Thursday, 25 July 2013

There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love - Christopher Morley

I have just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Just this minute. This very second. I wanted to share it with you. But also to hold onto it a tad longer by writing about it immediately. And yet the moment is already slipping away…

This was the absolutely perfect book to read at the start of my holidays. A luxurious, indulgent read to soften the edges of a harsh year. And relax me into the next few weeks. Beautiful people a world away from anything I’ve ever known. And yet troubled by the same dilemmas and disturbances of any other existence. Sometimes in gigantic proportions.

I actually bought this copy of BR way back in the 1980s or thereabouts. I believe I’ve tried to read it before, but never got into it. I can’t think why. It’s a warn, yellowing book now. Featuring a young Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews on the cover in stills from the Granada TV adaptation. Which I vaguely recall. For the attractive young men, rather than for the story methinks.

Through the eyes of Charles Ryder, Waugh recounts the adventures – if they can thus be called – centring around Brideshead, seat of Lord Marchmain and his family. An odd, dysfunctional group. Although engaging all the same. CR is charmed as much as he is disarmed by them.

The story begins at Oxford University. CR encounters the youngest family son, Sebastian who is already manifesting traits of a troubled mind. After much circling around, Sebastian reluctantly leads him back to Brideshead. And CR is sucked into the family and their ways. From England and across Europe to North Africa.

It’s interesting – or just telling – that there are no simple, ordinary and problem-free people in BR. None. Characters sit at extremes: sly, mean, devious and crooked; lonely, sad, despairing and desperate. Manipulative. Emotional. Stifled.

And around all this hangs in the air like incense Roman Catholicism. To believe or not to believe. The rights and the wrongs of this Church. Its traditions and beliefs. And ultimately the idea that you’ll give in in the end. They all do.

Re-reading my immediate thoughts, I can’t imagine why I liked the book. I’m not making it sound very inviting. And yet there is the power of Evelyn Waugh. He has such a majestic way of writing. A mastery of language.  A smooth, engaging manner. Much like rich, dark chocolate that’s been melted. A delight to admire, a temptation impossible to resist, richness beyond belief. Waugh challenges ideas, argues points, and presents genuinely unpleasant character traits in the most inoffensive, leisurely tones. Dripping indulgence. Delightful.

I have just seen that there was a film made in 2008. I might have to see it. I’m loathe to let the BR feeling go. I wanted to finish, and yet so didn’t. That rare joy loitering in the pages of a good book. Indulging in the indulgence. What to do now? Where to go? I may need a glass of wine or two to help me move on…

Monday, 15 July 2013

A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge - George R. R. Martin

I can't seem to do anything too much of late. I'm thinking it may be the sunshine and heat. Lazy days. Lulling us into a haze of inactivity. Maybe it's the inevitable slump after the over-excitement of watching the recent successful sporting events. Maybe it's just the end of a long six months...

I managed some (belated) spring cleaning last week. Although my back still hurts and I (somehow, once again) wrenched my (already damaged) shoulder. Ouch.

My brain seems to have switched off though. Left the building. Gone off without me. And yet things still need to be done. Lists of things. I'm still at work. Not yet on holiday. Tasks need to be completed. Here and there.

There has been one achievement though. Just the one. Merrily being ticked off my list as I write. I finished Eugene Onegin. Pushkin. A life-size, drum-roll kind of an achievement, my friends. A novel in verse. A tragic poem. Read from start to finish. And enjoyed, into the bargain.

Indeed, a few lines in and I forgot that this was poetry. I was drawn in, pulled along by the tale and the characters. Wondering, imagining. Worrying and anxious. I think this is a good sign. I will certainly try more poetry. Of length. In the future. Some time.

For now, I'm satisfied. Although the tale was sad. Romance and tragedy inexplicably and irresistibly intertwined. Once again. Love and tears, life and death. It seems to be the only way.

I have the ambition of one day reading Pushkin in his native tongue. Possibly not EO, but something all the same. In the meantime, how grateful can we be to all the translators out there and the massive job they have to convey great literature to us not only in a tongue we can understand but in a manner we can appreciate? And in this particular case of EO, it's just all the more impressive. Not only did Stanley Mitchell have to convey the Russian into English. He had to do it in verse. Incredible. Mind blowing. And to do it so well. In my humble opinion. Although I have, of course, very little to compare it with. I'm sure my few words of praise would have little effect on him. Still, to all intents and purposes, it felt right. Thanks, Stan. You're the man.

And that's all the rhyming you'll get from me. Which can only be a blessing...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world - Philip Pullman

I have read absolutely nothing of interest over the past few days. Nothing from my reading list. Nothing from my non reading lists. Nothing from my piles of organised one day, holiday or just plain maybe books. No trashy novels or the like.

I travelled. I was with friends. Inspired, upbuilt, encouraged. But I got nowhere close to reading something I could write about here.

Apart from tons of articles on Andy Murray. Wimbledon Champion 2013. They in themselves are words to delight. At least, to delight the hearts of tennis fans. Of British tennis fans. Of Andy Murray fans.

I cannot not mention it. After the Lions' win on Saturday, it was the cherry on the cake of a pretty cool weekend.

A belated well done, Andy Murray! Not that you will ever hear my best wishes. But let those who pass by these pages know that you have rejoiced the hearts of the faithful. Thanks! :0)