Like steps of passing ghosts

Tastes in critics and book reviewers, like cities and vegetables, are idiosyncratic. It probably has as much to do with voice as with the acuity of their exegesis, or exquisite taste. As much as we resist, fashion and peer pressure might play a part. Some, like Gabriel Josipovici, earn our trust and admiration for the rigour of his prose, even when our literary tastes differ markedly.

I’ve travelled a lot lately, but am in Hampshire for the autumn, with the low, dense English skies that always bring me home. Looking up some notes on Borges, I came across a poem I recorded in a notebook a few years back, by an American poet called Adelaide Crapsey:

‘Listen.
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.’

The other night I had a strange, striking dream. I rarely remember dreams and I remember little of the narrative context, but I was accompanied throughout the dream by Eileen Battersby, a book reviewer, American by birth, but who lived in Ireland, and died last year. I barely know her work, perhaps read one or two reviews when someone linked to them on Twitter. I still know little but watched on YouTube an interview with Battersby, John Banville and Enrique Vila-Matas. I can see little from her reviews to suggest we would share literary inclinations, but I liked her physical voice and passion for literature.

Finished but not Consummated

1.

Ah, yes, love, what they call love, it drives him to distraction, for it is one of that pair of things our kind may not experience, the other being, obviously, death.

Hermes, messenger to the Greek gods, son of Zeus, narrates John Banville’s novel, The Infinities. Centred around ‘old’ Adam (father and son are both named Adam), who lies in a coma, over the course of a single day each member of the family is dutifully paraded for the reader reacting to each other and to a mysterious family visitor. Hermes is given the best lines like the one above, otherwise the novel is disappointing after Banville’s previous brooding novel, The Sea. The ending is risible, pulling each divergent strand into a tidy conclusion in a manner akin to an Edwardian farce.

2.

Nature writing requires more than an account of a journey and representation of what a writer sees and hears to lift a narrative beyond a minor work. In Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places the writer’s fears and sensitivities raised the account to the luminescent. I persevered with his latest book, The Old Ways, but struggled to read more than five pages at a time without the soporific narrative inducing drowsiness. A mixture of tenacity and loyalty drove me to finish the book, but not without skipping whole paragraphs.