Thursday 3rd September. A cool morning, sheets and fibres of white cloud threadbare over blue, but now the grey is gathering again. So many, many calls on my slender purse! (can you tell I've been reading the Brontës?). I do what I can, when I can and forgive the chugging, which I feel it's okay to resent on the street but not in your email. They're only asking! Right now, the refugees from the warzones are the top of my list, so thank you to Positive News
, who not only bring me cheering stories, but also tell me practical things I can do besides despatch tiny sums of money. And thanks to Maude for the steer.
Meanwhile Dave Cameron on Thorney Island
persists with his King Canute* act: bidding the tide to stop rising. As I'm sure you know, dear readers, the genuine King Cnut, emperor of the north inc the Anglo-Saxon part of these islands, twelve hundred years ago, was admonishing his smarmy courtiers in this apocryphal demonstration of the limits of his power. I'm pretty sure that when Dave says "We must bring peace to these war-torn countries", he's simply drumming up Weapons Trade
custom-and-kickbacks, and hasn't a further thought in his tapeworm head*: but if he was
channeling Canute/Cnut maybe he wouldn't be far wrong. This tide will not stop rising, and just as no statesman in England is going to stand up, and speak with Churchill's forthright compassion** of his own accord, and say "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. They're refugees. We have to let them in", still even now
when the great waves are picking us up and tumbling us, throwing us around, dumping us down deep and grinding our faces into the sand, nobody in our government is going to say to us, not until it's far too late, THIS IS CLIMATE CHANGE. THIS IS ONE DEGREE OF WARMING! THE DAMAGE IS DONE, YOU DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT HOW MUCH WORSE IT CAN GET, FORGET THE PROFITS, F*CK THE CORPORATIONS! WE'RE KEEPING THE FOSSIL FUEL IN THE GROUND.
Nah, nobody ever says anything like that until it's May 1940 and the Panzer tanks have crossed the Rhine (please excuse me, noble Germans). You can suppress the truth as much as you like (as I once said in another context). Because it's only the abstract truth, and who cares? You can't suppress the facts, because, well, there they are, all over the place . . . I just wonder how many facts does it take
*He's not alone, of course. The Gulf states
are equally as guilty. More so
, in their shameless
denial of Islamic duty. This does not let Europe off the hook: it's an emergency. Call Dubai, Saudi, Qatar and the rest all the names you like. Shame them if you can: we still have to let the people in.
** Many thanks to Peter Gwilliam for providing the Churchill quote from February 1945 (see below, Comments)
Anyway, moving on.
My Summer Library (and other) Books
The Blazing World Siri Hustvedt
Phantasmagoria Marina Warner
I enjoyed both these books, they are fat but comely, they bounced off each other and around each other splendidly, and the Marina Warner has the added value of many interesting pictures & conversations. I didn't quite get art-historian Warner's thesis in Phantasmagoria
. It was a bit cloudy? Something about how art and artifice have related, in both senses, to the changing status of the unconscious? But it was a wonderful ride, encompassing the first waxwork, a breathing
Belle Dormant; mummified nuns, Fata Morgana, photographed fairies, spiritualists and mediums, skying the clouds and Rorshach blots. The Siri Hustvedt is a fairytale of the New York post-Warhol Art World, wherein an unwise fairy godmother, herself an artist whose career was blighted by her sex (maybe
: Hustvedt is equivocal on this issue), decides to bestow the same perilous magical gift on three male artists in succession. The first lad is weak and foolish, the second lad is kind and wise, but the third, oh dear, turns out to be the devil himself, Andy Warhol in all but name. . . So now you know all you need to know, and if the Art World interests you, get hold of a copy. Except
that this fairytale is cast as a scholarly monograph, (on the subject of the unlucky fairy godmother's experiment, of course); complete with contradictory interviews, tampered videos, and an ocean
of staggeringly erudite footnotes. For god's sake, woman, enough with the long, discursive footnotes! On practically every page! Discursive footnotes at the back of the book, where they belong; and where they can be ignored should the reader so choose.
(Don't worry about Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, eminent C17 Royalist; natural philosopher, and "proto-feminist", author of the original "The Blazing World", She doesn't feature much, except as a reference point.)
I recommend Phantasmagoria
unreservedly, for fun and as a valuable reference work, to anyone interested in the uncanny, ghosts, spookiness, eerieness, in any capacity. The Blazing World
had features designed to annoy me. Including, among other exasperations, the artist as dumb medium. Art as ectoplasm; some kind of amorphous stuff
that some people, through no intervention of their own, just happen to be able to channel; from the Beyond or the Collective Unconscious or whatever. The artist as insane commodity (closely related). But the tussle energised me.
Gusta Berling Saga Selma Lagerlof
Picked up by chance, as I was wandering around the library thinking about Booker candidates. Hey, why not try a female Nobel Prize winner?
The time is the 1820s. Deep in the heart of Sweden, beside a long lake, surrounded by hills and forests, there's a prosperous domain called Ekeby, ruled over by the major and the majoress (in England they'd be lord and lady of the manor). There are ironworks in the woods, there's timber in the forests; there are golden fields of grain and bountiful orchards, there's trade up and down the lake and an abundance of fine crafts, splendid woven cloth, exquisite embroidery. The household supports, besides a crowd of useful people, a cohort of dependents, mostly superannuated soldiers, known as "the cavaliers". They're not good for much, they mostly spend their days playing cards, drinking, and getting into absurd scrapes, but each of them plays a musical instrument, each of them has stories; each is a story in himself. They are the leaders of all revelry, and add a glorious element of misrule to Ekeby's rich character. But their acknowledged chief is a young
man, Gusta Berling, a minister who has disgraced his cloth, a poet and a dreamer, continually falling in love and then falling out again, to the sorrow and outrage of a succession of fine, deeply respected young women . . . . Then one day something goes wrong. The disaster involves a pact with the devil, and I really can't explain it here, but the upshot is that the major departs, the majoress is banished and takes to the roads like a beggarwoman, and for a year and a day (I put the day in because in English there's always "a day") the cavaliers are left in charge. I absolutely love this book. It's described on the back cover as a Swedish Pickwick Papers, only written by a woman, but that doesn't really tell you much. It's entertaining, lyrical and tragic, and slightly, lightly fantastic. The landscape, the seasons, the animals, trees, flowers hills woods and forests are characters in their own right (you'll never get that in Dickens), and I loved the sly, affectionate way the cavaliers are presented: as a burden on society; tolerated, pathetical, and helplessly destructive.
in trousers, only funnier, more beautiful, and much more powerful
Go Set A Watchman Harper Lee
Is poor stuff, not much of a story and I particularly didn't like the ending. Not the bit where Atticus Finch turns out to have the prejudices and the convictions of his time and his background. No, it's the bit that comes after
that, when Jean Louise (Scout) calms down and realises that her burst of outrage was just a bit silly. Her honoured and honourable dad, her charming uncle and her prospective husband aren't bigots
. They're only protecting their way of life, and the grand old traditions of the South. Nothing going on here worth quarrelling with your family about . . . And so we leave her, wisely deciding to avoid conflict and getting ready to hold up half the sky for her menfolks' reasonable, moderate and kindly contempt for "the negro".
That just won't do.
Not even in a first draft***
Maybe it's because of where I'm standing, looking at the USA today, but I can't stomach that. It wouldn't do then, and it won't do now. Do not condone. Not peace but a sword. Walk away.
NB: links to Amazon books in this blog in no way represent an encouragement to purchase from the store. I do it for the reviews.
Okay, I take that back, a first draft is a novel's private life, and entitled to be full of blunders, errors in taste, etc. But a published book is a public utterance, and you have to be careful what you say.