“Not waving, but drowning…”, Stevie Smith said it best…

It’s been ages, dear friends and readers, since I wrote a blog-post. I played with the idea of shutting down the blog entirely. Life has been dealing lemons and I had a hard time making lemonade: nothing utterly shattering, just the slow erosion of my house and caring for an aging parent. Add a full-time demanding job and the spinster’s lot to carry it all and the result is not much reading and certainly no blog-posting. None of that is going to change any time in the near-future, so I thought a tiny post with a paltry number of books and even fewer thoughts about them was better than continued silence. So, here it goes. I read two whole books since April: Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and Margaret Kennedy’s The Feast and a more disparate reaction to two books I haven’t had in ages.

I had the same reaction to Perry’s late-Victorian-set novel, The Essex Serpent, as I did to Mandel’s Station Eleven, though I enjoyed reading it a lot more than I did Eleven. Perry, I thought, possessed the stronger narrative structure, more cohesive and echoing the Victorian novels I love. As for characterization and theme, I didn’t really see Perry come out and say anything. There’s the suggestion, in her two main characters, one an amateur-proto-feminist paleontologist and the other, a vicar, to give a contrasting view of reason and faith. Not sure how the Essex Serpent (a creature more Nelly-like than Moby Dick) figures in it, with Cora arguing for its scientific existence and the vicar fighting against the villagers’ superstitious beliefs about it. Maybe they’re more alike than at first appears? Frankly, I didn’t care: Cora abandons her search to pine after the vicar (I’ve read romance novels, I knew where this was going) and the vicar falls in love with Cora (sorry, spoiler ahead) only to stay faithful to his wife. Who suffers from consumption and obsesses over all things blue. Perry went for the ambivalent over the thematically explicit and I hated it. Ho hum.

Unlike Perry’s novel, my response to Margaret Kennedy’s 1950 The Feast was to be as enthralled with the discovery of a new author as I’ve ever been. What a terrific, terrific novel: the writing is sharp and superb; the characterization, sly and sharper; the theme, based on ideas rather than the fear of writing a thematically explicit novel. Oh, not for Margaret: there are good people and there are bad (but nothing of moralizing pathos) and the good are saved (if not rewarded) and the bad are punished. Hurrah. We need more of that in the world. And we need to be as engaged and entertained and forced to think about things as Kennedy demands of us. I wrote my first gushing thoughts on GR and am reproducing them here because I like them: “…a true morality tale, on the scale of medieval morality plays; the good are rewarded; evil; punished. Yet the characters are not flat and allegorical A=Pride. They’re fully-fleshed and you care about them. There is, I believe, a fascinating Christian-message undercurrent, a metaphor of the wedding guest answering the Master’s call to come to the wedding feast. But Kennedy is too good a writer to write in a master: there’s a call, there’s innocence, purity, and love and, for some, there isn’t. There are goats and there are sheep and the meek really do inherit the earth; there is even a redemption arc.”

In other reading news, I used to, back in grad school, read in French as much as I did English. I’ve wanted to revive that habit and set myself the task of reading Laurent Binet’s WWII-set novel about Reinhard Heydrich’s assassination by a Czech and Slovak, HHhH. It’s incredibly slow-going, but I’m persisting and about 2/3 of the way through. It’s superb, intelligent, moving, and engaging. I love it so far and set myself the goal of finishing it before next weekend.

32 thoughts on ““Not waving, but drowning…”, Stevie Smith said it best…

  1. I’m glad to hear from you: I’d been wondering how you were. I certainly sympathize with falling off from blogging. I hope you and your mother are doing OK in the midst of … well, everything.

    I had a very similar reaction to The Essex Serpent: readable but not really adding up to anything. I liked her novel Melmoth a lot more, though that one seems to be very much a YMMV one.

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    1. Thank you for thinking of us. Things are difficult, but cope-able, for now. I think of you too, a lot, and hope you’re doing well.

      Hmm, yes, Perry’s novel, even more than Mandel’s, was well-written. I ambled along reading it, b/c “well-written” and well-paced, but it never went anywhere and threads kept being dropped, even the “essex serpent” itself. I would have to side-eye Melmoth at this point, lol. I think you’d like The Feast, though. And HHhH is WOW, I’m sure, even in translation. (I’ve watched a lot of Laurent Binet interviews and he’s dishy, in an Alain Delon kind of way, added bonus to his great novel.)

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  2. I so glad to ‘hear’ from you; I have been meaning to send you an email, just to let you know that your online friends think of you and hope you (and MamaB) are doing well. I am sorry things are such a struggle right now. I hope that your reading mojo (as it were) returns to you.

    As for everything else, we can’t but hope for better days ahead.

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    1. Thank you, my dear, that means a lot. Things are difficult, but not unmanageable. Just not enough hours in the day to read and write. OTOH, when I do snatch a few minutes here and there and even writing my pathetic blog post, it takes me out of the “slings and arrows”, if you know what I mean. I’m glad you’re still blogging, I never miss a post, even if I can’t read romance much anymore. I miss it, but when I try to read it, I can’t. But reading is a real oasis.

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  3. I, for one, would hate to see you stop blogging. I read every review you write and marvel at your style and perspective every time. You have never steered me wrong on a book. I learned about authors I would never have encountered without reading your blog.

    With a full plate at home and a job that asks so much of you, I understand how blogging would not be at the top of your “to do” list. Still, I wanted you to know how much your blog means to me.

    And–as to your review of these two books–I will add that I am watching The Essex Serpent television series, and I had precisely the same reaction to the show as you did to the book.

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    1. Oh, Dr. J, that is so kind and it means so much. I think books and their engagement have defined me and I hope I bring some of that to my blog. It definitely can’t be at the top of the “to do” list, but it was never a “to do” anyway, just something I did for myself beyond the “needs must”. It was the Mary to my Martha 😉

      Ha, I feel so vindicated: if you feel that way about the TV series, then I don’t think you’d enjoy the book. I’d hoped it would prove another Byatt’s Possession type novel, but, alas, devoid of commitment to an idea, perspective, or theme, it was kind of “empty”…I admit I’d rather read Margaret Atwood and I’ve had a love-hate relationship with her work for years, but she sure does have all three (*whispers* it was Alias Grace I threw across the room).

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  4. I’m sorry to hear things have been a struggle of late but am very happy you came up for air long enough to post something on your blog. Here’s hoping for better days ahead…

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    1. Oh, thank you, Wendy! They’ve been really hard and not looking at getting any better, but I am better able to now carve out just a little bit of respite. These things come in waves, don’t they?

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  5. Did I mention _The Feast_ to you? I read it back in February. I do love that kind of book!

    I appreciate your checking in, since many of us were concerned about you. Please keep the blog even if you can’t write much. It’s so easy to lose people online.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, I think I read about it on one of Dorian’s blog’s, Eiger Mönch and Jungfrau, guest posts. They described it as a murder mystery, which it really wasn’t, and that intrigued me. I thought it was MARVELOUS. It’s on my book of the year list, except that Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet is one I’m still thinking about, so it has stiff competition.

      That’s so true, isn’t it, about losing people online. One of the reasons I decided to keep the blog is that very reason. And you’ve inspired me b/c I love your posts: they’re for you and whoever cares to read them, of whatever ilk you wish to make them. I love that.

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  6. I’m so sorry to see that it is more than wrapping up the school year that kept you from blogging. I add my voice to all above who hope you will stay in touch. (I was just about to send you a message through Goodreads when I saw this post).
    As for The Essex Serpent, I thought its strongest point was its beautiful cover. I’ve added The Feast to my massive TBR, as it sounds like something I will like.
    I just finished Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest (All the Seas of the World)–nothing like a massive bit of quasi-historical fiction (laced with ruminations on the act of story-telling) to distract you from everyday worries.
    Take care of yourself, please, while you take care of your mother and all the rest of what life throws at you.

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    1. Thank you, BinM, I’d miss you horribly, you know. Writing my humble blog keeps me sane and takes me out of things, so I will keep on keep on, but it definitely won’t be as erudite, or thoughtful as I’d like to make it.

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  7. I am so sorry to hear about how things are going, and I am sending up prayers for your mom now. My memories of baklavou are soaring through my mind….

    And I’ve been reading lots of alien romance! Being taken away from everything is sometimes a wonderful thing.

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    1. Thank you, so wonderful to hear from you! That was a wonderful few days in Ottawa and meeting you was the cherry on the cake! Reading is truly a great comfort, it’s true.

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  8. It’s good to “see” you online. I know from having written the occasional guest blog post, how time consuming it is to get one’s thoughts written down as clearly and fluently as you do. So I really appreciate that you are doing that for us. Even though I very rarely read literary fiction, I enjoy the reviews, it makes me feel a bit more culturally “with it”. I hope you can carve out time for yourself between your job and elder care, and don’t forget to get outside and enjoy nature during this beautiful season. It’s so important for mental health!

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    1. Thank you so much and for reading whatever inchoate thoughts I manage here! And it’s really a pleasure, though writing is both “argh” and satisfying, so I’m happy to do it.

      I’ve been making a point of taking a walk every day, either when I get home, or during lunch at work and you’re absolutely right, it helps so much. Especially b/c whirling thoughts make sleep so hard.

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  9. I have missed you on Twitter so I Googled you and here you are. I will follow your blog now so I can still get your thoughtful takes on life and literature.

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  10. I’m so glad you decided to keep the blog, even if you post less regularly. Seeing our online friends is so important to all of us. But I do feel for you. You have a lot to carry. Lots of love to you and Mama B.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am sorry to hear about the lemons. I think about (and pray for) you and MamaB often, but without twitter reminders, I rarely think to check your blog. I have been reading a lot of Betty Neels lately, and taking great comfort from them.

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    1. Thank you, my dear, there’s a hint of lemonade lately and my summer vacay is coming up, which will at least give me some time to catch on all this pending needs-be-done stuff. I think of you often and that lovely day we had in London. Am praying I’ll be able to return to England some day.

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      1. One day! Not this summer, and maybe not next, but one day we will have another transatlantic meeting, and I hope for much longer than an afternoon.

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