Thursday 27 February 2014

Today I read a six-month shift of my diary when I was seventeen, and found that for half a century I have depended on books and quiet places in which to read them. At seventeen I started on Proust, tried Kafka, learned how to spell Nietszche’s name. I was already a hunter/gatherer of things beyond me yet myself.

I read large amounts of dross at the suggestion of binding, font or title on library shelves, novels beyond my emotional range, beckoning; such a relief still, to leave adults to their peculiar games.

I was applying for university that year, reading set texts at all times in all places, bewailing nearly everything, finding the future in a language for all that, mine or someone else’s. I was a postwar bulge baby, disciplined to the point of despair, unable to convince anyone I was worthy of a university education, only fit for grinning out of a Tootal shirt advertisement.

Oscar Wilde, via Gwendoline in The Importance of Being Earnest, liked to have his diary with him on the train in order to have something sensational to read. I know what she/he means.

Reading old diaries is calming and astounding; finding yourself again as you hardly remember you were; finding yourself again as you still are. I can’t do it often. The sense of the person I am having been formed by the person I wrote is too disturbing.

The next night I dreamt I had the same clothes all my life. They hung in wardrobes, open, masked by dense silky cobwebs it was a pleasure to break through and then bundle the threads into a tiny ball.

Monday 3 February 2014

In bed with a cold I turn to Jane Gardam. Even after recovering from the cold I am still reading Jane Gardam. She is one of the places where I seek refuge in difficult times. Lashings of characters and a certain wryness, ellipsis, search. She knows the awkwardness of youth, its will to plunder. In one day I read the whole of The Flight of the Maidens, and by dusk could not distinguish my own emotions from the characters’; the trees outside, and the mossy stones, flocks of pigeons and a fox, a blackbird, suddenly none of mine.

Somewhere in the great reread of Jane Gardam, five novels in succession, during and after my cold, I remember Virginia Woolf, and Nella Last. One writer leads to another. Their voices resonate with each other. One black beetle knows another. Nella Last, housewife 49, chimes with Wimbledon, after the marmalade, or 22 Hyde Park Gate, moments of being.

Virginia Woolf gave up the struggle around the time that Nella Last found her voice. Jane Gardam, a few decades on, is sanguine. Making the marmalade is also a moment of being. VW is one with Nella’s frank dailiness and Jane Gardam’s marmalade.

The focus these women have, why they need to write it down. How they write it down. This is what preoccupies me. Marguerite Duras is another. ‘I don’t like literature but this isn’t like literature it’s like life’, said a student, making my day some years ago.