Posted by: Corri van de Stege | May 16, 2009

The Sunday Salon – catching up halfway through May

I haven’t stopped reading, I have stopped blogging for a bit, that’s all.  A kind of spring tiredness, my mother used to call it.  That exhausted feeling, as if somehow you will never get there.  Where?  I don’t know, I just know I won’t get there.  Usually the feeling goes again, after it becomes clear that it really will be spring and then summer, that it really will warm up, some time.  Not yet.

The ghastly revelations about MPs expenses, the greed of bankers, the sense that everything is definitely sliding down a slippery slope into an undergrowth that becomes murkier and murkier, none of it helps to cheer you up.  Sinking back in a cinema, watching Angels and Demons, the film version of Dan Brown’s book, seemed suitably relaxing because did not require much thought: Hanks and the girl were doing all the running around Rome, from one church to another, just too late to save three out of the four cardinals from being brually murdered by a so-called member of a so-called secret society, but, bless, rescuing the last one just in time to be elected the pope when all’s well that ends well, yes, this was a very suitable entertainment on a chilly late Saturday afternoon in Norfolk.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve picked up books, skipped through some, read others, written a story, thought a lot about writing but incapable of ever picking up that pen or openening that blank page on my laptop, no I didn’t.  Let’s stick with the books and after all the excitement about Bookers and Costas and what have you, it is as if everyone is sitting back for a bit.  I’ve looked at my bookshelf, there are still plenty I have not read, but not many have appealed, even though I must have bought them for a reason, thinking that I MUST read them, that they would be exciting, new, different, a real discovery. 

Not quite so.

One that I did enjoy, and I think I mentioned it about a month ago now, yes, that’s how long ago  it was when I read it,  was Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 – it was only at the end that I thought the denouement was perhaps just slightly off course, did not work somehow, but then so what, I’d had a most enjoyable journey through Russia, through Stalin’s Russia.  Perhaps enjoyable is the wrong word to use, it was gripping, a thriller with a child killer on the loose in a country where crime, supposedly, did not exist, not at that time, and so there was no murderer to catch.  Definitely worth reading.  The state was much more dangerous.

Then, did I mention the White Tiger by Aravind Adiga in one of my previous blogs?  I think I did, it’s still lying on my desk somehow as if I’m expected to write a review.  But I’m not in the mood to write reviews, so I’ll just say that this was a reasonably enjoyable read, it did win the Man Booker Prize in 2008 and so it probably has had its due share of reviews all over the place. 

HIlary Mantel A change of climateI picked up Hilary Mantel’s A change of climate, partly intrigued by the setting of the book, which is part Africa and part Norfolk.  It is one of her earlier novels, first published in 1994, but it is highly intelligent and well written, full of ideas and both serious and funny, with people that are realistic and believable.  I liked being taken along some of the Norfolk villages, the deadly isolation of some of them, the staidness of its inhabitants, living from one year to the next without expecting the world around them to change, ever.  The desolation of being stuck, as a teenager, or even a grown up for that matter, without transport, in one of those coastal places, in the middle of the winter, is palpable, which at the same time is Norfolk as a setting of peace and quiet where teenage drug users, substance abusers and those in dire straits, can be taken in by a family of carers who have had the most appalling experience in an Africa torn apart by apartheid.  Well worth reading – I’m not going to give away the story or the plot. 

A book that I bought, because when it came out it was recommended in reviews and has a blurb that says that is is  ‘inspired by the expansive scale and webs of relationships of the great nineteenth-century Russian novels’, is the Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher.  And it was in fact shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.  It received huge acclaim, yet I found it long and dare I say at times too long.  It is about two families in Sheffield, one that has always lived there and another one that moves in across the street from London; and it’s about how they live, their lives becoming intertwined, in an England set in 1974 and moving through the eighties into the early 90s and on.  It is a great thick tome, you could not carry it around with you on a train journey or stick it in a bag to take with you anywhere, with well over 700 pages in generously large typescript.  But I simply could not read every page, although I wanted to know in a way what happened to each of the characters, the parents, the children, I did not have the patience to read through all the conversations that somehow evoked everything that was happening.  For me, the book could probably have been half the size and it would have given me a much sharper and clearer view of England during the miners’ strike in the eighties, during the Thatcher years.  Perhaps I simply was not that interested in the fairly mundane lives that was led on this Sheffield street.  And then, characters just seem to fade away, into Australia, into hospital, or into another part of Sheffield or London.

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Responses

  1. I’ve never heard anyone speak of “spring tiredness” but I very much relate. I always feel absolutely wrung out at this time of year. Whereas in the fall, I generally have boundless energy for new beginnings. Precisely the opposite of what the seasons are supposed to denote! No doubt it has a lot to do with the fact that my work life follows an academic schedule in which courses begin in September and end in April. But your mother’s concept of spring tiredness makes me think maybe there’s more to it than that…

    The Hilary Mantel novel that you describe sounds wonderful. Based on the reviews, I’m keen to have a go at her latest, “Wolf Hall,” but it’s good to be reminded that her earlier books are worth a look as well!

  2. It is so hot here in Delhi that I don’t want to read at all. All I want to do is is sip cold drinks and sleep!

    How is that?

    WG: Salman Rushdie
    TSS: Reflecting on reading

  3. I felt like that at the beginning of spring. A friend of mine recently read White Tiger and said she very much enjoyed it. Hope the weariness fades soon.

  4. Well, we are on the same page. Spring tiredness! I am glad it is not just me. With everything else to do, I don’t even have the energy to go to a movie. My son did see the new Star Trek movie this weekend, and his excitement did pique my interest a wee bit….
    I hope you are over the tiredness soon!

  5. I know what you mean about picking things up and putting them down. It’s been like that for several weeks for me. I think it’s the end of the school year, always exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

  6. Kate: yes, I’m thinking of getting the Wolf Hall as well. Mantel has a regular slot in the weekend Guardian, that’s how I decided to pick up some of her earlier works
    Gautami: hot or cold, it seems that spring has got it in for all of us!
    Susan – perhaps I did not give the White Tiger enough attention, I do think it was well written!
    qugraine : yes, the new Star Trek movie is one to see I gather. Must get the energy for that. Next week’s a Bank holiday here, perhaps a long weekend will do the trick…
    Gavin : I can well understand that this time of the year must be hard on teachers and lecturers, the end so near but not quite yet! And then drawing breath for the new beginning.

  7. Glad you enjoyed Angels and Demons – I saw the frowning pic of Tom Hanks and thought I’d give it a skip. (Watched a delightful South African movie called White Wedding instead.) And I’m glad you reminded me of Hilary Mantel – will check out her columns and work my way up to her books.

    I hope spring-tiredness is a passing phase. I’ve heard of spring depression so maybe that’s a relative? I think spring has such connotations of new life, new energy and rebirth etc. but the reality is often just a slow warming up to summer?


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