Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

"A kind of heaven" by David Almond (Iron press, 1997)

Stories from Stand, Iron, Panurge, BBC radio 4, etc. Mums going off with young sons. Young sons noticing that men like their mother. Childhood friends who meet up after years.

  • "A kind of heaven" - 3rd person. Tom's PoV. He likes stars - the Archer constellation. His mum takes him on the bus from their coastal village into Newcastle. Cold streets lined with stalls. A street performer, old Harris, specialises in self-harm. They return to their cosy home. Tom has experimented with a friend to find out how sensitive different parts of the body are to pin-pricks. He experiments on himself, losing the needle. There's talk of cold war. His parents love each other. He hears them talking, making love, 'And for the first time Tom understood his isolation, his exclusion from them. The heaven they described was theirs, and could exists only in memory, in the years between the war's end and his birth'. He goes to Newcastle again, this time with his father. His father had come to know troubled Harris on the way back from (wartime?) Egypt. His father wants to help Harris, but Harris doesn't want to talk about it. On the way home Tom asks "What's with with her?". His father too quickly says "Nothing". In his bedroom that night he looks out - 'How long would it be until the stars dispersed, until the arrow was released? .... He whispered "When will it begin?"'. As he turns to be bed, the lost needle pricks him. 'Would her pain be similar to this ... What would happen when she could not calm it, when there was no peace? ... Would her fear be similar to this? ... "I feel nothing," he whispered'.
    The street scenes are vivid, the dialogues convincing. Symbolism abounds. Hot/cold and Inside/outside contrasts are used. "The archer" seems contrived though. The madman's self-inflicted, displayed pain is contrasted with the mother's future problems, and Tom's attempts to understand. Global war is contrasted with private distress.
  • "Fiesta" - The boy's parents often argue. Suddenly his mother sneaks him out of the house - to Bilbao, then a coastal village. One day a stage is being assembled in the square. Street performers gather. She puts him to bed and goes off with Luciano. Next day boy and hungover mother walk in the mountains, taking a cable-car. They meet pilgrims on the way to Santigo. He asks if they can go too. Back in the village they separate. From a distance he watches tightroper walker Luciano perform. Later 'he sees how she keeps glancing from side to side, as if searching for him, but wary of finding him. She grips Luciano tight'. The boy hears Luciano perform with his appreciative mother in bed. He returns to the streets where he starts learning from the fire-eaters.
  • "Lucy Blue" - It starts with 'I'd not seen Lucy Blue for years, and then the parcel came: the key to her house, the sharpened knife, the scribbled note: Key will let you in. Knife will end it. Please come to me. Set me free'. Lucy lived in a remote headland cottage with a drunk sailor father. Her mother was found drowned. The female narrator visits, sees Lucy and her mother's ghost by the light of the lighthouse, then gets in position to kill the approaching father.
    Doesn't work. Maybe we're supposed to think that Lucy wants her friend to kill her?
  • "Instead of the scheme" - Narrator Rob and wilder, freshly-tattood Mickey skip a work scheme on a hot Friday and instead go to Tynemouth beach. Mickey chats a girl up and swims off with her. A family man, taking a break from his kids, chats to Rob. He says that he made real things - ships and rigs - and he supports Rob skiving from making a heritage museum from a church. Rob waits for hours, then swims to Mickey and the girl in the next cove. She's nice to Rob, says she walked out of a work scheme, says that Mto tickey rather admired him. When he starts shivering they warm him with their bodies. He wants to stay there.
  • "After the abandoned wharves" - A postman (sterile - his wife wants children) doesn't like entering the run-down Balmoral area. He sometimes throws their mail (court summons's etc) away. His wife would like to foster the waifs there. A girl leads him to a sack of puppies. He releases them. She takes him to her home. He sees that the dad and girl are happy. But what about their dangerous-looking dog?
  • "Where your wings were" - The narrator's mother sometimes checks his shoulders for wings - his little sister, Helen ("a little angel") died. He goes to church, confesses to beginning to have thoughts about women. He begins to dream of naked female angels. They take him to see Helen, who says she's ok. Then he's taken to see God asleep. At the story's end he's happy to accept that dreams are only dreams.
    Not for me.
  • "Dogs" - The shortest story so far - 3 pages or so. Paul wants to kill a dog. Lee doesn't. Paul's father had told him that dogs mate with women. His mother had laughed at the idea. When Paul comes home after dark his father says 'He's no pup you know'. In bed Paul hears his father's growls from the next room. Soon Paul will wake howling..
    Not for me.
  • "Beacon hill" - Pete's 1st person PoV. On a regular country walk with his dad he sees a couple make love. There's going to be a big housing development on the site. Each Sunday they assess progress. His father's awe-struck by the speed. He wants Peter to leave, to improve himself, not become one of the many navvies now seen around town. Peter's mate is Jacker. They meet to share fags that Peter's stolen from his dad. It's Jacker who he saw shagging the girl - "She was dying for it". Jacker offers to give Peter a go with the girl too. But on the big night, the girl doesn't turn up, only Jacker. Instead there's a hint of a homo-erotic encounter.
  • "Spotlight" - PoV is a first-person mother. She plus little son Antony and husband moved from a rough city to the countryside. There are old mines, disaster sites, a monument. Antony plays hide-and-seek in the dark using a torch. She follows him out one night, gets lost, sees ghosts of children rising from the earth.
  • "Nesting" - Now that her husband's gone she doesn't want her son Stephen (who was 12 when his father left) to stop going out in the evenings. He was born while the estate where he'd always lived was being built. She's scared of burglars. It's a rundown seaside town with spoil-heaps. He sniffs glue in abandoned cottages. One night while he's in bed his father returns (or is it a dream?) to tell him not to fall for the capitalist dream, and not to marry. Sometimes she tells Stephen (because he used to ask) about what it was like during her pregnancy. He used to like collecting birds eggs. He kept them under his bed. Recently though he's been smashing eggs and snorting lighter fluid. He doesn't want a job that involves "improving" the area. The last line is '"I'll protect you, Mam. I'll stay inside..."'
  • "1962" - It begins with a sort of prologue - 'These things happened so long ago. For anything at all to happen then, there needed to be pretty ones, and there needed to be the beasts. There were Daniel and Askew, my friends; my mother who was taken from us at the start; the tramp, who came soon afterwards to live in our dunes. And there was me, and there was my father, living somewhere in the spaces in between.'. First person PoV Steve plus his dad visit Steve's mother in hospital. In the early days his father had promised his mother and escape from their surroundings. It had never happened. Steve plays with his mates Askew and Daniel. From outside, he watches Dan in his house happy with his parents. The boys track a tramp who's recently arrived in the area, a war-veteran who Steven's father feels sorry for. He smells like a beast. The mother is returned home very ill. When the tramp tries to approach the house Steve threatens him with a knife. Later on the beach Askew pins Daniel down as an offering to the tramp. The tramp howls. Afterwards, Daniel was free, and Steve was looking at an old photo of his mother. His father, in excitement, yells "Tom ...! Tom ...! Oh Tom...!"
    The ingredients are much the same as the first story. Indeed, the two may well be designed to be read together.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

"Sleepless nights" by David Almond (Iron press, 1985)

Stories from Iron, etc. Single mothers. Young boys wanting to stay in countryside overnight. Stories with circus freaks and overtones of "The Lottery" or magical realism. "Elise" and "Concentric Rings" work best for me.

  • "Elise" - Elise and the male narrator grew up poor in Durham and became lovers. The narrator became immersed in industrial/local history, living in his late father's house. She moved to Newcastle then disappeared. "Even the memory of her began to fade, to be obscured by my work, and appeared with less frequency, until it became a distant hidden thing, that squatted in my darkness. It hid there with the part of me that could exist only in her presence, the part of me that had grown with her, a past me that I did not want to explore". Even her mother didn't know where she went. She returns, tells him about Californian biochemists seeking the secret of happiness. They make love, confess that the other is the only one they'll love. She leaves in the night.
  • "Joffy" - A handicapped boy runs off when his single mother tries to make him go away with Auntie Ellen. After dusk he hides in a quarry. The friendly butcher looks for him. He sneaks home. His mother "beat him until he could be silent no longer but protested, screamed, as flesh burst his skin and became meat". Later he slips into her bed.
  • "Concentric Rings" - The narrator finds a strange contraption with springs, and asks a street performer about it. He says that a strange women plus idiot son once came into town and set up camp. Thanks to his deformity she could swing him along in a noose without dying. Followers gathered and settled, buying contraptions so that they too could be swung by their necks. "At the centre, there were a dozen who had kept their faith intact". One day they discarded their contraptions. There was a mass suicide. The mother and child moved on. Having told his tale, the performer leaves. After a while, the narrator follows him, and joins the crowds watching his deteriorating performance. The best story so far.
  • "Dark Cube" - A performer has a box of darkness. Years later a troupe of performers display darkness in the shape of a man, but people weren't impressed by the old trick.
  • "Chickens" - Sammy (10) likes visited his gandpa in the allotment. His brother Peter (12) used to go. Sammy is bullied on the way back by boys who are Peter's new friends. Peter gets them to apologise. They all go to grandpa's place and look at rude playing cards
  • "Creeping About" - The son of a single mother goes out in the fields at night when she's out. He hears adolescents making love. He know his mother's a loose woman.
  • "Hold me close, let me go" - 1st person female. Her father left (stifled by their love?) when she was 12. She cared for her mother for 18 years, bringing men home for a night as a time. Whn her mother died she travelled to the med, slept with garrisoned soldiers, got pregnant, deserted the father, had the child, deserted the baby, then returned to take him back to the UK.
  • "Minimal damage" - Two PoVs - 1st person male, and omniscient 3rd person. He fell in love with the girl, Angela, whose back-garden abutted his. He had early writing success. They married. His writing goes bad. He withdraw from her though they stayed together for a while. They survive on the sales of their parents' houses. A stripper who he's met before, Susan, comes to live with him. Sex and friendship, not love. She attacks him with a knife. He recovers. He tracks Angela down at an ex-fishing village, watches her from a distance. She rejects him again.

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

"Marrakesh through writers eyes" by Barnaby Rogerson and Stephen Lavington (eds) (Eland, 2003)

Extracts about Marrakesh from Canetti, Wyndham Lewis, George Orwell, Ester Freud, etc

Canetti wrote that "A minaret is more like a lighthouse, but with a voice for a light." He's best at describing the Mellah (the Jewish Quarter) - "One is almost inclined to say that the dignity of these people lies in their circumspection"

Wyndham Lewis wrote "Marrakesh is yet a vast rendezvous rather than a capital", a sentiment that appears in several of the pieces.

I didn't know that Orson Welles (who doesn't have a piece here) filmed Othello in Essaouira. Nor did I know that the main square was a car park for a while - the government's idea of modernising.

Sacheverell Sitwell (in a tour paid by France) wrote -

  • "so far as the Mediterranean civilisation is concerned, Marrakesh is, in very truth, the most Southern town of civilised history"
  • "Morocco, which was never great, was too violent even to be prosperous"
  • "Even more remote and quiet are the Saadian tombs ... The approach to them, down so many crooked passages, is the proof of how concealed and hidden they must have been. Beyond any question the Saadian tombs are the finest works of art in Morocco. Especially remarkable are the twelve pillars of honey coloured marble originally from Carrara, with their capitals which are of Byzantine elegance and simplicity. An ingenious author has lately proved that these were the pillars of white marble seen by Montagne, during his Italian travels, which columns were lying ready to be shipped to the Sultan of Morocco"
  • "The real Arab music, as it can be heard more easily in Fez, is, beyond dispute, dull and insipid. There remains the music which has Andalucian influence, more common, also, in Fez and in the North of Morocco, and the Berber music. But it is this latter, the Berber music, which gives the night in Marrkesh its character"

I liked Justin McGuinness's informative "Men of leather:the tanners of Marrakesh"

Gavin Maxwell (the author of 'Ring of Bright Water') writes or features in several of the pieces. He was a larger than life, troubled soul.

Other reviews

Saturday, 15 January 2022

"Olive, Again" by Elizabeth Strout (Viking, 2019)

  • Arrested - Jack, a widower with 2 Ph.Ds and a gay daughter, is caught for speeding. His cheekiness to the cops nearly gets him into bigger trouble. He phones his daughter to say he's not a nice person.
  • Labor - Olive, a widow for two years, delivers a baby in her car after attending a baby shower. Her son is "a great disappointment to her". He had a still-born. Two days later, bored, she phones Jack, who she's not talked to for months. She spends the night in his house.
  • Cleaning - Kayley's father died not long ago. She hasn't played the piano since. She's in the eighth grade and cleans houses in her spare time. The Ringroses are a strange religious couple. Mrs Ringrose is Kayley's teacher. She asks Kayley to wear her old wedding dress. Mr Ringrose sees Kayley exposing her breasts. He leaves her extra money. It happens again. She starts playing the piano. When she stops cleaning for the Ringroses, she's sad and stops playing the piano. Her mother finds Kayley's stored money and asks where it all came from. Kayley hides it in the piano. Her mother unwittingly sells the piano.
  • Motherless Child - Olive invites her son Chris (who she's not seen for 3 years) and family for a 3 day stay. She likes her grandchildren, hates the older childen and doesn't think much of Chris's wife Ann. The childen don't talk to her. They she discovers that Ann's mother has recently died. She tells Chris that she's getting re-married. He's angry. Ann tells him to grow up. Jack pops in just before Chris and family leave. Olive sees something of herself in Ann
  • Helped - 83 year-old ex banker Roger Larkin dies when his house burns down. Drug addicts started the fire by accident. His daughter Suzanne (a lawyer) visits the old family lawyer Bernie the next day. His parents died in a concentration camp. She has 2 college-aged sons and plans to confess an affair with her old therapist to her husband which will lead to divorce. Bernie says she doesn't need to tell me. She receives lots of money in the will from old South African investments. On the way home she visits her gaga mother. Her brother has a life sentence for murder. Her mother may have played with his private parts. The PoV switches to Bernie. He had helped Roger with them, had helped cover up affairs, and covered up wife-battering. Suzanne phones him, telling about her assault/affair suspicions. He says nothing. He asks whether he still has a faith. She says her therapist told her "Don't be ridiculous, Suzanne. You were a child mystified by life, and you now think it was God you felt. You were just mystified by life".
    A story with a high death/sin count and low pay-off
  • Light - Cindy Coombs (her PoV) meets her ex-teacher Olive in a supermarket. Cindy has a husband Tom and 2 sons at college. She's bald - she has cancer. When a girl she wanted to be a poet. Olive visits her next day. Her only other regular visitors are a nurse and her sister-in-law - others are scared to visit. She confides in Olive about her fears. She regrets crying on Xmas day amongst her family. Olive confides too. She's been married 2 years and still thinks a lot about her first husband who she didn't treat well in his final days. She thinks she's a slightly better person now. She points out to Cindy that it isn't easy for Tom either.
  • The Walk - Denny, 76, can't sleep so he goes on a walk, wondering about his 3 married kids. He sees an overdosed man and saves his life.
  • Pedicure - Jack (79) and Olive (78) have been married for 5 years. As a treat, Jack has introduced Olive to pedicures. Bored by holidays in Florida they go for a drive, Olive narrativing gossip for him. When they pass her childhood haunts she tells him about an uncle who hanged himself. At a restaurant Elaine appears. She's a younger ex-colleague/misstress who in effect got him sacked. He'd been especially excited by her feet. After, Olive and Jack compare the people they (nearly) had affairs with, and those their late spouses had affairs with. At times they both greatly miss their late spouses
  • Exiles - Jim and Helen (grandparents) are visiting Bob and his 2nd wife Margaret (a religious minister). Bob had grown up thinking it was he who, at 4, had caused his father's death, but in his 50s Bob admitted that the accident was his fault. Bob's infertile, which was why his 1st wife Pam left him. Pam was popular with the rest of the family, and Bob still gets on well with her. Helen gets drunk having to stay with boring Margaret and falls down the stairs. Bob thinks that "Jim would live the rest of his life as an exile, in New York City. And Bob would live the rest of his life as an exile in Maine. He would always miss Pam, he would always New York". At the end he tells the wakening Helen "I'm right here ... Not going anywhere"
  • The Poet - Olive, 82, widowed again, meets a local poet Andrea (ex US poet laureate) who was never expected to be much of a success by her teachers, Olive amongst them. She tells her friends who she met. When later Olive hears she was injured by a bus, Olive thinks it was a botched suicide attempt. A few months later Olive reads that the bus driver was drunk. Later, an issue of "American Poetry Review" is delivered by hand. In it is a poem by Andrea - a nearly verbatim copy of Olive's words - Olive had told her that "You can put that in a poem. All yours"
  • The End of the Civil War Days - The MacPherson's have been married for 42 years, mostly unhappily. Now the rooms are divided by tape into 2 halves - his and hers. He's into Historical Recreations, and the local annual one is happening. Daughter Lisa, 40, visits from NYC with a DVD, She tells them she's starred in a documentary - as a dominatrix. Younger daughter Laura arrives and is furious. The father, seeing the DVD, collapses and is rushed to hospital. He's ok. At his bedside his wife is friendlier to him than she's been for years.
  • Heart - Olive wakes in hospital. She's been dead - heart attack. She's confused. She recovers and nurses visit - a Somali who she likes, and an ex-pupil she less keen on. She realises love can be secret and long-lasting, and you can loving someone without liking them.
  • Friend - Olive moves into sheltered care and meets residents/visitors she knows or has taught. She makes a new friend.

I wasn't impressed either by the individual stories or the novel. There are many ex-partners, deaths, etc that raise the emotional stakes, but there's little return. The title is returned to at the story's end.

Other reviews

  • Hannah Beckerman (Olive, Again is made up of interconnected stories all set in a small town in Maine. It is two years since Olive’s husband, Henry, died, and grief has not mellowed her: she is still brusque, unforgiving, formidable. But beneath the hard carapace – and this is where part of Strout’s genius lies – is compassion, empathy and vulnerability, as Olive starts to feel aware of her own mortality. ... The 13 tales, told from a range of perspectives, explore Strout’s preoccupations with grief, loneliness and familial torments ... Throughout the book, disparate, disconnected people share transformative moments.)
  • Lucy Hughes-Hallett (These books are structured as collections of linked stories, but Strout’s publisher calls them novels. It might be more accurate to say they are the prose-narrative equivalent of a long-running TV drama series.)
  • John Phipps (Of the thirteen stories here, Olive features prominently in half. The others focus on a broad cast of unconnected characters, with a glancing appearance or cameo from Olive keeping them just threaded to the rest of the book. ... 'The End of the Civil War Days’ is Strout’s funniest story to date. Olive, Again also contains her first to ever fall flat. ‘Heart’ starts out with Olive waking up from a heart attack. The passages set in hospital are amongst the best in the book. But the story tails off into a too-obvious plea for compassion across political boundaries, making loud clunking sounds as it goes.)
  • Jonathan Vatner (as usual in Strout’s stories, the craft is virtuosic and often risky. A seed planted in the first few pages — often a bit of gossip or a retrospective observation — bears fruit in the final turn. The point of view shifts unexpectedly or jumps forward or backward in time. Surprises wing in but always make a crazy kind of sense.)

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

"Camera con vista" by E.M. Forster (Rizzoli, 1993)

In his introduction, Guido Almansi mentions that Forster's overt symbolism (not least the various "views" in this novel) has been criticised. "Forster seems incapable of describing insignificant actions" but when he manages to balance symbolism with a comedy of manners, all's ok. He's at his best when an apparently innocent phrase has extra meanings. "Forster tries to say important things worthy of an orchestra, but the instruments that he uses are a piccolo or a triangle; and it's extraordinary the harmony he manages to evoke with such modest means"

Critics have said that his treatment of deaths is rather evasive, timid or even (according to Trilling) donnish. His characters have an outsider view of Italy. Some critics think that Forster (or the narrator) has a touristy view too. The novel came out in 1908, when modernism was happening elsewhere.

Chapter headings range from the bland "Capitolo Quarto" to 8-line summaries.

Part I

The first scene shows the English abroad - the upper class and clergy. Lucy Honeychurch and Charlotte Bartlett are on a holiday paid by Lucy's mother. The hotel they're staying at has a cockney owner and many English guests. Lucy's room doesn't have the promised view of the Arno. But they do meet the Rev Beebe, who they've briefly met before. We're privy to some of his thoughts.

They both like Beebe who will be their rev back in Tunbridge Wells. After the meal, Beebe joins the men in the smoking room. He returns having negotiated a room exchange with the Emersons. Charlotte accepts the offer on Lucy's behalf so Lucy would feel under no obligation (George, the Emerson son, is an eligible bachelor).

Next day Lucy is taken for a walk around Florence by Miss Lavish. They realise they have mutual acquaintances. She told Lucy not to bring her guidebook. They get lost. Miss Lavish doesn't like many of the English that come to Italy - she thinks that they wander around like cows.

Miss Lavish (who is "so original") abandons Lucy, who meets the Emersons by chance in a church. She realises that the son is embarrassed by her easily angered old father. The father takes her aside and asks her to befriend his son, who's troubled.

Lucy plays the piano with passion. Though she's been told that a woman can only progress if she finds a man, she has bouts of rebellion, especially after playing beethoven

Back at the Pensione Bartolini they gossip, and talk about Ireland. Miss Lavish lost her first novel-in-progress, which made her start smoking. They sum up the Italians - superficial. Beebe's the only one to be friendly with the Emersons. The others dislike (some of) the Emersons for various reasons.

Lucy goes out alone at twilight to la piazza della Signoria, where she witnesses a murder and faints. George helps her home. She doesn't want people to know what happened.

As in "Passage to India", an organised touristy trip brings dissimilar people close together, and reveals their different views of other cultures. Some of the English are happy for the carriage driver to have his girlfriend beside him. Some are interested in views/places only because they appear in painting/poems. There are allusions to Pan and Persefone. The carriage driver sees more than he should. He's given money by one of the girls.

To Lucy, the shared moment by the Arno after the murder is less excusable than her initial reaction. On the way back to their rooms she admits to Charlotte that she's sinned. There's a storm. Lucy's scared - "Sometimes the need for a sympathetic gesture is so great in us that it doesn't matter what it really means, or how much we'll need to pay for it after." The two women decide to leave for Rome the next morning.

Part II

In Tunbridge Wells a boy and his mother are indoors. We learn that they are Freddy, 19, Lucy's brother, and the mother. Cecil Vyse has asked to marry Lucy.

6 pages later - "Making his appearance rather late in the story, Cecil will be immediately described". Then we learn that Lucy's outside. She's just agreed to marry Cecil. They've known each other for a while. They got to know each other better in Rome. Rev Beebe arrives. He thinks presumptiously that Lucy should merge her music and non-music personalities.

We learn that Cecil dislikes the society events that Lucy's mother wants to put on. Indeed, Cecil doesn't seem to like anyone much. He and Lucy haven't kissed. Cecil finds some tenants (they'd been in Italy - the Emersons!) to irritate snob Sir Henry.

Lucy has come back from Italy changed - aware that class differences can be breached. The old Alan sisters and the Emersons arrive. Freddy, George and Beebe frolic in a muddy pond. They're seen by Lucy and her mother.

The 4th wall is breaking down. Near the start of Ch 14 it says something like "It's rather obvious to the reader to conclude that she loves the young Emerson. To a reader in Lucy's position however it might not be so obvious ... George makes her nervous".

Lucy's worried that news of her secret kiss will emerge. Charlotte visits. Will she tell? Who else knows? Cecil tests Lucy on culture. She doesn't do well. Lucy notices George's un-masculine shyness in her presence.

Things fall apart. Successive chapter headings report on Lucy's battles with George, Cecil, Beebe, her mother, Freddy, the servants and old Mr Emerson.

Cecil's reading a new novel by Joseph Emery Prank, set in Florence. Lucy realises it's written by Miss Lavish. Charlotte provided her with some details.

George tells Lucy that Cecil's not right for her because he prefers things to people. She tells George to leave, then breaks off the engagement with Cecil. Cecil's unexpectedly understanding. She repeats to him George's criticism as if it were her own. Then she tells Beebe that Cecil wouldn't let her be who she wanted to be. The old Misses Alan are thinking of going to Athens or even Constantinople. Lucy wonders if she might go too.

Beebe enjoys knowing what's going on. He tries to guide conversations helpfully. We get inside his mind quite often. He helps Lucy's mother to realise that she should help Lucy. Lucy want to keep news of her broken engagement from George until she's abroad. Her mother dislikes Lucy wanting to leave home and preferring the old Alan sisters to her. George's father tries to talk Lucy out of her decision. He provides some background info about George's mother etc.

Male/Female standard roles and Heroic/Courtly influences are challenged. In the final chapter we learn that the Alan sisters go to Greeece alone. Lucy and George are back in the same Florence pensione as before. It's a spring evening. They look out of the window. They talk about the other characters, how if it wasn't for George's father they'd never have got together. They begin to agree that Charlotte's behaviour could only be explained if she'd wanted (subconsciously maybe) the two of them to get together from the start.

Other reviews

  • Penguin reeaders guide (he spent his youth and young adulthood, as Lucy Honeychurch nearly did, repressing his sexual desires to adhere to the expectations of society. ... He was a respected writer, but not yet a famous one, and the themes touched on in his earlier novels—passion and convention, truth and pretense—were now given complexity and eloquence, with the maturity of a more experienced voice, in his third novel. ... While Lucy embodied Forster’s internal strife, Mr. Emerson was created in the image of a man Forster admired, ... The “bright and merry” surface of the novel owes much to the social comedies of Jane Austen and Henry James.)
  • Janine Ballard (The values of self-knowledge over self-denial, of clear communication over muddled thinking, of the love and light that we can only express if we are true to ourselves, are at the center of A Room with a View)

Saturday, 8 January 2022

"home body" by Rupi Kaur (Simon and Schuster, 2020)

So much white space! So little originality.

  • why do i let my mind/ get under my skin/ i am so sensitive - this is ok but doesn't merit a whole page
  • you are lonely/ but you are not alone - there is a difference - a cliché yet they're the only words on the page
  • anxiety feels like i'm hanging/ off the side of a building/ and my hand is going to/ slip any second - a page!
  • our pain is the doorway to our joy - a page!
  • i have a fear of seeming too desperate
  • masturbation/ is meditation - a page
  • in a world that doesn't consider/ my body to be mine/ self-pleasure is an act/ of self-preservation/ when i'm feeling disconnected/ i connect with my centre/ touch by touch/ i drop back into myself at the orgasm - shame that this idea has been expressed so many times before
  • happiness grew old/ waiting for me - that's ok
  • yours is the only opinion of you/ that matters - Yes! Really! That's what it says.
  • get out of your own way - that's ok
  • reject their bullshit definition/ of what a woman should look like
  • give me laugh lines and wrinkles/ i want proof of the jokes we shared/ engrave the lines into my face like/ the roots of a tree that grows deeper ... I want to leave this place knowing/ I did something with my body/ other than trying to/ make it look perfect - extracts from the best of the pieces.

Written for mid-teens who don't read much? Or is the persona a sort of Adrian Mole character?

Other reviews

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

"A short history of Italian literature" by J.H. Whitfield (Penguin, 1960)


"At certain obvious points the history of Italian literature fuses with the history of Italy ... The first flowering [] is that associated with the [France influenced] Sicilian school ... Then Florence assumes that cultural primacy ... The architect of this ascendancy is Dante ... Boccaccio, Petrarch ... Machiavelli dies in 1527, the Florentine Republic gives place to a principality in 1530. Florence has ceased to be the mainspring of Italian literature is Boiardo, with the Orlando Innamorato, who marks the first step to the establishment of Ferrara as the epicentre of the multifarious Cinquecento ...Hereafter a lethargy [] Not for nothing is the great name of the Seicento the scientific one of Galileo ... Venice alone [] recovers its territory. its trade, and its prosperity. But the fruits thereof are rather Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Palladio, than in prose or poetry ... No major changes break the gentle sleep till the rude wind of 1796."

Italian Lyric Poetry: from Sicilian School to Petrarch

  • "the invention of the sonnet form ... is as important as the inheritance of the canzone. Out of this prosody, and with this set of conventions and poetic capital, and with for good measure the tricks and faults of the troubadours, will come the European lyric, and after Petrarch it is, as petrarchism, largely the tricks which are most apparent."
  • "before Cino poetry was in the position of primitive painting. It could speak clearly, because it had the primitive's simplicity of colour and outline. Cino introduces a new tension between opposing elements, and offers a new horizon. After this the lyric may sin by sophistication, but it will not be linited by naivety. ... none before Cino builds a sonnet to a climax."
  • "[After Petrarch] Nor will the Italian lyric achieve real greatness again till Tasso takes this further step, into the world of the senses."

From St Francis to Dante

  • "For St Francis the world, as God's creation, was good, and all one needed [was] self-abasement ... for Jacopone the worse it was the better, with the greater compensation ... [For] Dante ... the world with the right remedies, under the right authorities, would itself be right. These were: Pope, Emperor, Aristotle, and at first sight it might seem that the latter should be Dante's guide."

The Prose Tradition to Boccaccio

  • "The Duecento has little of original prose, and Dante's two works, the Vita Nuova and the Convicvio stand out as early landmarks ... There are two paths to its great early monument, the Decameron: through the rest of Boccaccio's writing, and through the undergrowth of the short story."
  • "The Decameron, then, is neither the new world of the Renascence, nor a work of realism. It is a free work of the imagination, in which old tales are given as much life as Boccaccio can afford."
  • "It was De Sanctis who said, [Boccaccio] writes like Cicero, and thinks like Plautus. And now this needs emendment, for this style - whose imitation was to burden Italian prose for several centuries - was born of medieval rhetoric, and looked to Livy for its Latin air."

Petrarch and the New World of Learning

  • "Boccaccio stand with Petrarch in the discovery of texts, and ahead of him in appreciation of the importance due to Greek."
  • "With Politan we have come to Latin verse instead of Latin prose, which is the main vehicle of the early Quattrocento, and its true voice."
  • "for the next fifteen years Ariosto will lovingly correct [Orlando Furioso] in the spirit of Bembo's rules for the vulgar tongue; so that it becomes the pattern of Tuscan usage in the hands of a non-Tuscan, one of the main instruments for the victory of Tuscan as the Italian language ... And now finally, after this interlude, we are free to return to Italian literature, safe un the assurance that it will no longer be supplanted by a Latin counterpart."

From Petrarch and Boccaccio to Lorenzo and Politian

  • "There is in Italian poetry nothing like the stanza of Politian before his time, and it is he who makes the achievement of Aristo possible."

Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and their Heirs

  • "..."

Epic Poetry from Pulci to Tasso

  • "As in Latin times, Italy imported its epic themes: not Troy, but the matiere de Charlemagne and the Authurian legends."
  • "Nor must we ignore the herculean effort by which [Ariosto] bought the epic uphill from the morass into which it had descended, making of it the first shining monument of the poetry of the Cinquecento."
  • "the magic which Ariosto retains is always trembling on the brink of allegory or rationalisation: it is because his sanity of outlook is impatient with a lack of meaning."
  • "the Renascence['s] ... chief poet was Ariosto."

The Italian Theatre to the Pastor Fido

  • "It follows then the general law of the fifteenth century: that those genres which are not fertilized from the classical side tend to wither."

Figures and Trends within the Cinquecento

  • "Bembo is the non-Tuscan codifier of Tuscan speech for literary use. Here with gravity and lucidity Italian is finally put forward as preferable to Latin."
  • "The sixteenth century sees the querelle des femmes, and in Italy there is an outcrop of feminist literature, notable in bulk if repetitive and insignificant in quality."

The Seventeenth Century

  • "..."

In and out of Arcadia

  • "[Octavio Rinuccini provided] clear characters, and the first opportunity for monody to replace the polyphony of the sixteenth century. The apparatus, and the rules, of tragedy are not abandoned, though they are clarified: a Messenger may still relate the most important parts; prologues, monologues, and moral sentences remain."
  • "From the Italian point of view [Goldini] has always been the Italian Moliere, but he is Moliere without a cutting edge, and without Tartuffe."
  • "[Parini is] the most estimable poet of the eighteenth century ."
  • "Neither Parini nor Alfieri quite attains the status of a major poet."
  • "Vincenzo Monti [] could seem to his contemporaries not only the major poet of their time, but also a new Dante sprung to life, only better than the first one, a Dante ingentilito."

The Trilogy of the Opening Nineteenth Century

  • "Recent criticism has claimed [Le Grazie] as the culminating point for Foscolo, and even as the highest point of lyric poetry in the Italian nineteenth century."

From Carducci to D'Annuzio

  • "[Giosue Carducci] built his poetry quite largely on a sense of history, and [] stands as the most substantial figure of the second half of the century."
  • "with Verga we meet for the first time a novelist whose work stands comparison with Manzoni."
  • "With Verga and Carducci we feel the clarity and sanity of vision; with Gabriele d'Annunzio (1863-1938), who derives from both of them, we have passed to the sultry decadence of the fin-de-siecle."
  • "[d'Annunzio was] the most gifted, and the most applauded, writer of Italy at the turning of the century."

The End of the Nineteenth Century

  • "If it was d'Annunzio who may be thought of as a literary Mussoloni, with the same vulgar triumph and the same downfall, it was another who has been labelled as precursor. This is Alfredo Oriani."
  • "But with all his habitual faults Fogazzaro wrote one of the three most significant novels of the Italian nineteenth century."
  • "Brought up amidst the prevailing positivism, Pascoli shares in Fogazzaro's reaction towards a spiritualistic idealism. But since the unknown and the unknowable are the substance of his poetry, this tends inevitably towards imprecision of statement and of outline."
  • "if there is nowhere a writer of the calibre of Verga, yet there is a flowering of relionalist narrative with a high standard of competancy."

Pirandello and the Question-Mark of the Twentieth Century

  • "[Svevo's] merits are of a lower order, and placed opposite Verga it is apparent that the heroic poetry which bathes Verga's Sicily is greater achievement than this bourgeois atmosphere of Trieste."