The latest tinyletter of book recommendations for the underpraised has now gone round. This week it’s poet and writer Claire Askew writing her love of a particular Edinburgh-based poet. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do so >>>>>here<<<<<
Category Archives: consolations of reading
Just to let you know, the next Unsung Letter is out, and it’s by A.D. Devers. You can sign up here, if you haven’t already done so. More to come in the next weeks!
I apologise immediately for the punny title. I do have some flash news though –
My flash fiction, ‘Lope’ was shortlisted for the 2014 Bridport Prize – and you can see the list of winners here.
Very excited that a longer flash about two rather special teenage girls in Manila, entitled ‘PINK GLITTER’ will appear in Vol 1. Brooklyn at some point in the near future.
Lastly, and I think best of all, Queen’s Ferry Press are offering a really good value subscription deal. $100 dollars gets you ALL of their 2015 titles upon pre-release, plus one of your choice of the 2014 titles – and there’s free shipping for those of you based in the states.
- you’ll get my collection On The Edges Of Vision (home to the above two flash)
- alongside NINE other books
- AND you’ll be supporting a cool small press
- AND can feel rather good about yourself while getting a constant stream of enjoyable books to read.
Treat yourself! or give it as a gift for the curious reader in your life.
>>>>>click here <<<<<<
When you read, what do you read for? Plot? Action? Erudition? What’s the meaning of reading? I suppose this question depends on your mood when reading. Sometimes you want to sink into a comfy sofa of a book – and sometimes you discover that what you thought would be a comfy sofa is something else. A hardback chair. Or, like this book, a collection of pearled papers, a gathering of bright brittle leaves.
Another Country centres around the centreless, rootless Leela Gosh, a Bombay (now Mumbai) born twenty-something middle class Cambridge graduate who, when the novel opens, is living in Paris as an English teacher and feeling hopelessly, but rather wonderfully, out of place. From the well written sentences and precise evocations you might presume that you are entering a guided space, and that the plot will roll out carefully in front of you. However, this is not that sort of book. And after the bluster of 1Q84, I was certainly glad it wasn’t.
Here is something tender, fragmentary. In the Paris sections, I was reminded of Jean Rhys – as in her works, human interactions here are like inflictions, bruising. Leela is aware of herself and her flaws, suspicious of the behaviour of others and of her own performance towards them:
Leela smiled. She pulled her thin jacket around her. They carried on walking, away from the others and into pools of light under streetlamps. And now, nagged a voice inside her, what will you do? She ignored it.
The pavement glittered with moisture.
Simon put a hand on her shoulder; she tried not to jump. He smiled. “What were we talking about, anyway, before we were so rudely thrown out of that bar?” He released her shoulder, but not before his hand had been there long enough to signal deliberateness. It was a charming gesture, and made her nervous.
There is the use of make up to construct an identity, a mask. There is the character’s apparent passivity, but it seems to me different to that of Rhys’ protagonists. There is more hope here, far less fatalism. Even when in a dismal London, in a stagnant relationship, there is a sense that Leela hopes to startle herself out. Companions, though just as fleeting, are less cruel. In the level of detail used to describe them, it seems as if Joseph is grasping at them, trying to put down in record what she can of them, before they fade from Leela’s view. London was the hardest section for me to read, because of the long dreariness of malcontent coming after the dizzying snippets of Paris.
When Leela returns to Bombay, to construct a life there, the text morphs again, and we are presented with a different sort of culture clash – that of the returned immigrant. Gone are the tube stations and the grey skies, here come the familiar-unfamiliar: the turquoise sea and dirt and the banter of crows and mannered, elegant women and servants in the home.
Any thought of resolution in novels of migration is predicated on the notion that every person who continually crosses borders can solidify themselves, make themselves fit neatly within whatever rules – spoken and unspoken, learned, half-learned or never acquired – that particular country, and the strictures of class and race and gender impose. Leela is witness to this difficulty. Though she may seem listless, she is being daily buffeted by the winds of her own alienation. Another Country and Another Country, and you must keep tabs as well as live your life, make something out of the shifting sands. The protagonist as a leaf, the protagonist as a line that goes on forever, in a light hand.
When reading a book, it’s your attitude that shapes your experience of reading – your willingness to engage with what it presents. If the territory is not familiar, not structured around character development and plot arcs of whatever sort, you have to ask yourself, what am I willing to expose of myself here, do I need certain touchstones, or can I go alone. You must ask yourself, do I trust the author. Sometimes you will go by name recognition – Virginia Woolf, James Joyce. At other times, the book, however slender and unconsoling, might suit you perfectly. Another Country is just that book for me right now. I’m typing, ill in bed with a missing voice. I’ve come through a big read, and I needed a little careful bruising breeze, and this was just it.
Today was one of those high, blue, fine-threaded days that brought a frost, and which means that my flat, a tenement from the thirties, is cold inside. We have heating, but it’s on a pretty poor gas system and we recently discovered that it was squeezing D’s lungs. A space heater will have to do us, when we feel lux enough to use it. The low today is only minus 2 celsius, so it’s not great trial. It just feels a little Dickensian to be wrapped in – okay – snuggies and blankets, with cold noses and fingers that bend a little unwillingly.
But I’m not here to complain. I’m here to express my gratitude to all of the people who have been visiting this blog recently and who have started following me on twitter. To the people who retweeted my story from yesterday, and who contacted me directly about it. Thank you! I think every writer craves an audience, and feels that when he or she has made a connection with a reader that that is something really uplifting. I cannot explain this comfort, except that all writing is a form of communication, an attempt to lay out in textures and black marks something important to them. A story that burns through the finger tips. That wants, as Sundog Lit say, to burn the retinas. To light someone else up in the ways that they can and are able be. A less-than-perfect cross between song and chatter, physical sculpture and neon and flame.
It’s a dark time of the year, as I have said. Cold, blue, low lit. Writing is more important than ever, it feels. Reading, huddling round a book or bringing one clumsily, bittily, into being. I will have more time, now that my work, sadly, is cutting back my hours in the winter slump. The pictures above are from one of the distractions of the season: the Christmas Market on Princess Street. Outside of the picture are little huts strung with lights and tinsel, selling overpriced decorations and German snacks and hot mulled wine with schnapps. I’m thinking of setting up my own stand – selling a poem. Selling a photograph of this city. I won’t, because I’m truly not business minded, but the idea of doing it makes me smile. The possibility of physically handing my art over to someone as we both shiver and clap our hands at the chill.
There are ways to speak and ways to see on these cold days. If it’s warm where you are, perhaps summer, I am envious, but not. How are you managing though, wherever you are?
And thank you, as ever, for reading here.
I received all these books today (after a few days of missed connections) – all three volumes of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead, Restoration by Rose Tremain, The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright and The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankell. And a little slip that reads ‘Vintage Books – with compliments’. Spectacular. Thanks so much to the lovely people @vintagebooks (who tweet delightfully). Endless Reads 2012 continues finely apace.
Because it is hard to speak today, because I need something solid to lean on, let someone else speak well:
I watched an armory combing its bronze bricks
and in the sky there were glistening rails of milk.
Where had the swan gone, the one with the lame back?
Now mounting the steps
I enter my new home full
of grey radiators and glass
ashtrays full of wool.
Against the winter I must get a samovar
embroidered with basil leaves and Ukranian mottos
to the distant sound of wings, painfully anti-wind,
a little bit of the blue
summer air will come back
as the steam chuckles in
the monster’s steamy attack
and I’ll be happy here and happy there, full
of tea and tears. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get
to Italy, but I have the terrible tundra at least.
– from ‘Poem‘ by Frank O’Hara