Sunday 26 June 2022

Four loaves, Three lives, Two pairs, One continuum

I made four loaves on a turbulent June day. 

Read The Hours by Michael Cunningham while the loaves proved and then baked. 

Finished it in the afternoon, between half-naps and assorted dreamtimes. 

Mrs Dalloway, Clarissa, arranges a party for her dying poet friend. 1990s

Mrs Brown, Laura, makes a birthday cake for her husband, with Bug, her three year-old son. 1940s

Virginia Woolf walks into the river with a large stone in her pocket. 1940s

1920s. Virginia Woolf wrote Mrs Dalloway. 'The Hours' was the working title. 

Four loaves, four hours. Four nervous showers of rain.

Three lives. Three women. Three eras.

Two pairs. Love and loss. Madness and the ordinary. 

One continuum.

Monday 20 June 2022

Barbara Pym and Natalia Ginzburg in a railway compartment.

Barbara Pym was a girl from Oswestry, Shropshire, of careful decent people, but she roamed Europe in her day, and laid the plans for future novels, before settling in England. Natalia Ginzburg was a girl from Turin, of art/political/activist antecedents; she had several brothers who, she said, didn't leave much room for her to talk, so she learned to be brief. 

I can see them opposite each other in a railway compartment circa 1960.

Barbara would look at Natalia Ginzburg and situate her in the rich tapestry of human life. Maybe too european for one of her characters, sitting by the window looking out, frowning a little, too harsh, or dry, riven by continental truths. Might not see Barbara Pym at all, a cosy Englishwoman abroad. A bullet between the eyes, is Natalia's style. And then hang out the washing. 

Barbara Pym's Quartet in Autumn, Norman and Edwin, Letty and Marcia work in the same office, have lunch in different places, live alone, tend toward mania and avoidance, dye their hair, or not, exhaust their own attention to where they are now, in the autumn of their lives, in the zone of social workers and luncheon vouchers. They end as they began, separately, quietly. 

The Sweet Dove Died is quiet too, elegant, sad, nonchalant, and onward. There's a belief in this english continuum. Cloying and attractive, by turns. The elegant older woman, Leonora, the antique dealer Humphrey and his sweet nephew, James, whom Leonora wishes to trap with silken threads, James's love life, the gentle pursuit of antiques, objects that contain so much more than themselves.

A Few Green Leaves is a portrait of a village in the second half of the twentieth century, the balance tender and amused. Playing a village like an instrument, out of curiosity and kindness. Always a vicar, and several unmarried Misses, an academic couple, a DMV (deserted mediaeval village), jumble sales and flower festivals. 

Barbara Pym is comfortable in her settings, with no difficult questions; this world should continue, there is good will, eventually, through every turn, forgiveness and resignation in equal parts. Natalia Ginzburg is terse, passionate, direct; not inviting any future nor invoking any past. 

I read Barbara Pym on the rocks down at Howe's Strand on a sunny Monday. Last time we went to Howe's Strand I was reading Virginia Woolf, and a group of girls on the little beach in front of us talked loudly and ate Pringles sandwiches, saying they'd go vegan, if anything. This time there was no one, except two plump brothers who came through silently, turned around and went back.

Monday 13 June 2022

Natalia Ginzburg

I've been reading Natalia Ginzburg. The Dry Heart and The Road to the City. Short novels of northern Italy in the nineteen fifties, young women on a cusp, thinking to be loved and maybe to love, to have a house in the city, a man, a baby, some furnishings, gadgets, an embroidery basket. Natalia Ginzburg is dry and quick. I like her sentences. They anchor you drily in a blustery week.

My father has been a country doctor at Maona for over twenty years. He is a tall, stout, slightly lame old man who uses a cherry-wood cane for walking. In summer he wears a straw hat with black ribbon around it and in winter a beaver cap and overcoat with a beaver collar. My mother is a tiny woman with a thick mass of white hair.  

I like her seventeen year-old girl walking the road to the city, coming to terms with how it is, how all along you have loved Nini your half-cousin who will die, and there you'll be, suddenly, in this unexpected life, with or without a husband or a child, none of your expectations come to fruition, just this onwardness and silence. Vous êtes sur terre, c'est sans remède.

For a girl at seventeen in the nineteen-fifties there was no interlude in which you might study, or travel, there was only life ahead, a version of the lives around, and the question of love, whether you would or anyone would love you, this bare, unattractive you who is suddenly, every day, unleashed on the world. 

On page one of The Dry Heart, a teacher/mother/wife shoots her husband between the eyes; she narrates it as if about to hang out the washing. When her baby dies of meningitis, she throws out all the baby's things. 

We're stupid and don't know what we really want when we're young. Life runs away with us before we know what it's all about.

When I was 17 or 23 life was not running away with me. Au contraire. Life hadn't arrived at all. I was still reading the label on the honey jar as I ate my toast in the morning. I was not thinking of a husband, a house or children. I was thinking of the obverse of all that, whatever it turned out to be. I had no expectations. No image. There's a freedom in hardly seeing past the end of your nose, in either direction. 

Saturday 4 June 2022

Search Description for QUICK SERVICE by P.G.WODEHOUSE

Quick Service by P.G. Wodehouse is in a world of its own, mid-Atlantic, mid-twentieth century, English country houses and butlers, a choice of cars if you wanted to go to London, a choice of crass and crusty older men and unexpectedly lively young men, the English class system in operation, the shift of money from one generation to the next, a few steps sideways, a meeting by the moat, or in The Gardenia Tea Shoppe for a dozen strategic teas and buns, add an imperious mid-atlantic matron, a few games of craps with the stable boys, a slip of a thing, a poor relation, Miss Fairmile who goes the country mile to the future head of the Art Department at J.B Duff's Magnificent Hams, currently J.B. Duff's valet, yours truly Joss Weatherby, artist, who, lovely as it is beside the moated manor house in perpetual summer, would be happy with a gasworks in Jersey City, if only Miss Fairmile, Sally, were beside him, she was the blossom along the bough.

Nothing better to read if you feel in any way fragile or uncertain.