Tuesday 26 December 2023


We bought new down pillows about a month ago, after years in a pillow desert, and since then, uniquely I think, I have read all the novels of Elizabeth Strout that I have, which is all she has written bar about two, with my head resting on these soft, minimal yet full, pillows, either before I go to sleep or by way of interlude during the night. She has inhabited her people and I inhabit them in turn, buoyed by the new pillow and the sleep it will surely bring. It is only now I am on the most recent novel Lucy by the Sea, which is very much about the pandemic time, that I'm getting impatient, as I think I did when I first read it: this is too close to what I know, it doesn't matter that it's Maine or New York. In fact, knowing the characters from earlier books adds to the sense of familiarity: these are people I know, neighbours almost, and their story has become too familiar. Yes we were all united by the pandemic but I didn't want to be. I dislike the feeling of being united by anything. I prefer the condition of detachment. This is what I am saying, as Elizabeth Strout would say — she likes these little emphases, this disarming writerly presence which is both insistent and apologetic. Detachment is easier if the stories are of the past, like LP Hartley, whom I also re-read often in large doses, or Elizabeth Taylor, a more recent minor addiction, both of them early to mid-twentieth century. If I want to feel united, it is not with a society, it is with those strange and already themselves detached creatures like Virginia Woolf or Clarice Lispector. With them, not with the society they might depict along the way, I feel at one.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Aghia Galini, 1966

Lynne Tillman's Motion Sickness by page nine pauses at a hotel in Aghia Gallini in Crete. I stayed in a hotel in Aghia Gallini in 1966, it was two and six for a room with a bed, one and six for a mattress on the terrace, one shilling for a space on the terrace. Thin old women in black came down from the hills with sticks and cheese. I thought I'd rent a tiny cottage and look over the sea for a winter, write in a rocky landscape. There was a lot to absorb that year and far away by a sea the place for that, in a language I didn't understand. Sea urchins among the rocks. 

Lynne Tillman, thirty or so years later, stays on her shady balcony in Aghia Gallini, for fear of the Cretan sun. She is aware of her neighbours, Australians, and a New Zealander.

The New Zealander yells down that we should have a drink. He has a bottle, he says. Of what, I wonder, but don't ask. I say, I'm reading but all right. I don't know why I put it that way— 'reading but all right'. Perhaps I meant to suggest that his visit ought to be short.

Online now Aghia Gallini  looks like average tourists in shorts viewing the merchandise as they go down to the harbour. 

Lynne Tillman is in Bologna Paris Venice London Amsterdam and Agia Gallini. I am there too, passingly, by proxy and in my own right. We share the same motion sickness, or at least some of the same comforts.

I feel out of place and know that I'm right to feel out of place. Travel unsettles the appropriate. You're bound to be inappropriate. Which is probably why I don't feel the intense embarrassment some do at not being able to speak foreign languages correctly. It seems to me that one of the privileges of travel is never to fit in. And not to fit in, not to be able to, is a kind of freedom.

Sunday 10 December 2023


I've read, for now, I've read chelsea girls and "working life", I've read the life of Eileen Myles these past weeks, a saturation that sounds like her truth and therefore nearly mine, while I'm reading her, or just after. 

In the middle of the night I read Eliz. Strout. I'm on Anything is Possible which is what you need to hear in the middle of the night.

Monday 4 December 2023


Strout at night and Myles by day, Elizabeth and Eileen, my two companions as we trumpet into winter in a strong northerly wind, sun barely up, ever, neighbours on the rampage, other airborne infections breeding fast.

Elizabeth Strout probably too young for Woodstock. Eileen was there, witnessing the end of America. 

But Jimi Hendrix was the best. It spelled destruction. it was so sour and noble. His Star Spangled Banner was the end of America for me. We were through with it. It was the most ironic end of an empire song any culture ever played for itself. I was so glad to be there to hear it. To know it was over.

It's important to feel when you're young that something is over. If something, everything, is over then you can do anything. Elizabeth aka Olive Kitteridge aka Lucy Barton has less an end-sense than a slow, not-even-rueful backwards look and coming to terms. Eileen is always in an endgame. A drinker and a brinkster.

I always heard a little voice yell my name just before I lost consciousness. I thought my death would be this way.  I loved it.

Elizabeth constructs herself among the stories of others' woes. Whether or not you can say you're trash. Why your brother paraded in women's underwear over his clothes. Now and then you — I — feel you've touched base. With Eileen you touch base every ten lines. With Elizabeth it's deferred, deflected into the lives of others. Eileen is onto it.

You can't force a story that doesn't want to be told. It was that kind of year .... I couldn't have handled anything less. I was going down to get some coffee and the Boston Globe to make me be something. Everything I did was something to fix me. With all my heart I was trying to be dead.

Lucy Barton is in hospital. Her mother has come to stay. There are startling revelations and long pauses in their conversation. Subtle, careful sentences. Where Eileen barks, bites into epiphany, Elizabeth moves quietly, and the devastation, for being hidden, is acute.

This is the rhythm that suits as we head into the winter solstice. I would like to be out more but it's freezing. 

Saturday 2 December 2023


I've read Olive Kitteridge and Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout before going to sleep for a couple of weeks now. Olive taking residence at the back of my brain through new pillows, inside and out. I might ask, why is it comforting to give residence to Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout's creature of contrasts. Her confrontational empathy and plainness of thought. After Olive there is Lucy Barton, and Lucy Barton's Mom. 

This is my nighttime occupation.  I need to replace the current contents of my head with someone else's dramatic personae, their doppelgänger, my repository. 

Last night, after a sweet/sour night away in Kerry, I read a chapter of My Name is Lucy Barton and next morning read it again. Elizabeth Strout's narrator cannot bear the sound of a child crying in desperation. She can read the levels of children crying: tiredness, crabbiness, and desperation. 

It helps me to sleep, knowing that someone else can distinguish between the levels of crying in children, and will change carriages in the subway to get away from desperation.