Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Saga of Gosta Berling part 2

Wow, I love this book.  It is a bit of magic.  I never thought I liked adult fairy tales, but now I know I do. 

I have to take that back a bit, I quite like Syliva Townsend Warner's books I've read like Lolly Willowes.  It starts out a normal story of not much happening.....which is the kind of books I like...and then turns into a fairytale. 

Back to Gosta, I'm about half way through now.  The translation is so good, I can imagine that it must be very lyrical in Swedish.  Each chapter is like another story of Gosta and his effect on women, but not in a Don Juan sort of way (though it is clever that the beautiful, powerful horse in the story is called Don Juan).  It is hard to describe without it sounding airy-fairy.....because it is anything but.  The stories are quiet dark and the magic sneaks up on you as you are reading. 

One of the stories is about a girl (Anna) has been promised by her family to marry someone, but has been taken in and entranced  by an older man.  The family ask Gosta to go and take her away.  Instead they are smitten by each other and while driving past the house of the family (with Don Juan as their horse) they are set on by black wolves.  When they try to head back the other way and pass the house again, they are again set on by the black wolves.  They give up and Gosta drops her off at the families house. They are happy and Gosta realises that he can't have her.  Anna feels that God sent the wolves to make sure she made the right choice....later she isn't so sure if it was God or not.

My writing doesn't do it justice as the story is so lyrical you are swept along like you are listening to a folk song.  It is making me think that I might give Angela Carter a read after all.  We have a lot of her books in the Uni library I work at and they obviously teacher her ever couple of years.  So I might just have to give it a go.

On another topic...does anyone have a good app for blog writing?  I've downloaded one or two but they never let you write very much.  I have an Iphone and a Kindle fire and either one I download doesn't let me scroll down for writing, only for looking at the page....if you see what I mean.... 

Ah well....happy reading!!!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Selma Lagerlof The Saga of Gosta Berling

I like to go through the Pulitzer Prize winner occasionally to look for writers I might enjoy but haven't heard about.  I started this when I read started to.read Knit Hamson.  I found this time the first woman who won in 1909.  She also fits into my Scandinavian reading scheme too.  I'm looking forward to trying this.  I'm reading her bio at the moment.  Sometimes I do this with new books, but sometimes it is good to go into it blind.  She sounds really interesting so we will see how the book

Monday, March 24, 2014

What I've been reading

 I see that my poor blog is still here so I thought I would try and have a go again.  This is more for me then for anyone else, so I know what I've been reading.

I've become more interested in German writing and cultural history of the wars and between.  I think this is a result of the English going ON and ON about WWII.  It seems every day they are commemorating something to do with the war, which is commendable, but does get a bit repetitave.  There is so much more we should be remembering.  Many of the expats I from many different countries feel the same way, so it isn't just me.  Especially, as you can imagine, the German! 

Anyway, I came across a review of Gunter Grass' Peeling the Onion.  I decided I had to read it and wasn't disappointed.  He is an amazing writer.  He is so lyrical and his description of telling his life story as slowly peeling back the layers of an onion is very evocative.

This led me to read his The Tin Drum  which I found I could only read in small snippets at a time, as it was too powerful to read in one long session.  I had to stop and think through all of the imagery and try to understand what he wrote.  Again, he is so lyrical that it isn't hard to read...just very thought provoking.  I've allowed myself some time before trying to read another one of his books!

I've been reading more Muriel Sparkes which I'll hopefully write about more later.  So I haven't given up working my way up through the years of English women writers.  I've started Virgina Woolf's Jacob's Room tonight, so we shall see how far I get through.  We are off for a weekend away in Wales so I hope to do some reading and writing.  We shall see how it goes!

Anyway.....happy reading!


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Anna Kavan "I am Lazarus" - Spoiler!

The short story "The Brother" is another stunner. The narrator talks of being a sickly child, well taken care of by his mother while his brother is hardy and beautiful. He tells us that he has great regret about his treatment of his brother. He was always quarrelsome and hid behind his illnesses to be unkind to his brother and his friends. The brother was kind and always tried to bring a smile to the narrators face, though he was never rewarded with one.

The love the narrator got from his mother, he was entitled to because he needed to be taken care of, being sick often and unable to get around. "I was puny, weak, incapable of tying my own shoelaces without gasping for breath, my complexion was sallow, my hair stringy and dull, my manner lifeless or boorish and petulant (72)". He says he never really noticed the wear and tear his care was taking on his mother. He was entitled to this care, why should he worry how hard it was on his mother.

He gets a bought of flu and gives it to his brother, though he assures us that his brother was only mildly effected by the illness. As they are recouping in study, in the same room which hadn't happened for a long time, his brother initiates a conversation. "...(he was) begging my pardon if he had hurt me in some way, and asking if we could not make an effort to get on better together, if only for mother's sake (75)." The narrator says that he wanted to make amends, that he felt a "softening towards him (75)", but he was suddenly taken with a seizure. The mother wants to go get the medication he needs, they have none in the house, but the brother decides to go. The narrator encourages this plan of action and the brother goes in to the cold winter weather.

The brother gets pneumonia, his mother commands the narrator attend the death bed. The narrator feels she is uncharacteristically sharp with him.

The fearful sound of his breathing was so loud that it seemed to be inside
my head. I had the sensation of participating in the agony of a man being
tortured to death, and my shudders became so uncontrollable that I was
afraid of falling upon him. At last words came; clear, and yet not like
human speech at all, they came from so far away.

It's a pity.

It was like listening to a voice speaking across oceans and continents. And
after a long delay, very softly, so that none of the others heard, followed two more words.

For you. (76)
What does he mean? He pities the narrator, then the truth is revealed when his mother comes in later to see him in the study. He senses that he can no longer rely on her comfort so does not even look at her as she comes in.

The silence between us became intolerable and I stammered something intended
for consolation, saying that at least we still had each other.
Yes, you are all that is left now, she said in a low, grave tone, while
her eyes appeared to be studying me with the same unnatural and dispassionate
consideration that I had bestowed on the tablecloth.
And suddenly, as she stood there looking at me so quietly and steadfastly
in the quiet room...I realized everything, my own blindness, the horror.
It was not I but my brother whom my mother had loved all along. He was the
treasure of which I had robbed her for all these years and of which I had deprived her for ever.

As if she knew what was in my mind she remarked:

You were always stronger then he was, and now you have managed to get rid of him for good (78).

How chilling is that??? All along he thought that because of his frailness he had been able to keep all of the love of his mother. When she asked the brother not to try and make amends with him it wasn't to keep the narrator from getting upset but the opposite. When the narrator would make rude remarks to the brothers friends, she asked him not to bring them around not to appease the narrator, but not to embarrass the brother. He has skewed the whole situation his whole life.

Is this what we do? Do we really know how people feel about us, or do we just see what is convenient. I think the brother all along had been protecting the narrator from knowing the mother's true feelings, and that is why the pity. Now that the brother was dead the narrator was going to know that he wasn't the center of his mother's love and devotion. The theme of this book is how the mind works, and I think that his seizure is timed to keep him from making amends with his brother. His mind wouldn't let him make this move, the move that would have kept the family together. An excellent 15 minute read!

Kavan, Anna. I am Lazarus. London: Peter Owen, 1978.

iPhone helps again

I'm lying in bed typing away on my phone. Might not be as quick, but if I write that is what is important!

So what am I reading? At the moment I've seperated my reading into daytime and nighttime. I'm reading Gunter Grass's "The Tin Drum" and "The Box" in spurts. "The Tin Drum" is so thought provoking I can only read a chapter a week almost. He writes so lyrical that even if the subject matter can strain, you flow along with it.

I'm also reading "I am Lazaris" by Anna Kavan. She is so good, but again challenging. All of these are work reads. I carry them with me and read when I can process what I'm reading. This book has short stories about the effects of mental health on everyone. Kavan suffered from depression and spent time in an Asylum. She writes so true of the feelings of the sufferers, but not a rose color view. She writes in one of a doctor, in charge of an Asylun of soldiers, who has his own agenda and tries to make all the patients fit his plan. When one patient can not conform he is brought in for a session where he is told to talk and confront what is in his head. The patients mind and body can't take the pain and anguish and he ends up dying on the couch. The doctor has no feelings, saying he thought that might happen and basically shrugs the death away. Her stories highlight how hard it is to be on both sides of the situation, but especially of the misunderstanding of those who have not experenced it. (Kavan was writing in the 1930s on).

Lastly my Mom bought me a Kindle, so I downloaded "A Tiny Bit Marvelous" by Dawn French and "Role Models" by John Waters. These are my bed bed time reading. After reading my last Dervla Murphy book and not sleeping thinking about the worlds problems, i decided I needed something a bit lighter before lights out.

So what are you reading during the day?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where have I been?

I was embarrassed by some comments to posts I made a long time ago. I'm sure I've not posted in a year...so it is time to either close the blog or get to writing...so I'm going to get to writing.

I've been reading more books by post-WWII English women writers. I've always like the era around the war both just before and just after (not so much during the war). Elizabeth Cadell and Mrs. Read where writers I've enjoyed in the past. I've written on here about Anna Kavan who I really like, though I need to get on with her next book. But the writer I want to talk about today is Muriel Spark.

I read "Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" a couple years ago. I loved it and decided to read more of Spark. I've read the first two "The Comforters" and "Robinson". The first is a bit awkward, though it was really a good read. I must admit I started it and then put it away for a few months and came back to it. "Robinson" was compelling though. A plane wreck leaves three survivors living with a loner who owns the island. The man disappears and the three survivors then start turning on each other believing that one of them is a murderer.

The book I'm reading at the moment is "Memento Mori". It is about a group of people who are interconnected, though from different classes, dealing with getting old. The main characters are in their 70s and 80s. Spark challenges you with not only how their minds are aging, but also with your misconception that the elderly didn't have a life before. You find out that many of them had affairs in their younger years and they have memories of lost loves. I'm finding it interesting and a bit disturbing. We will see how it goes, I'm about half way through at the moment.

I'm also reading Elizabeth Bowen's "Hotel". I've just started it so no real impressions yet, except that I'm enjoying reading it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

So what did I do on vacation?

The stack on the right are the books that I read (ok two of them were ones that I wrote a review of only) and the stack on the left is the stack of books that I wanted to read. Only 2 of them I brought with me....the rest I bought on the trip...and truefully I think I bought more then that. Lots of great bookshops in the Peak District.

You may recognize the book "The Behaviour of Moths" by Poppy Adams. I met her at a book talk given by Wenlock Books. She was very interesting and personable. I'm about half way through now....and it is great. I've chosen it for our family book group and one of my sisters sped through it and loved it. I'll have to write a review soon.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Another book I finished ages ago, but haven’t had the time to write about. I decided that since I’m on vacation I was going to do my best to catch up a bit!

Gaskell is one of those people I’ve wanted to read, but had been put off because I’ve been told her work can be very difficult to get through. Most of her books are about the hardness of life in the 1800’s and can be quite dense reading. However, when the BBC made this into a TV drama I thought I would give it a try. I didn’t get a chance to watch the programs, but I feel that I would have missed out a lot of I hadn’t read this book. It is FANTASTIC.....how can it not be when it starts out:

In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad. In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford. (1)

Now, as a woman, how can you not find that intriguing! Especially when you have been told how little control women had back in that time? It is written from the standpoint of a young lady who visits. I think this was an interesting thing to do, get bored...go stay with someone for a few months. Back when you couldn’t easily go visit for a day, this seems to be the way to do things. She stays with several ladies during the time frame of the book and shows us life in several different living conditions. I enjoyed it, and would suggest it to anyone needing a light and enjoyable read.

I have to admit I enjoyed the book also because it was one of those tiny editions that you could easily see a young lady of the time period putting in her receptacle to pull out and read as she walked in the garden. It is about 3” by 4”, with tiny writing. I love these editions especially that have a large margin at the bottom. I can see someone even more reading these as they walked or sat in a garden, with plenty of room of their fingers to hold the pages open. So as you can see...I am a bibliophile of the extreme. Given an opportunity to read a book in a newer edition or an old one...I always choose the old. I think that it adds to the feel of the time period of the book.

Gaskell, Elizabeth. Cranford. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.

A Stranger Still by Anna Kavan (Helen Ferguson)

As promised I’ve finished this book, a while ago actually. I’ve found it hard to find the time to sit down and write though, even if I can do it from my bed (see earlier post). Anyway, I read this a month or so ago, but have been trying to think of how to write the review. I think it would be best to be a bit sketchy, because the book is easy to get a hold of new or used.

This book was much easier to read then Let Me Alone. The Kavan character isn’t central to the plot. Instead the plot revolves around the Lewison family. Cedric Lewison owns a department store chain, and has done very well for himself. Kavan, the author, I feel likes to show rot in families. Cedric doesn’t realize that he can’t control his partners anymore then he can control his family. Slowly things begin to change and go further out of his reach. His older son isn’t has business savy as he is and can’t take care of the business when Cedric becomes ill. His other son Martin, isn’t interested in the family business and has married a woman that has brings shame on the family. The daughter falls in love with the man that helps to topple Cedric’s empire. His partners take over the bulk of the shares and he is not longer in control of his business.

The Kavan character is involved only in a small way. We see her has she has left her husband and has moved back to England. She has opened a shop with a school friend, though this isn’t working out very well. Kavan just isn’t interested enough. When she decides to leave she feels that she has had an epiphany:

It was as if on this night of her twenty-fifth birthday someone had suddenly called her to account for herself. The sense of unreality had left her, she felt clear-headed as never before. She stood there in absolute honesty, looking into herself. She was suddenly, objectively, aware of the girl Anna Kavan, an individual human being, alive in the world, alone, without support, without obligations, capable of intelligent thought and responsible for her own destiny. For twenty-five years she had existed fortuitously. Her life had unrolled itself haphazard, without definite aim, direction or method. From laziness, from good nature, from thoughtlessness, from indifference, she had drifted into one meaningless situation after another. She had allowed chance external circumstances to control her life. She had relied vaguely for support on something indefinable and non-existent, on something outside herself. There were, she knew, elaborate systems of thought, philosophies and religions, specially designed to provide external support. But as far as she was concerned she knew they were useless, void. She was completely reliant upon herself, completely independent. She shuddered as she realised her utter freedom and the responsibility it implied. With perfect clearness she saw the futility of her past life; saw that it must be changed. She must change everything. Now, at once she must assume control of her existence. (55-56)

This all sounds great, but she finds that it isn’t that easy. For a woman of that age, she can’t just make her own decisions because she has no financial freedom. Even though she was in business with her friend, she was relying on her friend to make the money and her part had been finance by her Aunt. She was a good saleswoman, but her heart had to be in it, and it often wasn’t. She just wasn’t interested enough. She needed to find something that she could do herself, but that was impossible because she had not been taught skills. She ends up back under her Aunts financial control for awhile until she meets Martin Lewison, Cedric’s son. This is where the two stories collide. Anna and Martin fall madly in love with each other. Finally, you hope that Anna will find happiness. But of course, it isn’t to be. Martin can’t deal with the idea of having someone else relying on him. Germaine was ok as a wife, because she didn’t need him for anything. They got on with their own lives, and only because Cedric insisted did they divorce. But Martin finds it difficult to think that he is responsible for anyone.

There is so much more there, but I don’t want to chat on too long. The book is well worth a read and has themes that Kavan uses in most of her writings. I tried to read Goose Cross, her next book, but found it difficult going. I couldn’t take it home for one thing, because we had to Interlibrary Loan it from a library that made it reference only. I got about half way through so got the flavour of it. I can understand why it didn’t do as well as A Stranger Still, though the themes of not being in charge of your own existence are there.

Kavan, Anna. A Stranger Still. London: Peter Owen, 1995.