…and a day can raise them up: Athena to Oydsseus
This post was originally written 18th September.
I went through my parent’s garage last weekend to look at the things I want to take to my New Flat (where I can actually fit all my books!). It should have been quick and ruthless, mum encouraging me to be like a combine harvester cutting through the corn without looking back… but instead (of course) I found mysef dawdling, wading knee-deep through boxes of memories from school and university – notes we passed to each other in class, in the days before texting and MSN; exercise books scrawled in with good (and bad) comments; cards from people promising to stay in touch, many of whose names I can’t remember; and a pink plastic folder containing stories I’d worked on when these charactershad been my world. It was one of my most precious possessions but I didn’t realise this until I was holding it again, twenty years after I’d buried it under play programmes, textbooks and unravelling friendship bracelets.
I returned the file – the very first stories about the Walker sisters, my epic which at last count had reached 42 chapters – to the bottom of the box unopened. I didn’t want to be reminded of who I used to be because the present has not fulfilled the promises of the past.
Reading has been bitty, mainly because I’ve been busy running around doing things, and also because I’ve not been sleeping at my own house as I want to avoid a(nother) contratemps with my scrotey neighbour, so in the evening I do all the stuff I have to do before going to bed (packing, mainly), wash my face and brush my teeth, then pull on my loungewear (I’m still too prudish to wear my pajamas in public, unless it is of course at a party where all other guests do likewise) drive to wherever I’m laying my hat a la Paul Young. I’m tired, so I’m reading less and sleeping more.
I don’t have a lot to recommend to you either. I tried The Deaths by Mark Lawson but just gave up. Mark Lawson is good at writing characters and picking up, almost satirising, nuances, mannerisms and ways of life. He isn’t so good at writing fiction, which is important when it comes to making these characters interesting. This is an overlong book which, as other reviewers have pointed out, is more a social commentary than an intriguing story. It is a fascinating and uncomfortable snapshot of 21st century living, but as a novel it just becomes ‘blah’. I found my attention wandering, and I stopped caring about what happened at the end, which is a shame as if it had been edited down to a more comprehensive length I think I would have cared a lot more. It has the social commentary of Austen with a narrative style reminiscent of Ulysses, but for a more gripping read on similar matters try Capital by John Lanchester, wot I have already blogged about.
I’m almost giving up on Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, too – I don’t sodding CARE about any of these butterflies, which is unusual for me, particularly as I loved and devoured The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible by the same author. I’ve been dipping in and out of a Ramsey Campbell – Holes for Faces– which is a selection of stories, some of which are chilling, others are just vaguely creepy, and a third just left me thinking “Stop using the same plot/character/phrase over and over and over again.”
Campbell is one of my favourite horror story writers but he does labour specific words, and ‘grin’ is one of them. Try reading The Grin in the Dark to see what I mean: a potentially great story sadly ruined by the lazy writing.
I did read, and enjoy, and finish, The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell. I imagine that going to a dinner party with Lisa, eating a rich stew and cradling a glass of red wine, would be tremendous fun: she comes across, like James Hawes of White Merc With Fins, as a thoroughly decent sort. She rounds out her characters, gives them motivations and backgrounds; no 2-D caricatures for her, no lazy plotlines. She cares about who she writes about. Like I did, when I wrote; when Jessie Rachel ‘died’, the file corrupted by a password, I curled up in my duvet and cried (I ought to clarify that I happened to be recovering from an operation so it’s not like I took to my bed with the vapours). I wrote this poem. Bear in mind I was 15 with six broken toes and a lot of codeine.
Born like Athena
a twelve year old breather
Of life and energy
As others followed
I happily wallowed
In the security
I did something wrong
And somehow you were gone
And that’s why this poem
Doesn’t end on a rhyme.
I rewrote the whole book and it was much better than the first time, of course. But it was the first thing I’d finished (apart from Keri: Part 1, which I wrote when I was eight) and I knew it was good, and I felt like I’d never get it back again. Hence my doleful little ditty. I think I nicked the last line from someone. Sorry if it was you – but as whoever wrote it is are probably a very famous writer, I doubt it was. (No offence.)
It’s taken me 4 minutes to remind myself how to spell ‘rhyme’; as well nobody reads this thing. (I needn’t have written that last line obviously, but I do enough self-editing as it is.)
Coming up in the next thrilling installment: The Laguna by Barbara Kingsolver, Doctor Sleep by Stephen King,and how one person can be made ridiculously happy by a cream-coloured kettle. And, perhaps, I might have opened that pink plastic file and felt again how good it feels to be surrounded by people born of my own imagination.