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Reading, Watching, Looking forward to . . . And coming soon.


Last night I finished reading Remembrance Of Things Past (or, if you insist, À la recherche du temps perdu , but I can only read it in English) for the sixth time in this iteration. So farewell to Marcel, and his inexplicable weakness for high-society buddies; farewell to the great work's long, blurred, dying fall, written when Proust's health was failing for the last time, and robbed of all his obsessive attention to revision. He compares himself to a seamstress in the final pages, so much cutting and tacking together and patching went into his creative process. I think of lacquerwork, immense numbers of meticulous painted layers, each contributing another invisible scintilla to the finish.

It used to be The Tale Of Genji, followed by Proust, followed by Gravity's Rainbow. Then I put Gravity's Rainbow aside (so twentieth century, you know) and added the Bible instead. (It's set in the Middle East, inn'it? Maybe I'll pick up some tips on our current End of Days scenario), but I've decided to give the classic St James version a break. I'm going to read Tolkien instead this time round. The Lord Of The Rings, in the 1973 impression hardbacks, the same books that I bought for my father, with my first earnings, back in the Seventies. Ten years later, I was writing Divine Endurance for the same firm, under the tutelage of Rayner Unwin. . . Somewhat less dense and slow than À la recherche, I wonder how long it will take me.

Also just finished a duo of novels about French colonialism, from my father's eclectic francophile library, Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique, Marguerite Duras, and Port Tarascon, Alphonse Daudet. The same story, told as tragedy in the Duras (1950); as comedy sixty years earlier in Daudet, equally biting in both forms. The Marguerite Duras story is engaging, romantic Indochine cocktail hour bleak; full of hopeless pity equally for the hapless French victims of a vicious colon system; and the destitute natives. I now want to see the 2008 movie (The Sea Wall). Also taught me something I never knew. Marigot is the french word for a backwater; a marsh. Ah! So that's why those glossy yellow flowers are called "marsh marigolds". Nothing to do with the metal, or with the Virgin Mary!


Hard to be a God, Aleksei German Irresistible one off opportunity at the Duke's last weekend. A three hours, sludge and entrails immersive experience, this masterpiece felt like every minute of three light years. But how can I describe the experience? Like standing behind a rail, watching a huge storm at sea that never lets up, but luckily you are just out of reach of actual contact with the tepid, mighty waves of mingled human dung, blood and mud, so it's somehow fascinating and you never want to look away. The film-making is extraordinary, characters (so to speak) stare straight into the lens, like wildlife caught by a nature-cam (probably disguised as a heap of dung. Or a dead pig. Or a scholar buried head first in a cesspit). Vague memories of the original Strugatsky novel were very helpful. After about two hours I recalled that all I had to do was wait for Kira (Anton/"Don Remata's" native girlfriend) to reappear . . . . I will struggle to avoid spoilers, and just tell you, when she turns up again, it's soon after the hedgehog I think, the endgame is in signt. Whew. You won't regret it!

And so goodbye OdysseySeries One. If you haven't been following this action drama (retitled from "American Odyssey" a month before it aired) don't worry, you can pick it up anytime, it's going nowhere. Series Two (no spoiler, this was the trailer) enters science fictional territory. Global tensions have miraculously relaxed, following the revelations of brave soldier Odelle. A condemned US traitor on the run has no problems with border controls. A minor alteration in hair colour, no need even to change your style: queue up and get your passport stamped.

Looking forward to . . .

Songhoy Blues on tour. They're in Brighton on November 3rd. Other tour dates here. I strongly recommend you get hold of a ticket.

The Seagull, Young Chekov season at Chichester Festival Theatre. I'm trying to educate myself. Don't know what to expect, it's one of those ones where you have to buy a pig in a poke (english expression meaning there are no reviews until the tickets are all sold out)

And finally, the PKDick storybundle is out this week

a bunch of ebooks including Life, my 2004 novel about a woman scientist and a revelation (well, more of a realisation, as I think we now know) about the nature of human sexual gender. Available 23rd September to 15th October, and if you read ebooks, quite a bargain to add to your library.

Lisa Mason told me I was one of only four female writers (no longer so! A fifth this year) to win the actual award, since its inauguration, so I'm glad to be onboard, and here's to celebrating all the great, slightly off-kilter special books in this bundle. Yours for a trifling sum. Or as much as you feel like paying.

Three Sisters

There's a book I've wanted to get hold of for a long time, The Brontës' Web Of Childhood, I think it's by someone called Elizabeth Rachford, or Ratchford?, about the imaginary histories the Brontë children invented; lived; experienced; were obsessed by well into adulthood. I'm pretty sure I wasn't much interested in Charlotte, Emily and Anne (or Branwell, the favourite, terminally drunk and fatally incontintent brother who painted this group portrait) before I found out about Gondal and Angria. The ability to create make-believe worlds and live in them has fascinated me since I first realised I had a major share of the talent -or mental health issue?- myself; which takes us back. (I wonder, now and again, why the neuroscience boomers aren't more interested in this, and would be grateful if anybody could point me in the direction of some research). But that was then. We've come a long way since the Sixties. Fantasy is big business & to my mind the games are a special case, replicating the physical immersion effects a born-that-way fantasist experiences, the way the printed page or a movie narrative cannot. I once got a chance to talk about this on a panel with Phillip Pullman; who is always interesting (still on Youtube here).

But Gondal and Angria in the novels? I'm sure I was told so once: I'm sure I was told, or taught, that the drastic, violent, highly-coloured behaviour and action in Wuthering Heights and in Jane Eyre was lifted from the fantasy scenarios . . . I don't know why, but I decided to re-read Brontë novels this summer, books I hadn't touched for many years, and I don't think so! The brutal, infantile inter-sibling violence, the destructive power of completely untamed emotion, the wild melodrama that ensues if there's a full-on alcoholic in the house, all of this awful and gripping stuff is painted, I will stake my word on it, Mr Lovecraft, directly from life. Yep, in these wild times of ours I'm certain of it. These gently bred young women, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, they all drew what they knew; what they saw; what happened where they lived on a daily basis. Maybe the literary critics of the twentieth century, that lost civilisation, just could not believe it.

Wuthering Heights is amazing. Right on the money; the cranky nested-narrative, persuading us that this is a true tale, remembered and relayed, not invented, offset by an effortless, underlying formal structure. If she was here now I'd see Emily, saved from TB, as the enfant terrible type, growing up to be a multi-talented intellectual. If she didn't kill herself with anorexia; still the plague of young girls who struggle with the strength of their own personalities today. (She gives herself away on this point. Check it out, see if I'm right. Charlotte's the same. They really don't eat much, in Brontë world!)

I read Shirley straight after Wuthering Heights. I wish I could say that this "big nineteenth century novel"' a character-driven, but analytical study of social change, industrial revolution, and the role of women; realist and yet imbued with the same post-Enlightenment nature worship as I found in Selma Lagerlöf, was Charlotte's perfected work, to match Emily's. But Emily herself, the real "Shirley", dazzling, fierce and tender captain of Charlotte's life, died when the book was being written (as did Anne and Branwell, in swift succession). The break is horribly obvious, the writer's flight from dreadful grief and loss comes out mawkish, the novel never recovers. Charlotte is different, and not only in that she didn't die, or at least not at once. I think she had a less wilful talent than Emily (no comparison is possible between either of them and Anne). She wanted to reach people. She was prepared to compromise, critical of the melodramatic tastes they all shared, and willing to reconsider: I'm sure (see a 2012 post), she came to look on that lovely gothic fairytale Jane Eyre as juvenilia, and wrote Villette as a corrective: the same story, equally as closely based on her own experience; but no fairytale.

Charlotte is my top Brontë. I'm afraid I can't stand Anne. Having embarked on my Brontë fest, I discovered that the minor sister is tops with the Goodreads Gang, and now regarded by some as having been wronged; or overlooked. I barely remembered anything about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, so I gave it a try. It isn't so bad. I can see why Anne's naive frankness on Early Victorian Drunk-Dining And Adultery won notoriety at the time (& did her sales figures no harm!); otherwise the book is just ordinary. Could have been written last year. Then I tried Agnes Grey for completism. Ouch! Whiney, wish-fulfillment of a storyline, dull and disengenuous, chiefly used as a vehicle for monstrously self-satisfied religiosity. Her views on womanhood are horribly conventional. I'm sure the "Old Maids" chapter in Shirley is a direct rebuttal of Anne's nasty dismissal of unmarried females: dried up, spiteful, worthless and repulsive . . . In ways the germinal Brontë for the 21st century boom in Mash-up Gothicism. Like Jane Austen with Zombies, like Charlotte Brontë with Vampires, Anne writes a shrivelled husk of a story, attached umbilically to a senseless, lurid bladder of the supernatural.

Emily dominated her, and kept her captive in the Gondal and Angria continuum for longer than was quite decent. Charlotte suppressed a reprinting of that over-frank The Tenant after Anne's death. She had reason, if you know the Branwell story, but I don't know if I'd have done the same.