Wednesday 27 August 2014

I've left Antal Szerb and his mid-European yearning and, in uncanny concert with Smilla's sense of snow, I've moved on to The ice palace by Tarjei Vesaas. Reading the wrong book for the place you're in is one of the great feats of the human mind. I sit and toast on the beach and read about the sound of ice groaning as it thickens as it deepens down into the water in late autumn, Norway. Here in Italy large stones shift under good-sized waves. A sort of stormy chuckling. A rhythm at any rate, more regular than the chambers of the ice palace, a Mediterranean clarity, ancient ordinariness. People have been sitting on this beach since –

I had forgotten how sad The Ice Palace is; almost unbearable. So much left unsaid: the brief intimacy of two 11 year-old girls, the winter in which one girl comes to terms with the disappearance of the other. So unlikely for a writer in his sixties to have this insight, to be able to let it through the economy of his language, through the cold of a Norwegian winter in an isolated community that seems to have nothing to do with the world most of us live in; a plain style in a bare rhythm for our crowded times.

On our Italian beach, in the lull after lunch, among one of the quieter crowds of the western world, a woman sings softly to her small daughter.

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