Saturday, 13 January 2018


It's bucketing down outside, and as usually happens on a wet night, a car ran off the road at the corner 150m to the north. I went out and looked and nobody seemed to be hurt. The police came.
When I got out of bed just now to get a glass of water I saw this snail making its way up the pane of glass beside the front door. 

Before I went away I read most of this book ----->

It's by the woman who wrote the interesting but not wholly convincing Paris Review article about Woody Allen that I linked to a few weeks ago. I was interested enough by her approach in that thing to click around a bit and find out more about her, and this book seemed like something I should read. Have a look at the blurb on the back and you'll see why.

I guess that right now, when I'm writing something more or less prompted by and derived from a midlife "reckoning" (although mine is nothing so fancy, it's just a normal crisis and more or less the opposite of a reckoning), is an appropriate time to look at how somebody else has handled it - why she's written from out of the middle of it, what does she appear to be hoping to achieve, how is she giving it some form. Those are the questions I need to see tackled by others.

Hm yes well this book made me feel physically ill. Just the sheer, bloody, sloppy, unimaginable, roaring, posturing self-indulgence of it, and I am a reader who loves to read other people's posturing and self-indulgence. I am glad I read it, although I could not do so without continually wincing and grimacing, because it is such a good example of what a terrible place a good writer can go to in writing from her own memories.

It also made me think that you, dear reader, are getting a pretty good deal here, since this book cost me $32.99 whereas you get to read my blog for nothing, and it covers much the same stuff but a whole lot less painfully. It is strange and tragic to read a published book with less structure and purposeful form than what goes into this torrent of stuff that I crank out

So, I needed medicine and thus I went straight to the chief dispenser of scalpels and icy cold water. As a very good recent book points out, Mary McCarthy and other women intellectuals cultivated "heartlessness" as a deliberate political and aesthetic strategy. The linked review there has a good phrase for why: these writers use detachment and distance, coldness, to "resist socially obligatory forms of emotional expression."

As I expected, McCarthy has some excellent, and eminently simple and adaptable, techniques for establishing and exploiting distance between the narration and the remembered experiences that form its subject.

I found the stories in "The Company She Keeps" horribly excruciating, as always, and I remembered that McCarthy always sails very close to the wind, in terms of that line where clarity and unsentimentality turn into bitchiness and mockery.

The back of the book describes the heroine Margaret Sargent as a "likeable figure"- gosh, I dunno, really? I've read this book probably ten times and I kind of think that's wishful blurbing. She might well be likeable but she is not liked by the narrator who does a great job of showing Margaret at her very worst, dragging out into the light all the stupid things she does and thinks and says to herself. It's quite a cruel book, I guess, but between sloppiness and trying to be cool, and being coldly analytical, maybe cruel, I think the latter is the only possible choice.

So, to round out this festival of tenously connected observations here is a song I have inexplicably become slightly obsessed with over the last 48 hours, after knowing it and not much caring about it for my whole life.  Some music just solves the problems of representation broached above, seemingly effortlessly (although the effort involved in producing this particular track is apparent enough)

1 comment:

elsewhere said...

I'm yet to read anything in the 'peri-menopausal' lit genre (if those two categories can indeed be held together in one's head) that I didn't find entirely tedious. I don't need to hear another person whinging when I can do it so well myself (uncharitable thought, I know). I'm sure anything you write in any genre would be better, not least because you have an interesting voice and perspective.