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.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Ballad and source

Sue - so sorry about Mr Golightly. Thank you for saving us from reading it, though! Your labour was not entirely in vain...

As to Lehmann... Yes, I agree with most of what Sue said. And it's a long time since I've read such an opaque book. I liked that - its depth and ambiguity - but it does mean I have lots of questions for you all!

1. Title. So "the source" is the life force. OK. But what does the title mean? Sibyl seems a bit obsessed with people's source being choked and is always trying to unblock it (even sending dodgy men to corrupt her innocent daughter because she's a bit cold for her taste? Hello?) Sibyl seems over-endowed with life force and under-provided with channels for it, as Sue said. Is the novel in one sense a battle between 2 different approaches (restrained v. expressive?)

2. Harry. Loved the line: "She is the executive partner, I am aware of that." Sue's nailed the question: when did the drinking start? Was it his appeal to her, or caused by marriage to her?! I found him rather moving, and especially his closely-guarded privacy from Sibyl - his friendship with Tanya, and the glorious: "Harry had left various legacies and bequests which had come to her as a surprise." And we aren't told either - his privacy remains intact. Fits with the assessment of Harry's appeal to Sibyl: "There's one person, one alone, it doesn't work with, and that's Harry", ie he doesn't reflect Sibyl back to herself. Why? And why on earth did he marry her?

3. Did anyone like Sibyl? I found myself unable to rejoice in even her supposed good points. She reminded me of a spider (the image is used, I think), twitching everyone of her acquaintance into madness, deceit and estrangement. For instance, even in its mildest form - "My mother was prudent and incorruptible, but she too was drawn, irresistibly drawn" (into forbidden involvement and various deceptions). And Sibyl utterly unaware of her on toxicity. And when the narrator says: "I did not realise then what poisons from what far back brews went on corroding her, but not a drop fell on these children. That was her grandeur." - are we really supposed to agree that this is possible? That she was able to keep those 3 - only those 3! - from harm but had a good go at ruining everyone else? And are we really supposed to think that her earlier experiences were responsible for her later behaviour? And what poisons, anyway? Is this a reference to all these dour, controlling men who marry Sibyl/Ianthe/Rebecca's mother and forbid contact with Sibyl and who - apparently - inflict such damage on their wives that the only solution is to start the most drastic counter-measures?

4. What did Flora Mackenzie advise Robert Thomson to do about Ianthe? Have her certified?

5. Do you think this would work as a film? I only ask because I didn't feel Sibyl's supposed hypnotic charm, and I wonder if that might be easier to convey on film.

6. What's happening with the dream at the end?

Sorry if these questions sound nit-picking. Am just trying to process it. I found the book very absorbing and loved the observations and language. The interview style didn't bother me as such, but the child's limited perspective did sometimes. I found it enormously therepeutic when they regroup with Gil and Tanya and we FINALLY hear Sibyl and Harry discussed in detail by adults who have a coherent and experienced and surprisingly balanced view of them. And I am delighted to have enjoyed yet another book which I'd actively have avoided!