Monday, 28 April 2008

It is Clarissa, he said.

So, on Friday morning I finished Mrs Dalloway...

My goodness me. I can't even begin to describe what it's like, it is so utterly unique out of all the books I have read. With every page, the depiction of the characters becomes richer and richer and, as the various streams of consciousness chase each other through the overall narrative, every thought is so poignant; the insignificant, tragic, beautiful stories of incredibly real people became shockingly powerful. Virginia Woolf suffered from mental problems throughout virtually the whole of her life, and I think that contributed to how perceptively she was able to depict and understand people; surely, at the very least, it must have informed her portrayal of Septimus Warren Smith, one of the book's most heartbreaking figures, going quietly and willingly mad from shellshock as his desperate wife tries to help him somehow.

There is so much wit here, too, but almost always in a brutal way - one of the most pathetic characters, Miss Killman, is enjoying an internal tirade against Clarissa Dalloway, whom she despises, when the cringeworthy comment is inserted (she herself when alone in the evening found comfort in a violin; but the sound was excruciating; she had no ear) - we already loathe Miss Killman, but this extra bit of information damns her even further.

All in all, it's a breathtaking read, and one to which I am sure I will return continually through my life. It's a mark of how much I loved it that it has now appeared on my "Favourite Books" list on Facebook (!) - joining such masterpieces as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Gormenghast and The Book Thief.

"Peter! Peter!" cried Clarissa, following him out on to the landing. "My party! Remember my party tonight!" she cried, having to raise her voice against the roar of the open air, and, overwhelmed by the traffic and the sound of all the clocks striking, her voice crying "Remember my party tonight!" sounded frail and thin and very far away as Peter Walsh shut the door.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Many books

Ach it has been a while since last I posted: life has been a bit mental of late so I have been neglecting my blogging. However, I have had many hours of travelling time so have done lots of reading, Hurrah! So here is a bit of an update on my literary journeys.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - I bought this on a bit of a whim in a second-hand bookshop in York, it was a beautiful two volume set which cried out to be purchased! Read the first volume over about a month and it was fantastic - the prose is quite dense so does require a fair bit of mental commitment, but the characters are so well drawn that you get lost in it very quickly. Tolstoy's grasp of human nature is extraordinary - each of his Russian aristocrats have their emotions, desires and fears sketched out masterfully, and the reader gradually realises that the one thing they have in common is a dissatisfaction with their own lives. Only one man, Levin, begins to grasp where he might find fulfilment and this occurs when he takes to the fields with his peasant employees and works alongside them in their labours - this brings home to him the complete emptiness of the lives of his wealthy friends. What Tolstoy conveys brilliantly is the inevitability of each character's destiny, as a result of their actions - Chapter 22 of Part 2 has a very sobering paragraph when two of the main characters (who are having an affair) come to realise where this course of events will take them, signified by the their awkwardness around the woman's son: The sensation he aroused [in them both] might be compared to that of a seafarer who can see by the compass that his vessel is drifting away in the wrong direction and that he is powerless to stop it. Every moment sees him getting farther and farther, with nothing but ruin before him. The child was the compass that showed them what they knew only too well, but refused to recognise. Am anxious to get stuck into the second volume but I will leave it a while.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith - This author is, of course, best known for his books about Precious Ramotswe, the No. 1 Ladies Detective - I do love those books, but prefer his lesser-known series about Isabel Dalhousie, professional philosopher and part-time sleuth, who lives in Edinburgh. This particular book is the second in the series, and it is simply marvellous - Isabel is a brilliant viewpoint character, meditating wittily on every event of life, and the ingenious plots rattle along at an excellent pace, making the books impossible to put down.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf - This is my current one, I'm only about thirty pages in but am already enchanted. Woolf's style of writing is incredible - basically one long stream of consciousness containing all of Clarissa Dalloway's thoughts on one particular day - and you emerge from the book feeling like you've inhaled some sort of heady incense. More on this once I've finished it...

The Pleasures of God by John Piper - I've been reading this for a while, in partnership with my friend Sam; again, it requires a lot of concentration but I'm trying hard to really engage with what the author says, and evaluate his points. The basic premise is to expound upon the things in which God takes delight, as shown by the Bible: chapter one deals with God's pleasure in His Son, while chapter two considers His pleasure in His works. It's all very thought-provoking, the margins are slowly filling up with my pencil annotations!

That's it for now! Lots of good stuff, although a little bit tiring to read...I think I need a reliable murder mystery to be the next novel!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Come cangia in un punto il tuo destino

Life is pleasingly unpredictable when you can only afford to buy discounted produce in Sainsbury's. Tonight, for example, I popped in on my way home from work, intending to buy a loaf of bread, some cheese and a couple of mushrooms...instead, I left the store with one peach yoghurt, a carton of chilli vegetable soup and a bag of brioche.