Sunday, 24 March 2013

In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you - Mortimer J. Adler

It’s been a most frustrating week. Pain, sleeplessness, nausea from the pain. My long thoracic nerve playing up again. Getting on my (other) nerves.

Even the stunning Welsh performance last Saturday to win the Six Nations did not stave off the frustration. Although it certainly went a long way to soothing the pain.
Still my delightful GP came to the rescue with new meds. And I’ve now slept some decent sleep. To the relief of one and all.
And so with (finally) a clear head, I finished Kafka’s The Trial. And boy do you need a clear head to read it. And delight in it. For it is delightful. In its frustration. For it too knows frustration.
The Trial is a superb description of every nightmarish bureaucracy you have ever encountered. And tried to wrestle with. Bureaucracies, totalitarian regimes, legal systems. Deep down, you know it’s impossible to do anything to combat the unreasonableness of these lumbering monsters. But somehow you just have to try. And then beat yourself up about failing.
And that’s the experience of poor Joseph K, the central protagonist here, accused but never actually put on trial.  Frustrated from start to finish as the player in a game he neither understands nor controls. Anxious amidst the illogical demands and incomprehensible lack of explanations. Guilty only of not knowing the cause of his guilt.
I finally understand the term Kafkaesque. I’ve experienced it before, just never knew how to articulate it. Running but getting nowhere. Helpless. Disorientated. Blocked by one bizarre, illogical demand after another. The madness. The nightmare. Pure surrealism.
Kafka artfully conveys the claustrophobic intensity closing in on Joseph K. The race against intangible time. Rules and regulations multiplied and contorted to exasperate and thwart. Men in a cold and callous pursuit of power, whatever the cost. Even the buildings he describes are obnoxious and oppressive.
I will make only a passing reference to the strange array of unrestrained and lustful women who feature at every dark corner to which Joseph K turns. All unable to resist the guilty man. Or is that guilty men? Strange, I say. Frustrated too, I guess.
In the madness of attempted explanations and counselling by would-be lawyers and priests alike, two phrases struck me: firstly, “a melancholy conclusion – it turns lying into a universal principle”. It scares me to think that we could say that about many aspects of our lives today... And secondly: “the simple story had lost its clear outline”. What can I say? Something to reflect on, methinks.
I read that The Trial was never completed. This explains much. Certainly the final chapter which seems to come too soon. Almost out of nowhere. But then, this kind of added to the frustration of the whole. And it worked.
The intense frustration I felt at the beginning of the week lessened in the face of The Trial. If only because my difficulties should pass. But then Joseph K's should never have existed. So do we face endless unquestioning acceptance? Or try to run the race anyway, knowing it goes nowhere?

I think we need more love. And more stampeding Welsh teams. Da iawn wir, Cymru!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book - Stéphane Mallarmé

I’m starting to feel the need to run again. Not far. Just a couple of kms. To expend all this energy I feel is trapped within me. 

This is a positive step. Progress. A year on and I want to get back on track, as it were. Although I'm still a tad nervous and anxious. Somewhat normal, methinks. In view of the fact that the last time I ran, I ended up in hospital. 

But yesterday I saw an ad for a 5k/10k run. And felt the need. The need for speed. Or a gentle jog, at least. I have only ever run a 10k race once. I collapsed at the end and was very poorly for a few hours afterwards. Which kind of killed the achievement of finishing. And in a fairly decent time too. 

Maybe I should take the hint... But I can be a stubborn ole bird. That said, today I can’t think of that race without feeling bad. Really bad. Similar to how I felt about To the Lighthouse many moons ago. When I finally finished it. And hated it. I fear this is what I will feel about Mrs Dalloway from now on. 

Closing the book finally this morning, I felt kind of empty. Disappointed. Unfulfilled. I did finish it. Which is something. But I pulled and dragged myself through. And collapsed in a heap at the end. So the achievement was most unsatisfactory.

I just didn’t get it. I feel like I’ve let myself down. How does one not like Virginia Woolf? It feels like a failing. Have I missed something? My neurologist says that I appear to be slower than most. Referring to my recovery, of course. But maybe his words cut closer to the bone than I imagined?

For me, VW's sentence structure felt stilted and jarred. Commas everywhere.  Clauses falling over one another and backing up. Nothing flowing. Progressing. No direction. Destination.

Then the characters. Well, they generally felt stilted and jarred too. They left me cold. Their self-possession. Superficiality. Clinging to a past well parted, but much regretted. Although outwardly appearing satisfied with their lot.

Such self indulgence. Such egotism. The well-to-do busying about their vanities. Perceiving the world from a safe distance on high. Alluding to issues and calamities in a world far from their existence. Issues and calamities easily swept away in the folds of green satin and lace of a party. Even suicide is just an unpleasant intrusion to all the beauty and grandeur of the evening.

And thus my uneasy relationship with VW remains, well, uneasy. But onwards and upwards. I feel almost eager to get to Kafka now. To try something new. To be energised. Although much can change in the space of a few days…

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The greatest gift is a passion for reading - Elizabeth Hardwick

So the year marches on.  At a pace.  And I’m already late.  Allie over at A Literary Odyssey is hosting an event this month, and while having had every intention of supporting it since it was announced back in January, I haven’t yet started. So today is the day. Better late than never. 

A Modern March is encouraging us to read modern classics. Very late 19th century / mid-20th century writers. All month. So I’m combining my Classics Club challenge with this one.  The more the merrier.

I’m starting with Mrs Dalloway. Struggled with my last Virginia Woolf effort. But that was a while back.  And my last reading experience – Dickens – has me hoping for continued better times. 

If I do get through VW, I’m thinking of following up with Kafka’s The Trial.  And Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  Although maybe I’m being a tad ambitious?  Calm down, calm down. 

So I’m off to get started.  Hate being late.  Oh dear! Oh dear!  I shall be too late…

Saturday, 2 March 2013

What she was finding also was how one book let to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do - Alan Bennett

Over coffee in work this week with a fellow expat, we got to reminiscing about home and the things we miss most. And buy most once back there. It was a no-brainer for me: chocolate, every time. Galaxy is my favourite by far. But the list is long.

There’s something about going into a British supermarket and seeing all the things you no longer see on a regular basis. It’s so much fun to pile everything into your trolley. To pay in British pounds. 

But then the fun is short-lived. The memory of these treats is much stronger than the delight of indulging in them in the present day. 

We decided this was due to the joy an infant experiences from a treat. As opposed to an adult. That treats were less frequent when we were children. That they came from others, rather from ourselves. And that gorging on all the chocolate was not in the spirit of the memory. Whatever the explanation, the experience now is no match for then.

In that spirit, I read Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.  Now, you know that this was one author on my Classics Club challenge list that was most intimidating.  Since my high school experience.  Which I really disliked.  Whenever I think of Great Expectations, the memories are dark and painful. All hail York Notes for getting my through my exams.

And yet, years later, I’m writing that I really loved this little tale of Nell, Kit and co. It was a surprisingly easy read. It’s short, I know. But still, it was a most pleasant experience. In stark contrast to the expectations I harboured in the shade of my memories.

It has very dark moments. Quilp is a terrifying character. The situation of the grandfather and child appalling. Of Quilp’s wife, tragic. The end comes along a tad abruptly. And not totally satisfactorily, I might say.

But the tale is animated and colourful. And dispatched with lighter treads on the page than I could have conceived. 
Nell is the prematurely wise young orphan trying to protect her much less sagacious grandfather. In their dire need, they meet some reassuringly generous, kind people. And as though to balance out the dire being that is Quilp, there are those whose fortunes enable them to prosper others.
In a very simplistic overview of the whole, it would seem that Dickens buys or sells the idea that evil will not prevail. And that those who suffer will be saved to something better. For the most part.
Having conquered one Dickens, I am drawn to the challenge of his other works.  I remain somewhat cautious, but less intimidated. Maybe The Old Curiosity Shop was just the easiest of his novels to read. Can anyone help me? Guide me? Direct me? Or should I wait another few years before daring to open another Dickens?