Police HQ. Corner of Liverpool and Argyle Streets, Hobart. April 2011.
Three books this week, and all rather good.
Reading in the Dark is Irish poet Seamus Deane’s first. The novel is set in Derry,
Narrated from the point of view of a young Catholic boy, the novel is constructed from a series of vignettes that are dated and run in chronological order. However, the heart of the plot includes a number of unspoken family secret events dating back to the Irish Civil War and the bloody partition of 1923. Of course, such a setting presents some decent grist for the mill of a novelist.
Thankfully Deane makes the most of it. This is a heartbreaking novel, all the more so when you realise that it could just as well be called a ‘memoir’, as events mirror Deane's upbringing. It can get a bit confusing at times, but that happens in life; especially when you begin to explore the impact of our choices and secrets on our children, and our children’s children.
Number 2 concerns Randall Jarrell, one of my favourite poets. I’m amazed that I’ve waited this long to pick up one of his longer works. I figured I’d take the easy way in and start with The Animal Family, and odd little number that may well be written for children, but has a significant following among adults. In this way, it reminds me a bit of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.
It’ll be hard to talk about this without the dreaded SPOILER, so if you’re that way inclined, look away now.
So there is a man, all alone, living in a windswept deserted bay.
The he meets a mermaid, bored with her life, who decides to leave the water and stay on land with the man.
The man then comes home with a bear cub. The bear moves in as one of the family.
Then in moves a lynx. The lynx moves in.
Then the lynx and the bear find a baby. And we have our family.
This is a very ‘quiet’ book. It has a gentle rhythm that dreamily explores the nature of shared experience and they way in which we might self-create myths around our own origins and identities, difference, tolerance, and the power of emotional connections.
I’m going to get Henry and Ezra hooked onto it ASAP. Get onto it yourself!
Number three is an equally odd little book, this time by British playwright Alan Bennett. The Uncommon Reader posits the idea of Queen Elizabeth II becoming obsessed with books – the titular "uncommon reader" – after a chance encounter with a mobile library. We then follow the consequences of this obsession for the Queen herself, her household, advisers, and her formal role as head of state.
A very awkward conceit, you may well think (I thought so too), but Bennett pulls it off very effectively. Exploring the process and nature of reading through the vehicle of HRM QEII, the author has fun with it and the reader benefits.
This one won’t take you long to get through, and pays dividends far beyond the effort required. If you’re a reader (and even better if you’re not), give it a run!