JUDY KRAVIS

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Thursday, 27 September 2018

A letter in The Guardian Weekly recently, from a reader in Texas, said he was writing notes in the flyleaf of some of the more unusual books he read, so that future readers, if any there were, might have an introduction to books they mightn't have heard of. It is an act of faith, that someone in the future might open a book and find one reader's response on the flyleaf and so be encouraged to read it. A generous-spirited idea, though it confirms that books and reading seem to need special pleading, special behaviours and rare levels of encouragement.

When I am feeling low about books and reading, I might well turn, as I did a week or so ago, to L.P. Hartley's Eustace and Hilda trilogy, which I have read about twenty times since I first bought it in the early seventies. It must be the recessive, perhaps faux-modeste narrator who calls me back each time, plus the quiet narrative and social assumptions of about seventy years ago. This is comfort reading, confirmed by the exceptional quality of old Faber paperbacks, which have travelled through so many readings and emerged reassuringly bent towards the end but sturdy as ever. Today I read a a few chapters of the third volume up at the reservoir on a cloudless day, still warm for the end of September, both the book and the afternoon. I was negotiating Venice with Eustace, watching a magpie take a bath at the water's edge, and sometimes closing my eyes for these two scenes and all their virtues to marry.
.... events never moved while you were watching them, and his own particular scrutiny, he sometimes felt, had a peculiarly arresting effect. He becalmed things.
Only when he turns his back on things do they change and take him by surprise. Eustace and Hilda are brother and sister, with low parental presence (the mother died young and the father not much older) with one of those aunts in literature who take the place of parents but are so much quieter. The sibling friendship similarly takes the place of other kinds of relationship that L.P. Hartley, a frightened gay, could not describe or perhaps even contemplate. Eustace is mainly concerned with managing, or trying to manage, Hilda's relationships; all the worry he and his creator may have had on their own behalf, is transferred to Hilda.

Whether or not this blog survives the predations of bots and spam-slingers, I have no desire to sully the Faber flyleaf.

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