Saturday 25 November 2017

Alison Uttley, The Country Child

On the train up to Dublin and back I read the rest of The Country Child, which found its time and place on the crowded train coming back amid debates about reserved seats not showing on the display and who if anyone would be turfing out OAPs who had sat down in all innocence—the peace, the detail, the relish of rural life in Derbyshire in the early twentieth century, the language of it, the detail, are the balm you need, they need, these travellers, from Donegal towards their demented mother in Cork, their other mother or wife in Macroom after a week engineering in Blanchardstown, the match tomorrow over in Tralee and the need for team bonding on the train in adjacent seats, the contract entered into with Iarnrod Eireann as the coach, no slouch he, said.

Saturday 18 November 2017

Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics, Vivian Connell, The Chinese Room

I rarely read a book I want to get done with. I rarely give up. I gave up on Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth a few months ago, I am glad she wrote it, but I couldn't absorb the detail. Information is emotional. I can only take so much.

These days I am giving up on The Chinese Room, a novel by Vivian Connell, 1943, Penguin number 809. Vivian Connell was born in Cork, his novel was made into a film in 1968. From page one I couldn't find the way, and, after multiple late-night and bath sessions I can only fast forward to the last pages where various lustful imaginings in opium clouds not far from London clubs find their resolution. The novel's best feature is that people write letters to themselves.

Rather than read the rest of the book I think I'll go off and write myself a series of letters.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Elias Canetti, Fence Magazine,

Inside all day, half unwell half retreating. November, yes, and three weeks after the hurricane, the sequence of events churned about, as if the room you live in had dropped down with crashes and groans into someone else's bedlam and you're staring at your stuff as magma, breaking off and almost glowing, from their floorboards, then going back to an Elias Canetti essay called Dialogue with the Cruel Partner.
The sentence is always something different from the man writing it. It stands before him as something alien, a sudden solid wall which cannot be leaped over.
Then, as the day wanes, add logs to the fire and move on to Fence Magazine where sentences, lines, half-lines and spaces arise and puncture, stop short and relaunch in ways Elias Canetti could not conceive, as he could hardly conceive a writer who was a woman, unless many centuries earlier, like Sei Shonagon. Elias Canetti was Bulgarian Sephardic German English, but none of these got so far as to rupture his language.

The Fence contributors are ruptured throughout, they are perilous in this world. At the back of the magazine they tell us what they're reading. Many writers I haven't heard of, which is peaceful. There's a spread of publishing behind this writing, an irruption, a flood plain, an inland sea. Some contributors are very specific: there are books for the morning, for the evening, books carried around and books dipped into. It is a condition devoutly to be wished.

Friday 3 November 2017

Alison Uttley, Mary Webb, Henry Williamson

This week I bought a Peacock Edition from 1963 of Alison Uttley's The Country Child. The writer and her book are one in my memory, in the same cloth bag as Henry Williamson and his Tarka the Otter, and Salar the Salmon. I was a country child too, a generation later than Alison Uttley. As she read Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson, I read Alison Uttley, Henry Williamson, and Mary Webb's Gone to Earth and Precious Bane. My rural life was coloured by theirs. They deepened the view, lived in the thickets, trod the corn, knew the lairs, named the animals and the birds and lengthened my childhood.

Alison Uttley's country child is nine. Was that the age of romance in literary children then? The age when you might want to hide in a glade or join the circus? The age, too, that her country child started school. Helping on the farm, lying out on the fields on sunny days, counting stars at night, reading two or three books over and over, is school enough till then and possibly for ever.

Talk about the last child in the wood.

Now Alison Uttley feels like a stilted read. I shouldn't have read her Wikipedia entry, which was enough to stilt the most resilient writer. She was a controlling woman, not at all charming, it seems, one of a covey of children's writers that included Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter. I don't think Enid Blyton was charming either. Alison Uttley was only the second female graduate from Manchester university. That's what going to school was for.

I try to read her as I would have when I was nine. Talk about walking with ghosts. The walk, as I think of it now, begins at the end of Downs Road where our hairdresser, the daughter of Henry Williamson, lived. That was already ghostly and thrilling, the daughter of a writer whose books I had read. She, the hairdresser, paid it no heed. I was already miles away along the river bank.