Saturday, March 12, 2005

$70 and change

It was ridiculously extravagant, but I realized that I just HAD to have that new Ishiguro novel as soon as possible, even if it meant paying extortionate shipping charges from Amazon UK; and then, though it's wholly irrational, I thought I would get a couple other things while I was at it. I restrained myself to 2 others, but it adds up. I wish they had a cheaper international shipping deal.

And then I was in agony waiting b/c the post office guy left a pink slip on Tuesday and I signed so that it would be redelivered and then instead he left ANOTHER slip yesterday afternoon (and I swear I was at home, I don't know why he didn't ring the bell) proclaiming "final notice" and sending me to the post office on 104th St. I went there this afternoon with great anxiety; past experience tells me that they often tell you solemnly that it's too soon for the package to have come back into the office & try again next week. However all went smoothly. I picked it up around 1:30 this afternoon and have now just spent the last 10-11 hours in a glazed-over daze of reading. It is pure greed, of course I should have spaced it out. Worth every penny. In fact I would probably pay seventy MORE dollars (and spend the next 12 hours reading those books if I could get them instantly) to get such a good haul again.

I'd say that Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is his best book yet. And since I've often said that I think he's the best novelist currently writing in English, this is saying a lot. I was practically in tears at the end. It's subtle and painful and almost unbearably sad. Of course I also love novels about cloning. But really this is a novel about memory and loss and a kind of flattening-out of one's own past, so that a prized possession--in this case, the narrator Kathy H.'s cassette tape of Songs After Dark by Judy Bridgewater--remains prized in spite of the fact that "the music has nothing to do with anything. It's an object, like a brooch or a ring, and especially now Ruth has gone, it's become one of my most precious possessions." You could add this to Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" as best summings-up of what it means to lose things. The "students" at Hailsham misunderstand a teacher's casual reference to Norfolk as England's "lost corner," conflating it with the fact that the "lost corner" is where lost property is kept at the school: "Someone--I can't remember who it was--claimed after the lesson that what Miss Emily had said was that Norfolk was England's 'lost corner', where all the lost property found in the country ended up. Somehow this idea caught on and soon had become accepted fact virtually throughout our entire year." Kathy's precious tape is lost, but she finds another copy years later (this may sound clunky, but it's actually an extremely subtle counterpoint to the cloning stuff): "Norfolk came to be a real source of comfort to us, probably much more than we admitted at the time, and that was why we were still talking about it--albeit as a sort of joke--when we were much older. And that's why, years and years later, that day Tommy and I found another copy of that lost tape of mine in a town on the Norfolk coast, we didn't just think it pretty funny; we both felt deep down some tug, some old wish to believe again in something that was once close to our hearts." Belief, community, shared illusions: Ishiguro is a ridiculously good observer of the finer workings of the alliances and rifts that form in groups under conditions of heightened stress.

On a lighter note (I read these two first), Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones is a pleasant but not stellar installment in her Chrestomanci series. I love Diana Wynne Jones's books, but my favorites are the ones like Fire and Hemlock that are really written as much for adults as for kids. At her best, though, she is an absolutely perfect writer--four or five of her books I read again and again because there is nothing else like them.

And also a most delightful novel about love, Moonshine by Victoria Clayton. Her books are for some reason completely unobtainable in the US, as far as I can tell, and they're not the kind of thing I can get through the university library system. My interest was initially piqued by a widespread blogging discussion last year about her--the story's reported here. I won't bother with lots of links, but an author named Victoria Walker published two children's fantasy novels in the early 1970s--The Winter of Enchantment and The House Called Hadlows--and then vanished. But the novels had a cult-like appeal and people wondered what had ever happened to their author and then it turned out that she'd been living a perfectly productive life & having kids and then in her 40s started publishing novels under her married name, Victoria Clayton. I hadn't read the children's books when I was little, but I requested them at the British Library last time I was there doing research (and felt EXTREMELY decadent taking a couple hours away from the 18th-century stuff to gobble up these books--I didn't love them, they felt rather slight, but I can see why people were struck with them). And she's published six or so of these grown-up novels, and if they are all like the one I just read, they are well worth reading, in a sort of backward-looking vein: think of the nicest novels of Mary Stewart and Joan Aiken with beautiful but sensible and practical-minded English heroines.

There is something wholly addictive about novel-reading, I find; the more I read, the more I want to. I seriously would sit down and read another 700-page novel by Clayton RIGHT NOW if I had it to hand. I've got massive amounts of work to do this coming week, though, so I will hope to restrain myself...


  1. I totally agree with you about Victoria Clayton. I got hooked after "Dance with Me" and have now read ALL her books which I of course have to have shipped from the UK. I've loved all her books... no duds in the lot as far as I'm concerned. Read on.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. "the music has nothing to do with anything. It's an object, like a brooch or a ring, and especially now Ruth has gone, it's become one of my most precious possessions." refers to the tape the tape that Ruth got for Kath to replace the Bridgewater tape. the quote is not about the Bridgewater casette at all.

  5. I have just finished Never Let Me Go and remain in the kind of jarring between-worlds state I remember most vividly as I finished The Magic Mountain 40 years ago. I teach at a lovely boarding school in California and spend the early days of each summer vacation reading indiscriminately, hoping I'll find a book that will just fit the 9th, 10th, or 12th grade. Sometimes my guesses work well (Ordinary People); sometimes I'm just off (I Capture the Castle). I'm thinking of The Remains of the Day for seniors and Never Let Me Go for sophomores. I wonder if any readers have taught either book to a secondary school class.

    On another note, I am most grateful to be reminded of Diana Wynne Jones, one of my favorites from the days in which my eldest son was reading her. Now I'll have to start reading Victoria Clayton!

  6. I found this blog entry while double-checking to make sure Judy Bridgewater was not a real person.

    Of course everyone's tastes differ, but I found Never Let You Go insanely tedious. I felt no sympathy for the characters, who were little more than sheep.

    One of the "rules" of good fiction writing is to show, don't tell -- dramatize, don't just recite. Rules are made to be broken, of course, but this book didn't just break that rule, it reversed it. In the end, Never Let You Go was lots of telling and very little showing.

    I read "Artist of the Floating World" and "Remains Of The Day" and they all suffer from this, but none so acutely as NLYG.

  7. There IS a real Judy Bridgewater who is a singer, dancer and actress from Indianapolis. She is currently on tour with "Menopause: The Musical."