Posted by: Corri van de Stege | March 29, 2009

The Sunday Salon – an hour short

tssbadge43Here in England, the clocks have been set forward an hour which means we’re one hour short for today, but we will also have longer and lighter evenings, definitely a sign that we are moving in the right direction towards warmth and summer.  Hopefully.  The week has been cold and miserable, slashing rain, frost at night and I watch with trepidation what my plants will do, so optimistically planted a couple of weeks back when there was a hint of spring in the air.  Today has perked up, and although the air is still chilly, the sun is out a bit more.

All this very much reflects my mood and day to day experiences, a certain chill has set in, the unease about the job situation, the constant barrage of more and more stories about the financial woes and future of all of us, wherever we are in our lives, are beginning to wear me down.  But then, this week should see at least the solution to the immediate question about company restructure and where I will fit in with it.  Whatever happens, things will become clear, just as clear that somehow or other the summer will now come, the sun has cleared the equinox. 

My reading over the last week (and before) consists of a ragbag of titles and authors, and I start and stop and realise that books that in my memory were greatly enjoyable somehow have lost their magic appeal.  Take Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Net’: I used to be so enthralled by what I considered to be Murdoch’s wonderful reinventions of people and the world we lived in, the slightly ludicrous situations which seemed to have messages that needed further exploration.  Now, re-reading this book I pushed myself along and then found all of a sudden that I had had enough of the rather grotesque invention of situations in order to convey a message about language and what we can and cannot say, how to catch the world under a net of words.  Perhaps my current mood is just not the right one to engage with this, and these books need more time to indulge.  I have no time for indulgence in my current frame of mind…

And then of course I read Melvyn Bragg’s ‘Remember Me’ (which I reviewed last week), a haunting and beautifully written book, which is still unearthing all kinds of thoughts in my mind, about writing and about my own life and how you can fit your own life into what you want to write about.  The story is tragic, it is about undergoing psycho-analysis and the suicide of someone in the middle of analysis and unable to cope.  But it is also about how you deal with phobias and ‘angst‘ and how, perhaps, there is never a solution to any of that.  An excellent book, well worth the effort.


I have picked up Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn – a kind of detective story with a difference  (‘a riff on the classic detective novel, as the blurb says).  The protagonist, Lionel Essrogg is not only an orphan, but one who suffers from Tourette’s and the writing takes its cue from there.  There are words and sentences that lead Lionel to utter non-stop parodies and follow ups, he cannot help himself, and often they are hilarious.  If only he did not have to do his utmost to suppress his ticks, because of finding himself in this hugely sinister situation.  This is a detective story, as I said.  I haven’t finished the book yet, am only half way through but I am thoroughly enjoying it.  The title?:

‘”This is exciting for you, Ma?  I got all of motherless Brookly up here for you.  Merry Xmas.” 

This is how Minna introduces his four orphan helpers from the St Vincent’s Home for Boys to his mother.  Lionel Essrogg and three other boys have been picked by Minna to become Minna’s Men.  Lionel, the voice of the novel, struggles with his syndrome, from an overflow of  ‘teaching, tapping, grabbing and kissing urges’ to the eruption of language, which had at first been just below a ‘frozen shell sea of language’.  It is as if Lionel’s struggle with language is that of any writer, playing with words, trying to find the right ones, obsessively.  Whereas at first Tourette’s is expressed through various tics,

It became harder and harder not to notice that when a television pitchman said ‘to last the rest of a lifetime’ my brain went ‘to rest th elust of a loaftomb’, that when I hard ‘Alfred Hitchcock’, I silently replied ‘Altered Houseclock’ or ‘Ilfored Hotchkiss’, that when I sat reading Booth Tarkington in the library now my throad and jaw worked behind my clenched lips, desperately fitting the syllables of the prose to the rythms of ‘Rappter Delight’ (which was then playing every fifteen….’ etc.

If you’ve read this book, let me know what you think – I love it, for its cleverness with words and great storytelling.  I’ll carry on reading now!  Nothing much to quote from the Sunday papers anyway.


  1. Both look like good reads. Will check those out.

    TSS: My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar

  2. I read Motherless Brooklyn about nine or ten years ago (right after it was published), and I loved it! I tried to force it one everyone I could because I thought it was so original and funny and interesting.

    As someone who was laid off just a few months ago, I very much sympathize with your current state of mind. I will keep you in my thoughts this week and wish the best for you. I hope the outcome is something you want, and that whatever happens opens up great things for you!

  3. I hope things work out with your job …it’s an uneasy time everwhere these days. I’ve noticed that when I’m stressed or worried, I need light reading – can’t concentrate on anything too weighty!

  4. I was similarly despondant on Sunday at my lost hour and general state of the world, I baked which made me feel a little better.

    I hope your news on the job front this week is good.

    It’s always disappoint when you revisit a book you loved and no longer find it appealing. I still have to read Under the net, when I do I’ll be interested to see if I agree with your first or your second reading.

    Motherless Brooklyn sounds fun!

  5. Sorry to hear about the work uncertainty. That general feeling of impending economic doom sucks! But thanks for the Bragg recommendation – sounds just up my alley, and the Motherless Brooklyn is also going on to the TBR list.

  6. Hello, it is very nice to visit your blog. Thank you for your kind comment on mine. I am looking forward to finding a copy of Motherless Brooklyn, as it sounds like my kind of book: witty, language oriented, and interesting.
    Hope for good news regarding your job. Best. B

  7. Hi all: thanks for stopping by, and love to hear your comments.
    Priscilla: I’ve now finished it and yes thoroughly enjoyed the read – a book with a difference!
    Becca: you’re so right – I am definitely not in the mood for anything too demanding at the moment, and maybe that’s what was the matter with the Murdoch…
    a devoted reader: Meanwhile it’s Monday night and only slightly better… hope you baked something delicicious! Perhaps I should change tack and think of something to do differently – gardening sometimes gives me that kick but it just wasn’t warm enough… 😦 Let me know when you’ve read the Murdoch – really interested to hear what you think.
    Pete: I thought you might like the Bragg book, it definitely is something you should read and I’d be very keen to find out what your view is – I so thoroughly enjoyed it and it made me think so much!
    Beatriz: thanks vevery much for popping in, you are so welcome. Motherless Brooklyn became so addictive that I read it right through, the last chapter whilst on the train on my way back today.. it’s very enjoyable.

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