Finally Catching Up

For the Sunday Salon

I’m so sorry not to have been around this week, blogging friends – it’s been a most unusual few days with computer problems, a pressing deadline for an academic article (couple more days and I’ll be done with that) and some rather exciting news that I’ll return to at the end. First and most importantly, I need to catch up with you on what I’ve been reading.

I’ve mentioned before my love affair with the magnificent Joan Acocella whose collection of New Yorker essays, Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints has been thrilling and entertaining me all week. Acocella writes fairly lengthy appreciations of mostly writers and dancers/choreographers, but she also includes essays on a sculptor, on James Joyce’s troubled daughter, Lucia, on two saints (Joan of Arc and Mary Magdalene, the latter a brilliant exploration of how the biblically humble Magdalene became a cult celebrity across the centuries, inspired by, but as antidote to, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown) and on writer’s block. The writer’s block essay was the first I read and it is a beautiful example of Acocella’s style, weaving together lots of stories about suffering writers that she compares and contrasts with wit, elegance and intelligence. She’s also fundamentally sensible, pointing out that writer’s block is as much about the absence of a good editor (Henry Roth), alcoholism (Fitzgerald, Hammett), too much praise for the first novel (Harper Lee, Ralph Ellison), or anxiety over self-revelation (J. D. Salinger) as it is about bad authorial karma. In other words, there often seems to be a jolly good reason why authors stop writing for a while, and the mythological ‘block’ often has quite mundane roots. But the reason that I found this essay so emblematic of Acocella’s approach is that it blends biographical detail with analysis of the literature in question in order to assuage her fascination with the genesis of a writer – how a certain man or woman came to the act of writing, and why they ended up writing this and not that. It’s rather like being taken on the best guided tour ever of an artist’s life, a leisurely journey through the most intriguing landmarks with historical and architectural information provided at just the moment you want it. Sheer armchair pleasure.

She is never less than interesting and the writers she picks to discuss are an eclectic and yet well-chosen bunch – Penelope Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Saul Bellow, Susan Sontag, Marguerite Yourcenar, Simone de Beauvoir, Stefan Zweig, to name just a few. The dance chapters are equally fascinating, although I thought my interest might diminish. But Acocella is a gorgeous stylist; clear, insightful, concise and with a truly delightful turn of phrase. How could anyone resist a description of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s dancing as: ‘He rose like a piston; he landed like a lark. He took off like Jerry Lee Lewis; he finished like Jane Austin.’ Or on Penelope Fitzgerald’s novels, ‘Reading them is like hearing someone play Mozart two rooms away: light, sweet – jolly even – and utterly piercing. You don’t know what hit you.’ Or on Dorothy Parker’s short stories: ‘The telephone turns up again and again. To Parker it seems to have been the quintessential image of male elusiveness. The men in the stories are barely described. They are not really human; they are merely a scarce resource, like money or food – something needed.’ Not an essay goes by without a handful of memorable sentences in it, a score of places where you stop and pause and consider what she has said and how right and clever and lucidly she has said it. I was intrigued by a post from Jacob Russell a little while back that considered how we write about books, what we want to say about them that’s worthwhile. That thought has been on my mind for a long, long time now, and I’m still working on it. But if I don’t know what the right answer is, I certainly know what I like, and the ease and intelligence of Joan Acocella’s gently, relentlessly probing writing is very close to perfection for me.

And now for something completely different: Charles Dickens. You may recall my marked aversion to Dickens, having been slowly tortured with him over several years in English classes at school. Well, a blog friend has been encouraging me for some time now to try again and so I read Great Expectations. I wanted to do a full post on this, but I can see that’s not going to be likely, and so I offer up a few words here. I am delighted to report that Dickens is nowhere near as bad as I remembered him to be. In fact I found his writing witty and compassionate without the sheer, sickening drop into sentimentality that I feared, and his characters were much, much better than the cardboard cut-outs I recalled. Given that Great Expectations seems to be what is called a Bildungsroman – a novel about an adolescent’s development to maturity  – the question of character was developed in most intriguing ways.

The main character, Pip, is first seen as a young boy roaming the graveyard nearby his house where the vast majority of his family is now residing. Pip is being brought up by his deeply unsympathetic sister and her husband, the golden-hearted noble savage, Joe (who is a blacksmith by trade). A series of chance events transform Pip’s rather bleak existence in profound ways. In the graveyard, Pip is near scared to death by the sudden arrival of an escaped convict who makes him promise to bring food to his hideout, which Pip does, though not without much fear and guilt. Then he is invited to play at Miss Haversham’s house (even I had heard of Miss Haversham – the elderly bride in aspic and cobwebs) where he meets the disdainful but beautiful Estella, with whom he falls in love and is obliged to confront the painful realization of his lack of class and status. But then he is taken to London by one of Dickens’s classic crew of lawyers, the fearsome Mr Jaggers, after a secret bestowal of fortune by a mysterious benefactor presents Pip with great expectations. In London he will be educated and transformed into a gentleman. But Pip finds out that this process takes more than a bit of reading and a bit of hard cash. All the characters we have met so far perform a kind of plot-driven quadrille in which they all exchange places and end up looking quite different to the way they started, and it is in his judgment of people that Pip most needs a thorough education.

What struck me at first about the novel was its repeated insistence on humiliation – the strong characters, those who were brutal, or violent, or utterly self-centered, made regular sport of all those with vulnerabilities of any kind. But the thrust of the novel is to show Pip how all the criteria by which he judged himself vulnerable, and thus open to humiliation, are in fact wrong-headed in the true scheme of humanity. Pip learns to judge people by their hearts, not by their wallets, and to view himself through his capacity to give love, not his ability to present a hardened carapace of achievement to the world. I was surprised, though I don’t know why, by how moral a book this was. I was less surprised that the morality was played out through a series of shocking external events – a happy nineteenth century literary belief that you could trust in experience to make things right that was ruthlessly screwed up and tossed into the wastebasket of the twentieth century.

This was made abundantly clear by the other novel I read this week, Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. I’d read many a mixed review of this novel and was keen to try it out for myself. It’s effectively a short story that has been padded out into a novella, and I wondered whether this was at the root of the problem. I actually enjoyed it very much indeed, mainly because it is beautifully written. It concerns the disastrous wedding night of a young couple, Edward and Florence, who have come to a hotel on Chesil Beach as full of anxieties and Great Expectations as Pip himself. Set at the beginnings of the sixties the narrative is lush with historical detail of the times and the social mores, and the sections that detail the early lives of the two main protagonists are exquisitely wrought. Against them are set the scenes in the hotel bedroom where innocence, uncertainty and fear are ganging up on our couple, for Edward is quite desperate for the physical encounter that Florence is equally desperate to avoid. This was back in the days when people didn’t talk about issues of pressing urgency when they concerned bodies, emotions or desires. How did people survive without imploding? Whatever else you might hold against the contemporary world, at least it’s okay nowadays to talk about what’s bothering you and duty is not the be all and end all of decision-making. I won’t say any more about what happens, but I felt that McEwan had written a stark, neat little domestic tragedy that was emotionally punchy for all its apparent slightness. But I could not for the life of me decide whether it was too short or too long.

You may well be surprised to find me rattling through the book reviews like this rather than indulging in my usual verbose accounts of 1,000 + words. Well, blogging friends this may well be the format for the next few months with a post a week, or maybe two. You know I never neglect my blog unless I have a good reason, and last week I found out that I’ve been taken on by a literary agent in London who is willing to have a go at selling the motherhood book for me that you know I’ve been working on. I couldn’t be more thrilled – it’s a wonderful agency with authors like Bill Bryson, P.D. James, Sarah Waters and C. J. Sansom on their books, and whilst it’s a fickle and unpredictable book world out there, and anything could happen (and probably will), it’s a great encouragement for me at this stage. I need to get some sample chapters together and, if possible, to work on placing some journalistic articles. So I do have rather a lot of writing and research on for a while now, although all in excellent causes. I find I am strung out between excitement and sheer terror at the moment – the day I found out I was so pleased, and then by bedtime I felt sick and shaky. It was like being five years old on Christmas Eve again and my husband thought I was hilarious. I like to call it the artistic temperament, but you can imagine that gets pretty short shrift around here! I would never have branched out down this route if it hadn’t been for this blog and the tremendous support of my blogging friends. I thank you with all my heart. And I’ll let you know how it goes.

45 thoughts on “Finally Catching Up

  1. Congratulations Litlove, that’s marvellous news. Joan Acocella is a new name to me, one to look out for. Thinking of Dickens it was “Tale of Two Cities” that we had to dissect at school and I haven’t been able to open it since. Your words encourage me to give it another go. “Great Expectations” was a favourite – I didn’t read that at school.

    As for “On Chesil Beach”, I loved it, but wanted it to be longer.

  2. Woo hoo! What thrilling news! You have one confirmed book sale right over here in this corner, and I’m sure to buy more for my friends. What is amazing is how you managed to keep that secret right to the last paragraph; I think I would have let it all out in the intro, or burped in parentheses (book deal) throughout the post (book deal).

    I’m so, so, so pleased for you Litlove. My blogging friends are getting book deals all over the place at the moment, and is it just the best. Hooray!

    (Shall I stop shouting now?)

  3. Congrats Vic!!!! So when does your book come out? Will it be released in the US?

    I felt the same way about Dickens when I was younger too!!! I enjoyed Great Expectations much better once I got older. Dickens tends to be tedious I find. But I’ve manfully made my way through David Copperfield and Bleakhouse. I love Oliver Twist. I’m still trying to get past the first chapter of the Tale of Two Cities.

  4. Booksplease – thank you! And I’m glad it’s not just me who was scarred by Dickens at too early an age! Yes, I wondered whether more back story and more character development would have made the Ian McEwan that bit better.

    Charlotte and Bluestocking – thank you for your enthusiasm!! You are both such darlings. Honesty insists I point out (although I wish it would shut up) that I have as yet just an agent, which will hopefully be the right move on the way to a book deal, but it isn’t in the bag yet. Depends on me writing some decent chapters, I think! I’m planning on writing the book over 2009, so it would be out in 2010 and I do hope it would be available in the US, while I am allowing myself to do hope here.

    And just to add that, Bluestocking, I have heard so many people say that a Tale of Two Cities is the hardest Dickens to get through. You are not alone!

  5. Litlove what wonderful news! I can’t believe you managed to save that for the end of the post🙂 Wishing you all the best and hope we get to see your book soon!
    I’m glad you are enjoying Great Expectations. I thought it was great. Now I’m off to look for Joan Acocella. The way she described Penelope Fitzgerald’s writing is brilliant.

  6. Congratulations to you!!! That’s wonderful, and I wish you all the good luck in the world.🙂

    I’m also tickled that you enjoyed Great Expectations. I re-read it a few months ago for the Year of Reading Dangerously, and I enjoyed it just as much (if not more) the second time around.🙂

  7. iliana – aw bless you! It will be a long way off still. Fiction people write the whole thing first, while non-fictioners get away with just a proposal. Doesn’t seem fair but there are advantages and disadvantages to each🙂 Do look up Acocella – she is so clever and yet so very accessible and I’d love to know what you think of her. Andi – oh thank you so much! and I will need the luck. I wondered whether I ought to sign up to a year of reading dangerously in retrospect! There were just too many books I felt ought to go onto that particular challenge🙂

  8. What great news, though 2010 maybe! Some of us are not as young as we were! Only joking! All of us are not as young as we were!! Make mental note – patience is a virtue. Still, in the meantime yet another wonderful sounding book. Those quotes from Joan Acocella are so sharp I’ll have to get a copy. I hope she’s as good on Bellow and Sontag. Don’t suppose she does Philip Roth? I know she’s an advocate of Joseph Roth. No doubt that blog friend of yours is very happy with your response to Dickens. I’ve always had a liking for him myself. I know you’re a modern reader really, but do you think Dickens has any bearing on the modern things you read? I’ve always had a sneaking feeling that what is generally thought of as his cartoon-caricature-over-the-top-figures might stand behind a lot of the extremes in modern literature, especially from the continent, but I don’t have the reading to develop the idea. I keep thinking I should read On Chesil Beach and you have added to the impulse. Nothing unusual there then! I wonder how the lovers compare to Pip and Estelle. Both ‘couples’ have a gap between them that sounds formidable. And congratulations again!

  9. I’ve always thought I was lucky to escape having to study Dickens in school. I enjoyed the books well enough on my own but I’m sure I would have found painstaking close reading enclosed in a hot classroom would have made me miserable. :p Your post has done a lot to re-establish him in my mind.

    Many congratulations on your book deal! Your blog features such excellent writing, it deserves to be exposed to a wider (or different) audience. You’ll do so well!

  10. Litlove, I am so very excited and pleased for you! I think the premise of your book is marvelous -motherhood in literature is a special interest of mine as well, and your posts on your reading to date have just fascinated me. I’m so looking forward to holding the completed book in my hand (as I’m sure I will one day be doing!)

    I have an interview with Joan Acocella on my ipod ready be heard, although perhaps I’m putting the cart before the horse, having not read her work yet. I like to hear an author’s voice, though, especialy an essayist, as it then can echo in my head when I’m reading their words.

  11. Congratulations on your latest bit of news–and you so modestly left it to the end of your post. Not me, kid, I’d have been trumpeting my coup to the stars–the constellation Andromeda would’ve been rattled off its moorings. May this all lead to bigger and better things for you–I’m delighted for you and hope to see your name in lights very soon…

  12. How very exciting your news is! and not surprising in the least. May the force be entirely with you in all that is to come. ~ ~ I loved Great Expectations! almost as much as David Copperfield. I’ve always loved Dickens, even as a kid. Weird, I know. I think that’s where I got my penchant for big fat novels, which I turn to regularly as means of procrastination. There are worse things!

  13. Good gracious Litlove! What fantastic news! Congratulations! It is certainly well deserved. I can hardly wait to buy a copy of the book when it is published.

    I am also glad to hear you enjoyed Great Expectations. It is one of my favorite books. The variety and quirkiness of the characters and the story itself are all a pleasure every time I read it.

  14. Litlove, that’s such exciting news about the agent and the motherhood book. Congratulations! We can cope with fewer blog posts knowing that there’s likely to be a marvellous book for us to buy down the line!

    I hadn’t heard of Acocella and she sounds like a writer whose work I’d enjoy. I must track down those essays. I’ve been revelling this weekend in one of your previous recommendations, “My Turn to Make the Tea” by Monica Dickens. It’s proving to be just as entertaining as I anticipating from your post on it. Whether I’ll follow in your footsteps and move on to the work of her illustrious ancestor, I’m not sure though!

  15. As a former English teacher, I had the obligatory Dickens on the syllabus but never was too enthusiastic about it. When I was allowed to choose my own curriculum, I found some shorter sketches and stories of his that were quite different from the novels and to me more enjoyable, maybe more insightful into the author’s character. I think it is his characters that I don’t care for; they don’t interest me as people first.

  16. I would say that Dickens ought to be banished from required high school reading–I could not bear the thought of reading him after a 9th grade encounter with Great Expectations. But there is my sister, whose academic career otherwise resembled a caricature of the alienated artist in search of her true vocation–and she loved Dickens from the start, inherited a complete set of his works from our aunt and has probably read each of them several times over the years.

    I got around to reading Bleak House at 50–which, if it weren’t for the example of my sister–I would set as the minimum age for introduction to Dickens. I loved it. Spontaneous human combustion in the cockles of my heart.

    And please add my congratulations to the prospect of publication out there in the… ahem… “real world.”

  17. [doing happy dance] That is wonderful news, Litlove. Although I’m not sure I could have kept it till the end of a post. Perhaps this shows the discipline which separates a writer from a scribbler 🙂 Good luck, my friend.

  18. Congratulations from me too! I work with academics and so much wish that the few whose writing clearly transcends this domain would try and also publish their work for a wider readership. I wish you every success and, having read your blog with such enjoyment for a while now, think you have a very good chance of finding a publisher. (and in this context I must tell you, in case you are dismissing my words as ‘just being nice’, that I am the person who read an astonishing piece of fiction on a blog a year or so ago and thought, and told the writer, that this was as good as anything I’d ever read – and now he has a deal with a top publisher for his half-written novel. I may not be good for much, but do believe I have good taste).

    Also this reminds me that I was going to ask if you’d read Jayne Anne Phillips ‘Motherkind’ – a terrific, if flawed, novel from 2000 which I just recently discovered. I had wondered what happened to this novelist who used to be one of my favourites and who just disappeared from sight. I think what happened was that, after some very successful and fashionable novels and short stories brilliantly conveying the seemy side of life, she wrote this tough, passionate, detailed, clearly autobiographical book about a disciplined, intense, intellectual woman giving birth and forging a relationship with step-children and caring for her dying mother – not so fashionable!

  19. Adding my congratulations to the list here – that is wonderful news and please keep us updated about your progress on the book and its eventual publication. Hooray!

    I see I must get my hands on the Joan Acocella book!

  20. Woo hoo!! Congrats on signing with an agent. That’s amazing!

    And on a smaller scale, woo hoo for reading Dickens. I feel the same way when I begin, but end up loving him when I finish.

  21. I’m so happy to see you back, Litlove, and with such wonderful and well-deserved good news! Here’s hoping you have better luck with lawyers than Pip and that, in the end, your Greatest Expectations will be fulfilled. Congratulations.

  22. Congratulations Litlove! That’s absolutely wonderful news about the agent! Enjoy the work that’s coming, up, and we’ll all look forward to the published book. I realize now that I’ve read a good number of the Acocella essays when they were originally published in the New Yorker; I remember always enjoying them, even if I didn’t know the subject very well.

  23. This is such marvelous news! I’m thrilled for you. I think this book sounds like something you were meant to write, and will write with so much pleasure. I’m looking forward to reading it, and to hearing about the process of writing it, as well.

    As for saving the good news for last, I think that’s so quintessentially English — I envy you that restraint. Me, I’d die if I couldn’t blurt something like this out immediately, and then going on and on about it. You, gracious woman that you are, give us some interesting and meaty thoughts about, among others, Dickens (like you, I found him hard going when I read him earlier, but now I like him quite a bit), and then you give us your news.

    I love that. And I am just so happy that you’re beginning on this journey, one that I think will lead you to things you’ll find so satisfying to be doing. I’m popping corks for you! xoxo

  24. Congrats Litlove! That agency wouldn’t have taken you on had they not loved your writing. It’s about time they took some notice!🙂 How exciting to have so many interesting projects–especially when you’re writing about something you love. And glad to hear, too, that Dickens exceeded your expectations (that’s always nice, too!).

  25. That is absolutely wonderful and certainly no more than you deserve. I am really pleased. Thanks as well for the review of the Acocella. I must get hold of a copy of that. The quote about Fitzgerald is so exactly right.

  26. My dear blogging friends! So many wonderful comments from you here and I cherish them all! I want to reply individually to all of you, as I normally do, and will do so in the morning. In the meantime, thank you. You are all very much part of the process for me.

  27. Adding my congratulations to the long list above. Wishing you much success with the writing & publishing of the book. What an adventure!

  28. Congratulations! Wow, lots of great karma going on out here in blogland with both you and Bloglily getting picked up by agents. I couldn’t be more happy for you! Can’t wait to read the book. And now, I will definitely be the first one in queue when it comes out. Oh, and sounds like your Dickens was my Shakespeare (completely ruined for me by having him forced on me when I was way too young to appreciate him. Luckily, I recovered!).

  29. Congratulations from me too! That’s a wonderful boost for you, and I hope the writing goes smoothly.

    I was quite daunted by Dickens, and a couple of friends and I set up a book group which had as its initial purpose to be a support group for reading Dickens. But once I realised that he actually meant to be funny, it got much easier. Great Expectations is, I think, a fantastic book. On Chesil Beach, which I only read quite recently, is also a fantastic book. So beautifully written, so controlled and tragic. ‘Just talk about it!’, I wanted to yell at the characters. My husband said it’s the kind of book that shows you something so you remember to live better than that (I’m probably badly misquoting him, but it was something like that).

  30. I just came over from Charlotte’s blog where I saw this news – this wonderful, wonderful news. Congratulations, Litlove. You can be assured I will buy it the moment it’s available. Congratulations – no one deserves it more!

  31. Litlove, you know I’m with you on Acocella — I enjoyed your brilliant observations. (Alas, I have a feeling I’m right there with Salinger on the writer’s chopping block.)

    And yay for giving Dickens a second chance! I always feel he too often is sullied by the “low-brow” label by certain snooty postmodernists. Try Bleak House, too — I think it’s my favorite Dickens.

    Oh, how you just slipped in that last bit of news! CONGRATULATIONS. I wish you the best of luck.

  32. Bookboxed – LOL! You know, I think about 2010 and I think about how I’m not getting any younger, too! You would like Acocella, I am sure, and yes, she does have an essay on Phillip Roth – not bad, eh? I do hope my friend was pleased about the Dickens and I think your comment extremely pertinent. I need to think on it more. And I love the couples comparison – you always have such interesting things to say! Imani – thank you so very much! And yes, coming to Dickens outside of a school environment must have been a huge help. I have to say Shakespeare has never quite had the impact it might have done on me for the same reasons! Ravenous – thank you so much – how very kind! And I must look out for Acocella recordings. I would love to hear her voice. Cliff – thank you so much! I’ve been delighted to see how many of my favourite bloggers are branching out into ever more literary projects – it’s very inspiring for me. Deborah – thank you so very much! And I can think of far worse ways of procrastinating than a literary chunkster – surely that doesn’t count as procrastination at all?🙂 Stefanie – thank you, dear friend. And I didn’t know it was one of your favourite books! I think even better of it now for knowing that. Kate – oh thank you, you are so very kind. I really think you would like the Acocella and I’m so glad you are enjoying Monica Dickens. She has the same kind of vivid but easy voice that you write with, I think. Paisley and Plaid – what a good idea to find an alternative route into Dickens! That’s a smart teaching move, and reminds me I should try his shorter work too.

  33. Jacob – I love that phrase about spontaneous combustion! Yes, I sort of understand why teachers think Dickens ought to work, but I fear he doesn’t often hit the mark with teenagers. Much better to leave him until you are ready for him, when the combustion can cheerfully begin! And thank you so much for your kind words. Archie – for that happy dance, I just have to send you a cyber hug. Here it comes!🙂 Jean – thank you so much and I take great heart from your comment. I will think of it when I need instand moral fibre (ie often!). And thank you also for the wonderful Jayne Anne Phillips recommendation. I’ve looked it up and it seems just right – thank you! Verbivore – thank you!! And you would love Acocella, I think. Andi – thank you so much! And isn’t it strange how some writers need to be worked at, but are all the better for it? David – thank you so much! A dear friend taught me once that cautious optimism was the ideal way forward, and I embrace that! Dorothy – thank you so much! I do think you would like Acocella a lot – it’s thanks to you that I’m reading so many essays, I think! Dear Bloglily – the very best thing about all this is that we’re heading into the unknown together. Thank you so much for your sweet and lovely comment, my friend. Dear Danielle – thank you so much! I always treasure your encouragement. And yes, it’s lovely to rehabilitate Dickens! Ann – thank you so very much. I warn you, I’ll be emailing to pick your considerable brains on this topic soon! And I think you would love the Acocella.

  34. Cam – thank you so much, that is so kind of you! I’m delighted to have my blogging friends on it with me. Emily – thank you so much! I told Charlotte that the two of you needed to get published too, so that the What We Said women would prove unstoppable😉 Alas, the same thing rather happened with Shakespeare for me too, but I might leave him a while before trying again! Helen – thank you so much! I like the idea of a Dickens support group, and I quite agree, it was the humour that charmed me. I love your husband’s comment. He has it just right, I think! Courtney – thank you so very much! I have a feeling that novel of yours will be making it into print soon, too. I’ve always been a big fan of your writing, and I know I’m not alone. LK – I was so pleased to know you like Acocella too! But oh, the Salinger Syndrome! Would it all work as science fiction, do you think? And I’m really glad I tried Dickens again – it’s astonishing how school can destroy a book! And finally, thank you so very much for your lovely words. We both know that luck is vital!

  35. Many congratulations! And very well deserved.

    I thought that I hated Dickens, as a result of being forced to read ‘A Christmas Carol’ at school, painfully slowly, with each girl having to read a bit aloud in turn. Ghastly. Years later, a friend got me to read ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and after that I have found myself reading more. Each time, though, I find the blurbs distinctly offputting and I have to get over that, anything I’ve seen of BBC adaptations, and anything I think I have learned about the book via general literary osmosis. It’s always worth it.

    The Acocella looks great, I foresee another addition to my list. Thanks!

  36. Becky – thank you! And it’s very interesting how many people have this same experience with Dickens – death by a thousand mangled read aloud passages in the classroom and then rehabilitation in later years. That has to say something (awful) about school teaching in that era! Do try Acocella – she is wonderful. Keshuvko – thank you! Gentle Reader – I’m always delighted to see you and thank you very much! I’m sure I’ll keep you posted on the saga as it develops! Elaine – LOL! Thank you – we Colchester girls have to do our bit, no?

  37. Congratulations! I’m obviously reading your blog in the wrong order today.

    On Chesil Beach – yes, even by fifties standards, I imagine these two were repressed. I thought the book should have continued. I needed some kind of different resolution where the girl eventually found a more patient and skilful older lover, but yes it was brilliantly written including what you refer to as the ‘historical’ detail!

    I enjoy reading your thoughtful review of Great Expectations – have you read Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones? An excellent book. See v. brief review on my blog about light lit and other things.

  38. Congratulations!

    Joan Acocella is a new name to me… that essay on writer’s block sounds fascinating. In fact, writer’s block as a phenomenon is fascinating. Some out-spoken writers claim it doesn’t exist; others are enslaved to it… must seek it out.

  39. I love Joan Acocella when I catch her in the New Yorker, but my reading of the New Yorker has waned in the last year or so, so I’ll get the book. You also peaked my curiosity about Great Expectations. A modernized movies version was made in l998, but I imagine it bears little relation to the book. Congratulations on the book. I look forward to reading more about the whole process.

  40. Susie – Mr Pip, oddly enough, I had in my hands a few days ago as I wondered whether to read it. I will certainly commit to it soon, particularly after the Dickens. As for Chesil Beach, I remember watching a television program about the innocence of couples from the era between the wars that made me think the experience of Florence and Edward might have been more common than we imagine (although most might have stuck with the marriage a little longer). And I wished the same for Florence as you did. And thank you! Long way to go, still. Simon – thank you. And do have a look at Acocella if you can – I think you would enjoy her very much (she has a lovely sense of humour). Smithereens – thank you so much! I would love for you to read it in any language🙂 Gloria – I considered subscribing to The New Yorker, simply in the hope of reading Acocella from time to time, but now I have her book I think I’ll just reread it. And I’d be interested to know what you think of Dickens. Thank you also for your kind remarks – I have a long, long journey ahead of me still.

  41. Oh, I am so, so happy for you!! This is what I get for being away for so long — I miss the good news. I know the feeling you describe SO well — I felt the exact same way when I got an agent. You know what a huge step it is and it is great that someone believes in you, but the fact that it could all be coming true is terrifying.

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