I am feeling rather melancholy again this week. Not so much the season, but bad news for a dear friend, news which mutes all life’s colours. Little bubbles of happiness rise to the surface; then they bounce against the spikes of D’s sadness and burst, disappearing into the air as if they never existed. It is hard to think how anything can be properly OK again when someone you care deeply about is having his life turned upside down and the knowledge is always there, hovering at the back like the uninvited guest at the funeral.
My black dog has been wagging its tail at me again. I’m not going to blether about it because I quite honestly think there is little more dull – and depressing! – than someone blogging about their depression. I’ve had it since I was about 12 and it’s so much a part of my life if I stopped having it I would feel like I’d lost my shadow. If I wrote a poem about it that might be a little more interesting. I wrote some poems about it during my angst teens which I am not going to share with you either. Sometimes it is good to write about it and sometimes it’s best to let it nestle, a sleeping snake, in the dark. If you leave it alone perhaps it will just breathe deeply and slowly rather than tensing and waving its head angrily in your direction.
I’m sure my mood has not been brightened by reading Bloodlands – about Europe between Hitler and Stalin. I had no idea about most of it; for example that more people starved to death at the hands of these evil men, than died in the concentration camps. Not the best bedtime reading, but one of those stories that deserves to be read, I think. I shall reserve my proper review until I’ve finished it. I also read Twisted Wing by Ruth Newman which is set in Ariel College, Cambridge. Gory and sinister, I enjoyed it, but never really suspended my disbelief. And yes this part does have spoilers, so if you haven’t finished it yet, close your eyes when you read this bit. For anyone who has finished it: if it was all in the killer’s head, then where did the psychic get the ‘twisted wing’ bit from? And also if Olivia wasn’t really suffering from multiple personality disorder why did her friends claim she blanked out, or couldn’t remember certain things? Presumably she hadn’t been setting this up for years. I would read another book by Ruth Newman, but it wasn’t the highest quality crime I’ve read. However it did make me a little nostalgic for university. Rolle College, Exmouth (now sadly defunct) was not of course anything like Ariel College. It was a small, friendly little campus with 14 girls to every 1 boy. If it wasn’t for the marines barracks next door we would all have turned lesbian. It was fun. I learned a lot and I loved learning. But for the first year and a half my real personality was crippled by various mental ailments and by the time it got crutches and started to walk again most of university was over. It makes me a bit sad that most people from university will remember me – vaguely – as the crazy girl who made herself sick a lot and had a Thing about being ugly. I’d quite like to go back and try it again – but they don’t do grants anymore.
One especially special memory of university was an evening in Ottery St Mary, where we went to watch the Barrel-Burning. Men running up and down the streets of the village carrying barrels full of burning tar and everyone yelling. The smell of burning, the intense heat of the fires against the bitterly cold night air, the squeals and excitements, the crackling of light in the eyes. When I went home I blew my nose and the tissue came away black. A brief memory, one evening in 1997 that I doubt many people will remember, but it’s always stuck with me. It was before things got really bad, and I felt they were still going to be OK.
They were OK. Things mostly are, aren’t they, eventually. They just HAVE to get better, or nobody would ever live past the age of 17.
Anyway. The other book I read was Maine by Courtney Sullivan which I promised I’d tell you about in my last entry. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be good or not, but I found it kept itching at the back of my head when I was doing something else, and that’s a sign that you are reading a good book. It’s basically the story of 4 women who all spend some time at their family home in Maine during the summer. There is the terrifying matriach, Alice, the vulnerable and rather weak granddaughter Maggie, the bored twee sister-in-law Anne Marie, and the unconventional daughter Kathleen. Sullivan’s characters are real: that is, they are believable, and have flaws. The reader looks at them from a distance and judges their actions when one character narrates the interaction they have with another, but then when the story is told from the point of view of, say, bored Anne-Marie, or downtrodden Maggie, the reader becomes a little more empathetic. Nobody in this book is perfect, and nobody is right – but there are reasons why they are ‘wrong’, and Sullivan’s examination of human frailties and failings is believable and touching. The plot isn’t of real importance here: what’s important is the plot of each individual’s life and why they are in the position they are, and the tragedies which have befallen them, and how their behaviour – particularly that of the prickly matriach Alice – has shaped them.
You rarely get to read a book where the characters are so utterly human. It’s more a study of People rather than a simple story. The ending of the book isn’t particularly exciting or fulfilling but that’s beside the point: it’s the getting to the end that matters.
I am going to sign off now as I am trying to be in bed earlier than usual, fighting off just another cold. I am just watching something about drinking wine from human skulls – and I wonder if I would do it, if given the opportunity. In somewhere like Haiti, where they do things like that. And I have decided that I might. It’s not like I’d be drinking blood from it, and it’s not like it would be doing anything wrong, unless it was the skull of someone who’d been killed specifically for the purpose of being used as a drinking vessel, which I consider unlikely.
Mind you, I suppose in places like Haiti, you never know.