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


I also really enjoyed the film, but have not seen it again so am unable to be sure about the differences, my memory being rather imprecise. It is difficult, too, to put my finger on why Blake Morrison has been quite so successful in his portrayal of his father except that his use of words is so skilled, there is absolutely nothing superfluous to get in the way. Rather like the best dancers and musicians who manage to make everything seem so effortless.

The strong sympathy with those also bereaved or with children seems to me to be linked to the powerfully emotional and life changing experiences that these are. In a much smaller way, I found some similarity when I broke an elbow.

And when did you see - the film

Watched the film recently, and absolutely loved it. Really felt it captured the essence as portrayed in the book (even if there were the usual annoying petty changes for the sake of it). Glad they had the integrity to stick with Morrison and his dad both being very flawed men, stopping the film being saccharine. But also felt it stood by itself. Unlike many adaptations, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to someone who hadn't read the book. How did anyone else find it?

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!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

And when did you last see your father?

I read this a while ago now so have had to go back and review. I agree I liked the style. But it also brought me up short to go on the journey with Blake into all the things that he disliked about his dad (I didn't like him either Val), but still the desperate sense of loss he suffered. Both my parents are still alive, very elderly, and their 'inconsistencies' (amongst other things) drive me nuts, so it was a timely reminder - 'don't underestimate filial grief'. I shall try to encourage them to tell me all their stories again.

I suppose the thing it made me consider is what is it that makes us love our parents, despite all the sins they have (in our minds anyway) committed against us? If you don't actually like their views, attitudes, behavour - all the things you seek out and expect to like in a friend. Do other people find it easy? Is it true you can love someone without liking them (I have always thought that was a suspicious phrase). And, will our children love us despite all the things we got wrong? Mmm.

Friday, May 07, 2010

What Rebecca did next

A sea-grape tree by Rosamond Lehmann
If anyone wants to read A sea-grape tree, they are welcome to borrow my copy. Below is my review of the book – but beware, it’s a plot spoiler if you do intend to read it!

Three decades passed between the writing of The ballad and the source and this ‘sequel’, a time during which Lehmann’s daughter died. I think this tragedy does much to explain why this book was written, and what it is about. Young Rebecca has fetched up on a Caribbean Island with a motley cast of ex-pats. She had expected to arrive with her lover, but was let down and the story shows her regaining her composure in this very unreal world. She does this through friendship and through an affair with wounded WW1 fighter pilot Johnny. The novel ends with her setting off home to England with Johnny supposedly to follow but the parallel of her jilted arrival on the island is so close that I hold out little hope for her. Sadly, I found Rebecca an insipid young woman (whereas she was quite engaging as a girl) – she seems to have no career and no real interest in anything except love.

Although Lehmann planned to write about Rebecca, ‘literary creation is…essentially an unconscious and involuntary process, in which she is almost as much of a spectator as her reader; waiting and watching as her characters emerge…’ Janet Watts’ introduction, p ix. Enter Sibyl Jardine who ‘refused to leave her author in peace… “I just went on feeling : I must find out how this woman dies.”’ p ix. Well, Sibyl dies, before the book begins, in the arms of her granddaughter Maisie, now a doctor and unmarried mother. It was her latest lust, for Johnny, that made Sibyl bring him to the island to help him recover – an irresistible man by all accounts as he had a brief fling with Maisie before Rebecca arrives. Once again the intergenerational couplings that so intrigued me in The Ballad appear again in this novel (although, to my relief, Ianthe doesn’t join in this time). Most of this history Rebecca learns through hearsay from the island gossips, but there is also a long ‘conversation’ with Sibyl who appears to her in a dream or spirit form – by this time in her life Lehmann’s own grief at her daughter’s death has lead her to a belief in spiritualism.

But this book is nowhere near as bad as it sounds – indeed, I enjoyed meeting up with these characters again together with the distinctly rum bunch who inhabit the island. It would make no sense without having read The ballad, and indeed was quite badly received, The ballad being out of print by the time A sea-grape tree was published. I believe a third book was contemplated, but never written.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Arthur Morrison

I enjoyed rereading this (and I think the film works too.) Blake Morrison has a very readable style and unusually, the flipping back and forth in time really works for it just how memory works in these sorts of times in our lives. But I wonder if he has done what he set out to do, because I really disliked his father – he is a bully. The term is used by various people but they always seem to downplay its effect on others, and accept it as part of an avuncular persona. I’d have liked to have seen him played by someone of less ‘national-treasure’ status than Jim Broadbent in the film (it was JB wasn’t it?) – though that would have made for less enjoyable viewing.

As for your comment about consistency Pella - I've always thought that an overrated virtue and think we agree that it is our 'inconsistencies' that make us individuals. Who says what's consistent, anyway?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Blake Morrison

I am not at all surprised that this book was filmed. Blake Morrison writes in such a clear, visual style. The clarity of communication he achieved, giving us all the contradictions that made up his father, made this a very worthwhile and enjoyable read. You felt for the teenage Blake, coping with a father who was unwilling to let go and allow him independence. He was such a colourful and at times outrageous personality that he invited great love and probably at times also hate that in death, a large gap was left in the lives of those close to him.

Blake's mother, who became best friends with Beattie after Arthur's death remains a shadowy figure,but the Afterword fleshes her out a little. I do agree with Pella's observation on the comment about writing to those who have lost their father. However much one is prepared for a close relative's death, when they are gone, there is a great turmoil of emotions that have to be experienced before grieving is over. Becoming the senior generation takes a while to adapt to.

For me, the strength of this book lies in the writing style. Clear, simple appropriate language that allows the reader to understand the relationship between these two people is splendid.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

And when did you last see your Father?

I enjoyed this read. For its well crafted, earthy recollections. For the honest reflection by the author on self and others. And however uncomfortable the journey the personal nature of the relationships described and the grief experienced sometimes made it, it felt a privilege by the end to have been invited to share it (part of the author's therapy it seems).

I was particularly intrigued by the effort applied (something I've tried to adopt in reminiscing about my father) to avoid the "rose-tinted spectacle" syndrome. So Blake records the contradictions - the unsnobbish protector and defender of ordinary decent folk had his big house, his Merc, his live-in maid, and was acutely aware of his social status; the sentimental family man could be a bully and tyrant; the open-hearted extrovert had a trove of secrets and hang-ups (pg 92). It's interesting, integrity is a quality I think most people admire, and yet so often we're all a seething mass of contradictions, which on closer inspection can be consistent.

Having lost my father, it was fascinating to see similar consequences emerging for Blake as they did for me. And I start to write to friends when their fathers die, something I never used to do, something I feel ashamed at not having done before (pg 206). Galling at one level to be so stereotypical, and yet simultaneously comforting, a mark of the very essence of what it means to be human maybe.

The title and story that entails (particularly closing pages, from 216 on and back cover), suggest that the father he saw dying in those last few weeks wasn't him experiencing the fullness of his father? And yet his father was still relating to him from his deathbed, visible and knowable. The final recollection seems representative of his father (the task orientated do-er), and yet without all the other reminiscences and the description of his final weeks, we would be the poorer for not knowing them. Are we not known in relationship to people and things, throughout time, and that to suspend any of those elements, seems artificial and impossible.....?