop box.  The rest, probably about two hundred (I didn’t dare count) went back on the shelves.

The ones I’d read went into three piles:  those that I couldn’t part with at any price, those that I knew I could live without and around half a dozen about which I couldn’t decide.  At some point I am going to have to read that last group again and pass a final judgement – in or out.

Two shelves for the first group, more boxes for the second and an out of the way corner for the third.

The non-fiction collection, which is as extensive as the fiction, has given me far more problems.  Broadly speaking , it can be divided into four sections: Shakespeare and his Contemporaries,  letters and journals, essays and poetry.   I’m still teaching Shakespeare studies and, as there are around twenty plays I have yet to cover, this collection is only going to go on growing. In fact, it’s been the expansion in this area that has prompted the need to cull in the first place.

The letters and journals and essays are all either literary or theatrical in subject matter and while I have read most of them they are the sort of book that I repeatedly dip into for intellectual and spiritual refreshment.  On very sober reflection I decided that there were in fact three writers who had begun to irritate rather than invigorate.  Fortunately, they were amongst the more prolific and so I was able to consign well over a dozen volumes into the rapidly filling cardboard boxes.

The poetry was another matter.  I know that I don’t read enough poetry but when it came to trying to move any of it on it proved to be completely impossible.  It would have been like trying to excise music from my life.  I am still puzzling over this and meantime the poetry volumes remain firmly on their shelf.

All told, I think I have probably reduced my library by about a third and Shakespeare apart (Love’s Labour’s Lost is just making an appearance in various different editions) I have been reasonably good about what I’ve bought.  Only books that I’ve borrowed from the library and then found that I need to add to those shelves holding books I simply can’t part with have found their way in.  How long this state of affairs will persist is another matter entirely.

Only Connect ~ Banning Alice

3afef1e893f675f1dd6af0348c666c70One of my local Oxfam Bookshops has started to host a fortnightly session with a local author.  Last week it was Gaynor Arnold whose first novel, Girl in a Blue Dress, was nominated for both the Booker and the Orange prizes.  However, the book she chose to talk about last Wednesday was the more recent After Such Kindness which I reviewed here. As you may know, this novel is centred around the relationship between Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, although the names are changed and Arnold is actually exploring considerably more than simply that one friendship.  After she had talked about the book and read various extracts the conversation opened up and the first topic raised was whether or not, in the light of Dodgson’s reputation, we should be giving copies of Alice in Wonderland to today’s children.

Yes, it took my breath as well – at least it did until I realised that this is only the same conversation that we were having some days back about whether we should allow what we know about modern authors to colour our response to current works.  The general tenor of that discussion seemed to be that while in general people felt that we shouldn’t be swayed by personality there were times when we just couldn’t help it.  Should Lewis Carroll be one of those occasions?

Well, the thought of denying anyone the delights of the world of Wonderland or the realm on the other side of the Looking Glass distresses me no end, especially as there is nothing in the books which reflects any of the anxieties that have been voiced about Dodgson’s behaviour where small girls were concerned.  But the woman who raised the question clearly thought otherwise.  Perhaps there was something in her own background that prompted her response; I have no way of knowing.

As we chewed this over we found ourselves considering several factors.  First, of course, there is the temporal distance.  Dodgson is not a modern author who can be thought of as attempting to sway current opinion in favour of any views he might or might not have held. We are not going to see him popping up on our televisions to advocate photographing young girls in suggestive poses.

That temporal distance is also relevant when we think of changing attitudes towards women in general.  As I said when I reviewed After Such Kindness, Arnold is not primarily interested in the Dodgson/Liddell relationship but rather she is looking at it in the light of

all the other men who see Daisy as simply a puppet put on this earth that they might further their own desires through her regardless of the damage that she thereby suffers. This is true of her father, of her husband and eventually even of the eminent doctor who is supposed to be helping her.

Dodgson’s actions pale into insignificance when compared with some of the other mistreatment that Daisy, the Alice character, suffers at the hands of men who should be far more concerned about her welfare.  While attitudes towards women still have some way to go I hope we have moved on a distance compared with our Victorian forebears.

One other very interesting response, however, was whether this was a relevant issue, given that the Alice books don’t really appeal to children.  Rather they are among those children’s classics that now-a-days we only come to appreciate fully as adults, when we are more capable of recognising the sophisticated linguistic humour with which they are charged.  I know this was true for me where Winnie-the-Pooh was concerned and I have a suspicion that the same applied to Alice.

Now, I don’t have children to be able to say if this would be the case today but I do know that Alice was not a book I ever chose to read to any of the classes I taught.  However, having said that, I don’t remember ever reading any of the classics to children.  I was always busy introducing them to modern authors in the hope that having enjoyed one of their books the children would then go out and look for others as those writers continued in their careers.  So, I wonder what your memories are in relation to this.  And, if you do have young children in your sphere at present what are their reactions to Alice?  Is it a book they read with pleasure or do they put it to one side because its real worth pass them by?

‘Banned’ Authors

06d11e3a0263b62966ea48fc5e990cc3Earlier this week I was at a book group meeting where we seemed to be in pretty much unanimous agreement that the book we were reading (and don’t ask, because I’m not going to tell you) was superb.  The style was magnificent, the humour wry, but never overplayed, the characters well drawn and sympathetic and the themes to do with the importance of kindness in small ways to the general well being of a community.  It seemed as if we all felt better for having spent time in the world of the novel and in the company of the woman who wrote it.  At least that appeared to be the case until the one member of the group who so far had said nothing quietly commented that while she could appreciate the points we were making she knew the author to be a nasty piece of work who was the antithesis of everything she was endorsing in the novel and that this had completely ruined the reading experience for her.

Now I should say that this response was not based on spurious information gleaned from social media or the gossip columns.  This group member’s personal circumstances are such that she is in a position to know the writer herself and to have had first hand experience of her behaviour.  She normally speaks very sympathetically of the authors with whom she comes into contact, and consequently this reaction was all the more pointed.  And, of course, it led us into a discussion of the extent to which we are influenced in our reaction to any work of art by the knowledge we have of the artist who created it.  The most frequently cited example, I suspect, would be Wagner and there were people in the group who said that they did actively avoid his music because of his political associations.  Personally, I also avoid his music but in my case this is because I don’t like it.  What my reaction would be if I was to really enjoy his work, I don’t know.

Coincidentally, I was browsing through some old copies of Slightly Foxed yesterday and came across an article by Francis King which began

Once met, I rarely dislike a person.  But the idea of a person often fills me with dislike and even abhorrence.  So it was with Wyndham Lewis…  A supporter of the British Union of Fascists and of Franco, he wrote a laudatory book about Hitler…[He] always ended up by sinking his poisonous fangs into the hand of anyone who had helped him…kept his put-upon wife in purdah from his friends and frequently betrayed her with other women… [His] intermittent paranoia persuaded him that even his intimates were plotting against him and doing him down.

In the light of the above, it is hardly surprising that when…a friend of mine…pressed Lewis’s ‘The Revenge of Love’ on me, I read it with growing annoyance.  At the close of Part I, I gave up on it.

The point of King’s article is that in later years he went back to Lewis’s work and was able to read it without allowing his dislike of what the man stood for and of his behaviour towards others to colour his appreciation of his writing. Given my friend’s age I suspect she is not going to undergo the same transformation.

Whether or not you should read an author’s work in the light of their biography is a topic that has been much discussed over the years in academic circles, but I don’t think my friend’s response should be considered in quite the same way as the issue which is debated in university seminars.  She wasn’t suggesting that this writer’s life history was colouring her writing but rather the opposite, that the author was hypocritically championing a way of behaving towards others which she, herself, did not demonstrate.  Given that she knew this to be the case, she simply couldn’t respond as the rest of us had to the novel.

I wonder how you feel about this?  Do you think you would react in the same way?  Do you think it is a valid reaction?  I have a later novel by this same author sitting on my shelf as I write.  Until I have begun to read it I am not going to know how much my new ‘insider’ information has affected my responses.

Why Belong To A Reading Group If You Don’t Like Books?


e2191505c671674fab7f119e0ae8ab3fA couple of weeks ago a friend invited me along to a reading group that she convenes for a local arts organisation.  I already belong to three book groups, and I wasn’t sure that I either wanted or had the time to attend another. However, I was interested in the book that they had scheduled so I decided that once couldn’t hurt and, having read the novel, dutifully turned up to add my two pennyworth to the discussion.

Each of the other groups to which I belong has its own very distinct personality and each is peopled by very distinct characters.  If you were to give me a transcript of a discussion from any one of the three with no names attached I would immediately be able to tell you which one it came from just by the flavour of the conversation.  The one thing that they do have in common is a real interest in books and in spending time attempting to understand what it is an author has been trying to achieve in his or her work.  They are not groups where the discussion comes to an end after ten minutes.  In fact, in the two of them where we meet in hired halls we have to be careful we don’t get thrown out for exceeding our time limits.  We like books; it’s why we meet.  So, as I set out, book under my arm, to visit this new reading group I was expecting to find myself in a similar situation.  How wrong can a person be?

Now, don’t misunderstand me.  We didn’t crack open the wine and start discussing our Facebook pages (what Facebook page?) within a hair’s breadth of arriving; the discussion was, at the very least, intellectual.  The problem was that it had very little to do with the book. As the new girl I went in with the intention of staying mute for the first half an hour or so, until I’d had the chance to test out the nature of the group and the type of comment it would be appropriate to offer.  I’m not certain I actually achieved the appropriate part of that aim because when I did finally open my mouth it was to say very quietly, although perhaps not very diplomatically, that I didn’t think that I’d been reading the same book as everyone else.  I didn’t add that I’d arrived at that conclusion because as nothing I’d heard seemed to offer any sort of reasoned exploration of the novel in question I could only assume that in fact they hadn’t actually read it at all – that might have been a step too far!  It also wouldn’t have been true.  They had read the novel sufficiently well to pick up minute faults in the text which they could then use, first, and briefly, to lambast the author and secondly, to offer an oration – at length – on their own erudition in respect of whatever the perceived failings of the writer might be.  One by one they tumbled over themselves to bring their particular area of supposed expertise to the fore and take over the ‘platform’. The noise level was actually painful.

Now, I have been in many a discussion where we have picked up an error of fact in an author’s work.  I am still smarting over the writer who had a group of Victorian Englishmen claim that somewhere was relatively close by because it was only thirty-five kilometres away!  But, because we are readers who care about books, we have raised the point, and then considered it in the light of what it might say about the veracity of the rest of the text, and moved on – not used it as an opportunity to show how much we know about the history of linear measurement in the UK in the nineteenth century.  We have been there to discuss the book, not polish our own ego.  In this instance I wasn’t certain that the other people there were what I would call readers at all.  When I was asked to describe them the word that came to mind was competitive.

And who was it that asked for a description?  Well, there was a postscript to this story.  It transpired that the reason my friend had asked me along was because she was sick to the back teeth of these people, who apparently always behave this way, but had no idea how to tackle the problem.  What would I do?  And it is a problem.  If it were just one or two then I would shut them up by asking the quieter members of the group to give their opinion of the book and stamp down hard on anyone who tried to interrupt, but it seems to be all of them.  Hence the noise levels.  Very reluctantly, I think she is going to have to withdraw.  She has to be away for three months at the end of the year and that would seem to me to be the perfect opportunity to let the position go.  But has anyone been in a similar situation and have other options that she might explore?





The Dominant Narrative Voice

9182e95bd28566e2825b6e30ed2ca727I used to work with an educational advisor who was always looking for ways to help children develop their own voice in their writing.  It’s not an easy concept to get over to primary children, especially those who find it difficult enough to write anything at all in the first place, leave alone characterising it with their own particular style.  Possibly the best way to explain what you mean is to offer them examples of writers whose written voice is so distinctive that they are able to recognise who the author might be even if they haven’t encountered the particular text you’re reading from, but that argues the type of wide acquaintance with authors that an eleven year old is unlikely to have developed.  I have tried it with Dr Suess but I’m not certain how well the experience translates from those who write in regular metric verse to those who write in prose.

Truth be told, I’m not sure how good I would be at recognising the style of a particular novelist.  What I am aware of, however, is a small number of writers whose individual voice is so strong that for hours, sometimes days, after I have finished reading their work I find myself thinking, speaking and even writing in their particular idiosyncratic rhythms.

I first noticed this during one summer holiday when I was in my teens and for the only time in my life read Jane Eyre.  The only time, not because I don’t think this is anything less than a remarkable piece of work, but because the music inherent in Charlotte Bronte’s writing was so pervasive that all my postcards home were written as if Jane herself was penning them.  I got some very pointed comments from the people who received them and, given that much of my life is spent writing in one form or another, have never dared go back to the novel again.

What brought this to mind currently was a re-reading of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead, for a book group meeting later this month.  Circumstances meant that I was able to get almost halfway through in my first session, so the narrative voice had ample opportunity to seep into my consciousness.

This morning a splendid dawn passed over our house on its way to Kansas. This morning Kansas rolled out of its sleep into a sunlight gradually announced, proclaimed throughout heaven – one more of the very finite number of days that this old prairie has been called Kansas, or Iowa.  But it has all been one day, that first day.  Light is constant, we just turn over in it. So every day is in fact the selfsame evening and morning.

Whether this is the voice of Robinson, the author, or John Ames, the narrator, it is characterised by that slow development of an idea into something greater than it started out as; a propensity to take nothing at face value but rather to dig further and deeper into every thought through an unhurried revealing of the notional layers  that shroud a fundamental nugget of truth. And, not only do the rhythms of the piece reflect this but so strong are they that for several hours afterwards so also did my speech.  My own voice was subdued by that of the novel.

I don’t know about you, but when this happens I find it disturbing.  I am used to getting lost in the world of a book, or so wrapped up in its plot that I spend time away from the text speculating on how the action might turn out.  That is part of the pleasure of reading.  When, however, I find that I am losing myself not in the book, but to the book I feel very uncomfortable.  Possession by another being isn’t quite what I signed up for when I took the novel down from the shelf.

Something that I have found myself reflecting on while writing this piece has been the fact that both of these novels have first person narrators and I wonder if this is significant.  Would a third person narrator, necessarily at a further remove from the action, have the same potency?  I am just about to start Robinson’s second novel in the Gilead trilogy, Home, which is not told simply in the voice of one person.  It will be illuminating to see if has the same influence.