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, February 14, 2010

The Ballad and the Source

The novel gripped me to the end as I always assumed Ianthe would pitch up and I would then understand everything. Although I did find the language and format a bit trying at times, overall I enjoyed it, but felt I needed to read it again as it was so dense I had undoubtedly missed things. Anyway Ianthe's appearance was a disappointment as I felt it explained nothing. Was she really mentally ill or was the implication that she had been driven there by the abusive behaviour of the men in her life? I suppose we must assume she was, because of the doctor's comments about Cherry; OR perhaps any woman who behaved in an unconstrained manner and looked at a man more than once was branded by men as mentally ill? But Cherry was a bit young for that sort of a judgement.

The fact that the whole novel was written in an interview style rather than told in the midst of the action as it unfolded I found unsatisfactory, but perhaps that reflects the age of the book.

Language, imagery and depth of expression all quite stunning, although sometimes I needed to re-read whole passages and still did not really understand them.

Sibyl was clearly a very complex character - women's libber, well educated and urbane, very perspicacious and eloquent, but sometimes self obsessed and naive and obviously very manipulative and 'capable of anything'; despite her aspirations to educate women she was still very much a product of her class and time - money/house etc all left to boys only. I guess manipulating was the only way to get any power or get her way in a man's world. Poor old Harry - had she driven him to drink or was he already a drunk when she met him? Her life was perhaps a good example of all the reasons women needed to be liberated and have choices about whether or not to work - a woman who was not allowed ot be self-determining but was still intelligent and educated almost burning up and turning into a destroyer as she had nothing else to get her teeth into. Maisey was a beacon of hope for a different sort of future!

As to Mr Golightly, what can I say. It took me the whole book to work out who he was supposed to be - perhaps I switched off because the style annoyed me so much! References to modern technology but written as if it was a very elderly character, bizarre sexual references which seemed to have no point (perhaps they were funny but I am not good at spotting humour in books!), swopping styles in an almost arbitrary way. I did not know what she was getting at, and even when the penny dropped I was still not really sure what the point of the novel was. Grr, have to say I would not have finished it if I had not thought it was a book club choice!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sara Waters

Valerie managed to grab the last tickets to an evening with Sara Waters, held at Tonbridge library yesterday– and invited me. Somewhat to our surprise, we found ourselves in the midst of a lesbian and gay month event. The room was full of maybe 60 people, mostly women, middle aged and of varying sexualities.

I say ‘surprised’ because I view Waters as a good writer, who is indeed a lesbian and often writes with lesbian themes or characters, but obviously for many of the women there, she is a great deal more than that. I don’t think we can really appreciate what it must feel like to have been invisible in mainstream literature, and then suddenly achieve visibility on an international level. They obviously love Sara for that. I think Valerie and I were the only people not queuing to have books signed and ‘me and’ photos taken.

The evening was conducted loosely as a conversation between Carol, a librarian and Sara and us all. Brilliant. Lots of good questions which were dealt with in a friendly, thorough and enlightening way. She comes across as charming, intelligent, gifted and hardworking. Your Own Correspondent posed a question that had bothered me about The Nightwatch (which we read for the blog in 2008) and that was, why did she choose to write it ‘backwards’ and thus compromise any narrative tension. Would she die in the bombing? We already know she didn’t. Her answer was illuminating as to how she writes: she wanted to write about 1947 (historical period is always her starting point) and the anticlimax of post-war Britain – especially for the many women (straight and gay) who had been liberated by the social upheavals of war. But is was too depressing she felt and didn’t know what to do with the story until she hit on going backwards to find out how her characters had ended up as they did. Quite fascinating – she obviously constructs period, context and characters and then develops their stories, rather than planning out a plot first. This is true of her other books as well, and she gave some examples from The little stranger, a post-war ‘ghost’ story. Valerie and I though this might be a later blog book.

Anyway, a superb evening and if you ever get the chance to hear her speak, take it. I’m rather surprised, on rereading my blog on The Nightwatch, that I wasn’t overly impressed. I’d like to reread it but have obviously lent my copy to someone – any of you?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Sea House

This was a gently enjoyable book, lightly written and evocative of the place. A book for a certain mood, I think. I liked the drip feed of the story, but the drips were rather too small at times and became a little irritating. As a light romantic read I think this was quite successful, helped by my recent visit to the area, which added to its interest, as did the havoc of the tidal surges of 1953 and other historical events which were incorporated into the story.

We were left with Grae going back for another attempt to live with his wife, which doesn't bode well for the children and Nick, against the odds, indicating a change of heart. Can he really change his attitude? Sadly, I think Lily will soon find her waitressing won't be good enough for Nick and if they stay together, her inferiority complex will return while she struggles to be something she isn't. Neither Elsa nor Max had a happy ending, nor Bob. Hopefully Gertrude found fulfillment helping with the twins.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Sea house

I like Emily was unconvinced by the four "love" relationships. And in fact these irritated and got in the way of me enjoying the prose. Which it was good to be reminded (thank you Emily) was actually good.

I found the book confusing at the beginning until I'd clocked it was being written on two different timescales - I know, I'm a bit slow! Was Alf the living link, beyond the twins...?

I enjoyed the reverence paid to written communication, the appreciation of arguably the lost of art of letter writing. Lily's point that letters can't be interrupted, unwillingly, by the reader when being received, unlike those unsatisfactory phone conversations she had with Nick which were constantly being interrupted. However, I'm not so sure I'd have been thrilled to have received the letters Klaus wrote to Elsa. The loved expressed seemed patronisingly possessive. I suppose Lily craved the undividedness of Klaus' love.

Which brings me onto the relationships, which irritated. Mainly because I wasn't sure what the writer's definition of love was. Most of the time I was unclear why Lily and Nick were together, and certainly had no clue why we were left with them possibly drifting off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Lily and Grae, seemed more real, and yet that ended abruptly and interestingly "inadvertently" so by Nick via his e-mail proferring advice against predatory males. Was that a turning point for Lily, a sign of encouragement and evidence she was something worth protecting and therefore loved? As for Klaus and Elsa, they rarely seemed to be in the same place , whereas Max was physically there for Elsa, and so those were the arms she sank into to assuage her loneliness. I don't know....

Gertrude seemed to emerge "a winner", a project in the local artist, twins and Elsa to pour love into, and brothers for Alf. Much to give herself too, and much to receive back.

Forgive me, feel I've been terribly negative, a distant and indifferent observer. My recollections of the book are terribly flawed, by a distracted mind and the fact I can only snatch moments in a day and therefore ended up reading it over a couple of weeks. I wonder whether it is one of those books best read in a day or two, so that one can be totally immersed in it...?