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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

And when did you last see

This really can't keep going - another blurb with an apposite word on it! ("pungent").

Many thanks for Sue for suggesting this. I'd read excerpts in the paper and been put off by the pungency, but am so very glad to have had occasion to read it now. I found in the event that the pungency was a necessary contributory layer in a portrait of real depth. (Like making a curry with the individual spices rather than with curry blend.) I felt Arthur alive on the page, and it made other characters in books seem flat and cliched, or overly consistent, by comparison. I was particularly glad at Morrison's determination not to shy away from bits that don't seem to fit together: "It is tempting for me to melt all his contradictions into a stream of hagiography". Whether such frankness was the best thing for the family isn't my call, but (assuming Morrison has got it as right as it feels) I hope they find comfort in seeing him so vividly realised.

It also struck me how rare it is to see someone else's dad up so close - closer than one would see almost anyone. Made me even more grateful for mine - while he is also "the sort of man who would raid his own skip, in case something useful had been chucked", mine is without Arthur's negative or flashy aspects (mercifully).

That said, Arthur did make for a good story, didn't he? I especially enjoyed the mail van parking incident, the imagined carful of literary celebrities being lectured on the correct use of nails, and Arthur on why his speeding was never fined ("He put this down to the self-effacing cleanliness of his cars", which reminds me of Smilla in Miss Smilla's feeling for snow, always going out immaculately dressed when about to break the law). A man I'd rather read about than be related to, definitely.

I also enjoyed the father-son relationship with its nuances. "looking in... each time I pass the door. I've been doing this for the past fortnight and see no reason to stop now, just because he's dead." "I used to think the world divided between those who have children and those who don't; now I think it divides between those who've lost a parent and those whose parents are still alive." How true is that, I wonder, for other people?

So overall, I loved this book, both for the particularity of it (one man and his relationships vividly alive) but also for the wider application to family bonds, death, memory etc. Morrison's language is, of course, expert and manages to do both jobs superbly. Not quite my usual preferred style, but I've relished reading it all the more for that. Hooray for Sue's Christmas reading pile!