1. On Monday, walking back to my car from the bookshop, I fell over. I haven’t done this in years. It was my own fault, really, for being so curious about the couple on the other side of the road. The woman was hollering out for ‘Alvin!’ and I couldn’t see whom she was addressing. Was it the rather dour young man further down the road, loitering in someone’s gateway? Then I saw, emerging from behind a parked car, a little dot of a toddler, clearly in la-la land, as toddlers so often are, with no real clue that he was being summoned. It was at this point that I tripped over the upthrust root of a tree forcing its way through the pavement, one of the roots I described so enthusiastically in a post last week. If that’s not irony, then it jolly well ought to be. I thought I would save myself, but I ended up flat out in a pile of leftover autumn leaves. They, and the multiple layers I’d been wearing to withstand the chill of the bookstore meant that I was not hurt, although Mister Litlove is trying to persuade me I am such a featherweight that I reached terminal velocity and floated the last few feet.
In fact, as I was going down, I had enough of the stretched-out time that characterises accidents to hear the couple over the road going ‘Oh! Owwww!’ This ensured that the time I spent actually prone was about a nanosecond, as I shot bolt upright calling out ‘I’m fine! I’m fine!’ ‘Are you sure?’ the woman called over to me. ‘Yes!’ I said, ‘Although I feel a bit stupid.’ ‘Aw, come on,’ the woman replied. ‘The number of times I’ve fell over!’ I was rather touched by her kindness. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to thank her properly for it. Anyway, I wasn’t hurt. I had sore arms this week but not a bruise or a scratch on me, luckily.
2. On Wednesday evening I went to my real-life book club. It was a bitterly cold night, and we met in the middle of nowhere, in a cute little rustic sort of house with a huge blazing fire and a resident ghost. This was most appropriate as we were discussing Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. I love this book club. We had a solid hour and a half of excellent book chat, and it astounds me again and again how very differently a bunch of people will experience a novel. Some thought the book was dull and boring, others that it was set to be a modern classic. Opinions about the narrator, Dr Faraday, ranged from a loyal if slightly pathetic romantic to a cold fish who made one’s skin creep. Some really liked the supernatural element and found it frightening, others not so much. One person actually thought it was more of a love story than anything else. Those of us who plumped for the psychological explanation of unconscious forces at work completely bamboozled the rest who hadn’t seen anything like that in the narrative at all. And it would have been impossible for one reader to persuade another to change his or her mind. What do we do when we read? What screen do we throw up between ourselves and the words on the page? To read is to track the unconscious paths of our desire, I recall from days gone by of reader response theory. Can that really be so – that we only register what we want to see? We rounded the evening off with people recounting some real life ghost stories, appropriately enough. I’ve never seen a ghost, not even a whisper of one. Plus, I think that real, living people are infinitely scarier; I’ll take my chances with the supernatural.
3. You should have seen my face yesterday, though, when I finished reading Cees Nooteboom’s novella, The Following Story. I hadn’t got a clue what had happened. Three-quarters of the way through the book, confused and bewildered, I’d gone online seeking reviews in the hope of enlightenment. Lots of readers love this book and rate it really highly. They assured me that the last few pages made the whole set-up finally come clear. It remained stubbornly shrouded in mists of opacity for me. Can anyone please tell me what is going on? Is the narrator dead? Is he dreaming? It concerns a former Latin teacher, now a writer of rather tepid travel guides. He became caught up in a love triangle between two married teachers and a beautiful star pupil who was having an affair with the husband. In an act of revenge the wife took our narrator as a lover, the only woman ever to have a relationship with him, but who belittled and scorned him all the time they were together. The novella opens with our narrator waking up in a hotel bed in Portugal, which surprises him as he could have sworn he went to sleep the previous evening in Amsterdam. The hotel bed is highly significant, though, as it’s where he came with the biology teacher at the height of their affair. Writing it like that makes it sound quite straightforward, and the first half of the book that details the romantic entanglements is relatively clear, although it’s one of those narratives full of classical allusions and digressive comments. But that’s okay. I quite like that. It was getting to the end, anticipating a full explanation and then being totally stymied that was annoying. Clearly I am being stupid. If anyone can explain, I would be SO grateful!
P.S. I am behind again with comments and visits! I’m so sorry – things are just so busy at the moment. I promise faithfully to catch up on the weekend.