Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Not waving but drowning

Not waving but drowning
Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead.
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh no no no, it was always too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Diving and drowning

As it was difficult to hear at lunch yesterday, I’ll blog some of what I said about The diving bell, and hope others will too. I’d also be pleased to read Jill and Helen’s comments on The earth hums, so that I can compile a response for Mari.

I found The diving bell fascinating for what it tells us about ‘life’ with locked-in-syndrome and I think he may yet be responsible for fundamental changes to the lives of others similarly afflicted. There are some good passages – I particularly enjoyed the The Alphabet with his insights into how different characters respond differently to the challenge of communicating with Bauby – and the impact that had on him. There are also some good sentences: ‘I can weep discretely. People think my eye is watering’ reminded me of Stevie Smith’s poem ‘Not waving but drowning’ which I think we agreed to look at as a group, and which I’ll send in a separate blog.

But, without this unique context, I don’t think it stands up as a book, at least not one for me. Other people’s musings on life, the universe and everything, especially when they do it through dream sequences, leave me irritated and unengaged. My problem maybe, not Bauby’s. I will say, however, that given the exquisite labour of producing this text, he has pared his writing to the bone, and none the worse for that. Others are tempted to ramble on, but at least his disability spares us that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

28th Lunch

Hi all
Do we have a plan for the 28th as in where and when will we meet up?

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Earth Hums in B flat

I enjoyed this very much indeed because of young Gwenni – one of the most well developed and believable, and yes, likeable, children in fiction that I’ve read. I don’t think I will forget her. It is also one of the most subtle coming of age novels (well, perhaps not the blood-in-the-bed scene) in which Gwenni doesn’t know what’s happening to her (to Richard ‘I’m your friend, not your girlfriend’.)

Thank goodness Strachan had the confidence not to explain away her flying (I fly in my dreams, but only just off the ground which doesn’t give me her perspective) or the animated inanimate objects. My mother had a fox fur like Mrs Llywelyn Pugh and I both loathed and was terrified by it, especially where it bit itself as the clasp – that seemed an exquisitely cruel refinement. Some of the descriptions and images are so good – within a couple of pages we have ‘The silvery surface of the spoons has rubbed away in places and the yellow metal underneath gives the jelly a bitter tang.’ p 146 and ‘her slippers [are] green with a red pom-pom each, and too big; I can wiggle my toes around in the shape of her feet in them.’ p 149 Yes, yes, yes. I’ve just reread chp 13 which is quite brilliant in the way it shows (rather than tells) us about Gwenni’s relationship with her mother. The only false note, I think, is the dinner table scene in which Bethan shares the facts of life with her family – no, no, no, not at that time in that family. And what a satisfactory ending or rather, lack of ending.

What I don’t think works quite so well is the detective genre in which Strachan locates this tale – just too many murders, suicides and unexplained deaths for a small Welsh community surely? And therefore the tale takes a little longer than it needs to. I think this was all rather melodramatic.

Because we only see with Gwenni’s eyes we don’t begin to understand why Mam should remain so devoted to Ifan Evans or why Tada should be so devoted to Mam. This is unsettling, but I wonder if Strachan is saying that we never really do or can understand – and the extreme example of this is the mind of someone who is mentally ill.

Look forward to talking about this on the 28th.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Next choice

OK, then, let's go for Jean-Dominique Bauby's "The diving bell and the butterfly" next as Valerie suggested it and Sue and I have seen the film, so we're well on our way to a stimulating film/book discussion. Would recommend we all read and - where possible - watch it. Has subtitles, but we still found it worth watching!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Humming flat

Sorry if the following sounds negative...I'm finding it quite hard to pin down what underwhelms me about this novel. I found myself skimming it, and I didn't feel I learnt anything. I think it's probably that there was nothing about this particular novel to make it sing - not language, setting or characters. All competently evoked, but I rather hope for extraordinary language, atmosphere and characters (because I'm greedy and don't have enough time to read much). The small community knowing everyone's business was well evoked, but I preferred "Sunset Song" for that. I also tend to prefer "show not tell" as a narrative technique, and some character traits or plot "twists" were signed so often that I was thoroughly fed up with them by the time they were announced. The opposite of Gosford Park where, as Julian Fellowes commented, Robert Altman only tells the audience something - even something crucial - once. Since I often blink and miss something, repeat viewings continue to be richly rewarding. Altman trusts the audience to keep up. I'd rather Strachan trusted me to keep up and, accordingly, cut her novel right down to the bare bones. But that's just my personal taste. I have no objection to the novel and think it's well done, even if it doesn't grab me personally. I'm glad some of you have been grabbed!

Earth hums in B Flat

I liked the book a lot. I think she captured what it's like to be inside a child's head very well indeed. I can remember thinking like that - my flowery bedroom curtains were definitely scarey faces as night fell. I also liked the 'family stomache' and the 'family hair' - casual use of family slang which if used outside the family might be a bit embarrassing but the child is blissfully unaware.

As it started I thought we were off on an abuse story (hints at the beginning about Ifan); the thing I did not get really was why Magda loved him so much when he appeared to be violent and abusive and a bit spooky. Mental illness played a key role in the book, and perhaps could have been a bit more developed, but I guess it reflected the knowledge and attitudes of the time.

As to flying, well we all fly in our dreams don't we - it's how we escape!

I have seen the film of the Diving bell and the butterfly but not read the book, so am easy about which one we read.