Sunday, July 18, 2021

Interview on Curled up with a Good Book

I'm delighted to have been interviewed by Chelle on her wonderfully busy book blog, Curled up with a Good Book. She asked me about my early ambitions, how long it takes me to write a book and even if I believe in love at first sight! You can read the interview here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Reading group: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Some of us present had already read this short book, and thoroughly agreed with Doug, who couldn't make the meeting and wrote to say, 'It was stunning the first time I read it and just as captivating the second time.' Everyone, in fact, thought it was brilliant. 

It's the first-person narration of a woman, Lucy Barton, looking back many years later to a period of a few weeks when, as a young mother, having developed a mysterious fever after a minor operation, she lay in hospital separated from her two small daughters, and woke to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. 

The novel centres on the few days that her mother stays there on watch in the chair beside the bed, hardly sleeping, and, after many years of being out of touch, regales Lucy with tales of the lives of people in their rural background. Nothing much happens in the present time, apart from this tentative but growing relationship, abruptly ended when there's an apparent emergency and Lucy has to be prepared for theatre, and her mother, seeming to take fright, leaves precipitously. There are visits from Lucy's doctor and a single visit from her children. However, contemplative commentary from present-day narrator Lucy reveals a whole backstory of a troubled poverty-stricken childhood, the subsequent fact of Lucy's marriage breakdown, the beginnings of which turn out to have been running subtextually under that hospital time, her lifetime struggles to free herself psychologically from her harsh background, and her linked development as a writer. And as Mark pointed out, Lucy's story widens out through her developing sensibility to include wider issues - the fate of native Americans, Nazism, gender and Aids.

Chiefly the portrayal of the development of a creative sensibility out of straitened circumstances, the book is written in a plain, matter-of fact prose, yet holds a deep emotional punch.

 But this is my story.

And yet it is the story of many...

...But this one is my story. This one. And my name is Lucy Barton.

Mark, who had suggested the book, said that once again he was staggered that such simple prose - few metaphors, little lyricism - could create a great book. I didn't say this in the meeting, but I think it's this emotional withholding - echoed in the displacement with which Lucy and her mother talk about other people's stories but not their own troubled relationship - that is so moving, illustrative of the emotional suppression and damage.

If there was one note of demurral about the book's brilliance it came from Jenny who said that she felt that the appearance of the mother beside Lucy's bed was something of a device. There were then murmurs of agreement - but no one, including Jenny, thought that that really mattered. However, someone, I think Clare, said then that she had wondered if the mother's appearance wasn't real, she is a figment of Lucy's fevered mind as she  works on coming to terms with her past and her relationship with her mother. This hadn't occurred to anyone else (and I haven't seen it suggested in any of the reviews I've read), but it would indeed be a better explanation as to why the mother seems never to need to sleep while she's there (she says she can only ever 'cat-nap', which causes Lucy to wonder about her mother's own damaged history), as well as her sudden unexplained departure just at the moment of Lucy's emergency, when Lucy's dreaming/hallucinating consciousness would be disrupted. The matter-of-fact prose militates against such an interpretation, however, and later statements and the following consciously parallel situation seem to contradict it: 'I saw my mother only one time after she came to see me in the hospital ... [she] became ill and so I was the one, then, who went to her hospital room in Chicago, to sit at the foot of her bed.'

However, in spite of this uncertainty, we were all deeply moved by the book, and as usual when we feel a book is brilliant, we had little more to say beyond praising it and picking out sections for particular admiration.

Our archive discussions can be found here and a list of the books we have discussed, with links to the discussions, here 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Interview: Friday Night Drinks

Last night I was delighted to be on Julie Morris's blog A Little Book Problem, in her Friday Night drinks series. She asked me about some wide-ranging things, including my proudest moment and my biggest writing challenge, and I revealed my drinking habits and something about my feet I've kept quiet about until now! Thank you so much, Julie, for hosting me. The interview is here.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Emma's Book Blog tour stop

Last stop on the Random Things blog tour for Astral Travel was on Emma's Book Blog, where it received a nice review from Emma (left) which ends: 'Beautifully written, Astral Travel is a fascinating and sobering read about family dynamics, damning secrets and prejudice.' Thank you, Emma, and many thanks indeed to Anne Cater for organising the tour!

There are three days left to enter the giveaway on Anne's blog.