‘ – a love can sometimes cease / in the extinguishing of an eye / and what we come to see / is love’s extinguished eye.’ These lines from Ingeborg Bachmann (t. Peter Filkins), who I must read this year. Poetry, prose, more. Love ceases of writers’ work I once thought indispensable. This hazard of re-reading. A one-time companion now seems over-sentimental, another so riddled with cliché that the work is unreadable.
And yet a new discovery still has the capacity to rob me of sleep, lines rolling around and over, even hissed in the middle of a dream. Anna Kamieńska: there is little in translation of her fifteen books of poetry and two books of notebooks. (These edited and translated by by Grazyna Drabik and David Curzon.)
‘So it’s necessary to keep on shedding skin . . .
We live among question marks’
even when I don’t believe
there is a place in me
inaccessible to unbelief
a patch of wild grace’
Maria Gabriela Llansol, last year’s discovery. Something shifted after reading her Book of Communities (t. Audrey Young), and my reading keeps circling the same question marks, the unbeliefs. I’m not in any hurry to read the last two books of Llansol’s trilogy. There is little of her small body of work in translation but I’m told more is forthcoming.
This snowbound weekend afforded time to read. Penelope Fitzgerald’s Beginning of Spring confirmed I’m not the reader for her elegant comedies of manners. I also read Kate Zambreno’s latest, Appendix Project, essays and talks based on sections excised from her remarkable Book of Mutter. I may have more to say on these. Zambreno’s writing gets richer with each book.
So who has become over- sentimental or cliche-ridden upon reteading? Surely not Ingeborg Bachmann, despite the proximity to her name?
Not Bachmann. It isn’t that these writers have changed in any way. Merely my perception.
It’s always nice to be suddenly consumed by a new author, isn’t it?
And I’m glad I’m not the only one who was a bit underwhelmed with the Fitzgerald. I expected to love it, but was just indifferent, really.
I read your review of the Fitzgerald and was going to comment in agreement, but thought you might not want me to bump a three year old post.
LOL! I wouldn’t have minded. But yes – the book was just too undercooked for me, with all its potential scattered into the wind at the end.
I am another one who does not understand the hype around Fitzgerald. I read half of The Blue Flower, and did not like it so I put it down. I read maybe 20 or so pages of The Beginning of Spring, and I did not like it either. And I have tried to read The Bookshop three times, and I didn’t like that one either. I do think she writes in a “comedy of manners” fashion, and I am not the person for those kinds of books. It’s one of the reasons I have never really warmed to Jane Austen. I read Pride and Prejudice a few years back (I thought it was okay), and I read Persuasion, which I really liked. But I abandoned Mansfield Park about two thirds of the way through. I want more depth to the books I read though I know many will disagree with me that Austen provides plenty of depth. But nowadays, I think I care about the quality of writing on the sentence level (and, yes, I know Austen is known for that, but she doesn’t appeal to me), or I care about reading a very interesting or moving story. I’m working my way through Death Comes for the Archbishop. I read Cather in high school and vehemently disliked O Pioneers!, but Death Comes for the Archbishop fits the bill for being a moving story–and I find Cather’s writing wonderful.
Anyway, I guess this was a long way of saying that I, too, am not the ideal reader for Fitzgerald!
I think Fitzgerald is at best minor, but would consider Austen a writer of the first order, though not generally my sort of thing. Emma has depth which I can’t see Fitzgerald capable of, though what few Austen books I’ve read are broadly predictable, but I’m not terribly interested in suspense. I’ve not read Cather, but a few sentences caught my eye recently. I like to leave a book looking at the world just a little differently and I don’t feel any of these writers capable of doing that, but would be least surprised if Austen proved me wrong.
I think you make some good points about Austen and Fitzgerald. I think the way you say it is best: Austen is a writer of the first order, but not your sort of thing. (That would be true for me, too.) In reviewing Hermione Lee’s biography of Fitzgerald (who also wrote a biography of Cather) in the TLS, A.N. Wilson claimed that Fitzgerald was an uneven writer who, save for a few books, wrote what appeared to novellas for old ladies. That’s probably not the most politically correct comparison, but it seems apt to me. I think other writers who write in this similar vein (they are admired and regaled by many, but, for my money, they are not major writers) are Anita Brookner and Barbara Pym. And while I love Memento Mori and The Prime of Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, I think she wrote quite a few minor books (though Josipovici, whom I admire greatly, thought otherwise and loves her work). Okay… I’m getting off topic now, but I do agree with you.
The British are so bereft of first-class prose writers, arguably since Woolf (just maybe Lessing), that they/we (only 60% English) grasp at these minor writers and argue for their elevation. It is not in the least surprising that a country that so despises intellectualism produces writers only capable of middle-brow, popular fiction. Or worse. Much worse. There is a spark of darkness, if that isn’t an awful contradiction, in Brookner’s Look at Me, that makes me think it is a little more nuanced than Fitzgerald or Pym. Dorothy Richardson had the intellect but failed to find a form to suit; I like Pilgrimage very much, but it tails off so very weakly. Josipovici is a decent critic, so I must pay Spark more attention. I had her relegated in the “novellas for old ladies” category, a term so typical of A N Wilson who writes for old Conservative men in the Home Counties.
Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m not sure I want to invest the time in Pilgrimage now after your comment here. I find that I sometimes have different taste in literature than you do, but I really appreciate your opinions–and I learn from you. Another writer who falls into this category of writers like Pym and Fitzgerald is Elizabeth Taylor. Once again, I know many people admire her greatly (Lydia Davis does as does Hilary Mantel, and I respect many of their view on literature), but I have not been able to engage in a meaningful way with her work. I do own several of her books, but I never make headway. Elizabeth Bowen could also be lumped into this category–I know many take issue with her book, To the North–but I thought The Death of the Heart was absolutely brilliant, and it is a desert island book for me.
Your comment also touches on why I don’t really like much modern fiction. I find it lacking in many ways though I know I’m preaching to the choir.
Okay, I will stop with the negative comments now! I do appreciate your thoughts, and I continue to find much value here in your corner of the world.
Pilgrimage is terrific, but Richardson spent fifty years writing it, so inevitably it is uneven. It is fascinating to see how her thought and writing develops and matures.
I’m pleased that our literary tastes differ. We all learn from each other. I’ve never read Elizabeth Bowen, but am curious as I know that she was greatly influenced by Woolf. I’ll try to make time for The Death of the Heart one day.
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and converse with me on my blog. It is very much appreciated.