Wednesday 21 June 2023


I read L P. Hartley's A Perfect Woman, without any notion, or concern, along the way, about which of his female characters was building most towards perfection. As well as a certain impatience with all this plotting, this godlike holding in reserve. Resolution is a decoy. My students sometimes thought that the kind of strange literature I wanted them to read had an answer that I was withholding. It must have seemed like obstinacy on my part. But actually it was desire for them to participate.

The veg plot will tell you that. A veg plot is a patch of land you have to dig and tend in order to know. Not a complot, nor a narrative, not a story but the ground of all stories. Mythic if you like. Aristotle thought that plot was myth, and he was half-right. Aristotle needed to do more gardening.

In The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley was passionate as a shy man is; he knew it from inside. You can be passionate about uncertainty when you are twelve. It doesn't read so well in A Perfect Woman.  Uncertainty is now plot. Earning laurels as a novelist. Keeping yourself and others in suspense.

L.P. Hartley should have done more gardening too. In Losey/Pinter's film of The Go-Between, Michael Redgrave as Leo aged sixty, revisits the scene of his adolescence at Brandham Hall. He is dry, detached and sad in a gentlemanly way. This is far more garden patch, veg plot than complot, plan or conspiracy. This is the old terroir, and terror, of his very being. 

When I read about Alexander Goodrich the novelist in A Perfect Woman, I see an upbeat version of Michael Redgrave in his latter years, as novelist, detached, spinning plots that represent him more or less. I find novels uncomfortable. I don't want to have done with a book. I want to want to start reading it again. 

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