Freedom Day long weekend here and it’s freezing cold. I’m in the front bedroom at Betty’s Bay with L and the pie. Pie is going “a ooh goo” and L is going “blublublum”. Pie is wearing a white jersey knitted by granny and has just had some milk. L and I are drinking tea and eating hot cross buns.
I thought I’d tell you about some of the books I got for my birthday earlier this month. I can’t remember all the titles but here are the ones I remember:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Little Liberia by Jonny Steinberg
Edge of the Table (14 stories of youths from the Cape Flats)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Girl meets Boy by Ali Smith
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Changing my Mind by Zadie Smith
A good haul, wouldn’t you say? I’m also reading a few psychology books, including Writing through the Darkness (on writing as therapy for depression) and The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert.
One novel which I really enjoyed recently is The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’Farrell which was really excellent. This novel is similar in structure to The vanishing act of Esme Lennox in that O’Farrell tells two stories (set in different times) which then connect in a powerful way. I see that the Guardian reviewer calls it a “compelling story about memory and motherhood”. Here we have the parallel stories of Lexie Sinclair (a journalist in 1950s London) and modern-day Ted and Elina (young parents struggling to keep things together following the birth of their first child). I won’t give any of the plot away but I’m interested in how O’ Farrell manages to keep the reader engaged and in suspense over such a long time.
She’s also excellent at set pieces and I was reading out bits to L such as the one which describes in graphic detail what is known in our household as the ‘squirty poo’. What amazed me as well was the way she turns it into a crucial plot-device.
I’ve also started Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand which is a good choice for a seaside holiday since it’s a romance with a difference set near a small English seaside town. I’m enjoying the interaction between Major Pettigrew, a retired military man, and Mrs Ali who runs the local shop. Some of the characters are a bit two dimensional but both the Major and Mrs Ali are very well drawn.
One of my favourite things about the Easter holidays is that I get to catch up on other reading such as the London Review of Books. I read a brilliant piece by Eliot Weinberger on George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points. Weinberger uses the deconstructive language of Foucault to pick apart Dubya in a funny and very telling way.
Here’s an excerpt:
Foucault found his theories embodied, sometimes unconvincingly, in writers such as Proust or Flaubert. He died in 1984, while Junior was still an ageing frat boy, and didn’t live to see this far more applicable text. For the questions that he, even then, declared hopelessly obsolete are the very ones that should not be asked about Decision Points ‘by’ George W. Bush (or by ‘George W. Bush’): ‘Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality? And what part of his deepest self did he express in his discourse?’
He goes on to deconstruct the ‘lone hero’ style of George W. Bush and the fiction that is his memoir. All memoirs are fiction to a large extent but to see the way that Foucaultian theory unpicks the simple (and yet complex) way that the whole George W. Bush presidency was constructed is really helpful. I find it easy to get despondent about governments and politics (especially US politics) which is why it’s refreshing to see the subjectivity of leaders such as Dubya taken apart (almost like a doll) to see how they work.
And then I read (or tried to read) Jenny Turner’s piece on David Foster Wallace. Suffice to say that I’m interested to read his much-acclaimed Infinite Jest but definitely won’t be reading The Pale King.