Sebastian Barry’s THE SECRET SCRIPTURE, p. 75

There’s been a fire in the girls’ wing of an orphanage in Sligo.  The narrator’s father is both a Presbyterian and a rat-catcher, could there be anything else so unholy in Catholic Sligo? One-hundred and twenty-three girls die in the fire.

At the inquest which my father attended, a girl who survived offered an extraordinary explanation for the fire.  She said she had been lying in her bed trying to sleep, facing the old fireplace where a little heap of coals lay smoldering, when she heard a scuffling and a squealing and a little miniature instance of mayhem.  She went up on her elbows the better to see, and it was an animal she said, something thin and galloping like a rat, on fire, his fur burning with unusual venom, running about the room, and setting alight as he went the poor web-thin sheets that graced the girls’ beds, falling in drapes to the bare floor.  And before anyone else knew what was happening, there were little fires burning in a hundred places, and the girl leaped up and called to her sister orphans and fled from the growing inferno.

Turns out the narrator’s father had just been burning rats, earlier that night.

Oh can anyone write like Sebastian Barry?  Self thinks not.

Stay tuned.

Sebastian Barry’s THE SECRET SCRIPTURE, pp. 28 – 30

Must. Get. Through. This. Novel. At. All. Costs.

Because the next novel on her list is Richard Price’s Lush Life.  But she can’t get to it until she finishes this one.  That’s been her vow.  So, this morning, she manfully addresses “the book in question.”

The main protagonist, Roseanne McNulty, is an inmate in a mental hospital.  As she approaches her 100th (!) birthday, her doctor tells her that she may have one chance left for freedom: the old hospital is being torn down, and old records are being examined, hers included.  The doctor has suspected for quite some time that Mrs. McNulty was wrongly institutionalized; she’s not, in other words, mentally defective and neither is she suffering from some psychological disorder.

In the passage self is reading, the doctor decides to confide his thoughts about her incarceration to Mrs. McNulty:

Dread, like a sickness, a memory of a sickness, the first time in many years I had felt it.

“Are you all right, Roseanne?  Please don’t be agitated.”

“Of course I want freedom, Dr. Grene.  But it frightens me.”

“The gaining of freedom,” said Dr. Grene pleasantly, “is always accomplished in an atmosphere of uncertainty.  In this country at least.  Perhaps in all countries.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

“Words With Writers” Interview with Sebastian Barry

Self has decided that her reading list is too bloated.

From now on, or just for the next year anyway, she will read only books by LIVING writers.

Well, that helped.  Self got rid of perhaps 1/3 of the books on her list.

She’s still reading Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture.

She decides to look up interviews he’s given, and comes up with a gem on a site called “Words With Writers.”

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?

All of us inevitably become experienced in the world, by the mere process of living in it; but my ideal reader perhaps can put aside the cargo of experience somewhat, and access also their original innocence, so that sense is also brought to the book in their lap.

Is there a quote about writing that inspires you?

I very much like the anonymous but astute definition that “a novel is a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

2014 Mendocino Writers Conference, July 31 – Aug. 2

The Mendocino Writers Conference starts Thursday, July 31 and runs to Saturday, Aug. 2 at College of the Redwoods in Mendocino.

The conference is now in its 25th year, which is pretty amazing.

Kudos to the Mendocino Art Center folks, who work so tirelessly to Read the rest of this entry »

Sebastian Barry, Again

(It occurs to self that she never stumbled across anything by Barry when she was at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, in May.  And she did give those bookshelves a good going-over.  Oh mystery!)

The book self is currently reading is Barry’s 2008 novel, The Secret Scripture (She advanced five pages since yesterday.  Today, she’s on p. 13):

His voice entered my head as a sort of honey, that lingered there potently, buzzingly, banishing all the fears of childhood.  As the voice rose up, so did all of him, arms, whiskers, one foot swinging a little over the old carpet with its pattern of repeating dogs, his eyes brimming with a strange merriment.  Even Napoleon might not have scorned him as a man of elevated qualities.  At such moments he exhibited a most beautiful timbre in the quiet passages of songs that to this day I have never heard outmatched.  Many fine singers made their way to Sligo when I was a young woman and sang in the halls under the rain, and for a few of the more popular sort I even played piano accompaniment, chopping out the notes and chords for them, more of a hindrance than a help to them perhaps.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Reading List, 3rd Wednesday of July (2014)

Time for self to get serious again with her reading.

These are the list of books she plans to read.  It is telling that they are all novels.

Well, the last one, by Alan Furst, is more of a thriller.

She’s never read him before, so she’s glad for a chance to get to know him.

Without further ado, the list:

  • Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture (Self adores Barry)
  • Richard Price’s The Lush Life (It’s set in New York City.  Self loves New York City.)
  • Janice Y. K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher (It’s set in Hong Kong.  Self loves Hong Kong.)
  • Alan Furst’s Dark Star (Self doesn’t know where this is set.  In fact, she hardly knows anything about this novel except that it was recommended in a back issue of Condé Nast Traveler)

Here’s a passage from The Secret Scripture, pp. 11 -12:

It is funny, but it strikes me that a person without anecdotes that they nurse while they live, and that survive them, are more likely to be utterly lost not only to history but the family following them.  Of course this is the fate of most souls, reducing entire lives, no matter how vivid and wonderful, to those sad black names on withering family trees, with half a date dangling after and a question mark.

My father’s happiness not only redeemed him, but drove him to stories, and keeps him even now alive in me, like a second more patient and more pleasing soul . . .

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Because July 4, 2014 Is Just Around the Corner

The Fourth of July is one of self’s faaaaavorite holidays, for many reasons:  the red, white and blue!  The parades!  The picnics!  The fireworks!  The summer heat (if a parade takes place in less than scorching weather, it’s not really a parade, in self’s humble opinion)! The crowds! The mood!  The retro rock music!

In honor of this year’s holiday (which falls on a Friday, thus making the weekend a three-day, which means everyone — those getting away as well those doing staycations — is in a mellow mood), the Wall Street Journal asked six Americans — a potter; a world-champion swimmer; a novelist; a fashion designer; a CEO; and a performance artist for their own particular takes on the concept of “Independence.”

Here’s what the novelist, Richard Ford, has to say:

Independence contains the seeds of drama — the very thing a novelist is looking for — because it always implies independence away from something.  It also confers consequence on a person and a complex sense of interiority, which are also things that novelists are interested in.  But does it confer strength or powerlessness?  That question is part of the American narrative.  A month before my novel Independence Day was published, I threw out the ending and wrote a new one, which we used, in which my protagonist, Frank, is standing beside a Fourth of July parade as it marches down the street and feeling the urge to join in.  Whether or not I knew it before I started the book, I knew then for certain that the real virtue of independence was the degree to which it allows you to join the human race, rather than stand apart.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Saltiness of Language

Today self finally got to see the Book of Kells.

It’s cool that you pay 5 euros (about $7) for an audio tour but you get to keep it.  The device is about the size of a cigarette lighter.

Self’s advice for anyone who wants to see it is:  go in the morning, first thing.  Self got to the exhibit at around 1 p.m., and it was packed.  Everyone wants to gaze reverently at the book itself, under glass, so you feel guilty about lingering.  Plus if you’re as diminutive as self is, you’ll be trampled.  Honestly.

Afterwards, she went to Bewley’s, where she re-lived memories of having tea and scones with the writer Catherine Dunne (through the kind intro of Zack Linmark, who connected Catherine and self on FB) on only her second day in Ireland.

Today, she got a seat on the second floor of Bewley’s and had some tea.

She’s been reading Catherine Dunne’s newest novel (which she autographed, such a thrill), The Things We Know, which begins on a boat:

We had just heeled over, at a good forty-five degree angle.  The spray soaked the two of us and small pools of water blistered across the deck.  They glinted up at us, filled with late afternoon sunshine.  We were in our element.

The husband and wife on the boat are in some kind of emotional crisis.  The husband describes his wife:  “She seemed brittle, her eyes had darkened like seawater.”

There is a kind of pungency to the Irish voice.  It doesn’t matter who is speaking, conversations just naturally seem to veer towards the darkly comic.

For instance, this morning she overheard the following conversation:

Man:  Lovely day.

Woman:  Isn’t it.  A lady was murdered.  She was having an affair apparently and her husband found out.

Man:  Well she won’t be doing that again.

Stay tuned.

 

A Reading List (No Joyce! Or Swift!): Historical Fiction

Near Temple Bar, Dublin

Near Temple Bar, Dublin

Self rode around Dublin on the Hop On-Hop Off double-decker bus today (the weather was gorgeous!).  Self met two fellow Americans who, it turns out, hail from Daly City, California!  She stayed on that bus for about two hours.  Her thoughts began to revolve around UK-centric historical fiction she has read and enjoyed.

Naturally, she loves Catherine Dunne (especially Another Kind of Life) and Sarah Waters (especially Fingersmith and The Night Watch), but here are some others that sprang to mind:

Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott:  Set at the time of the Norman Conquest (plus self remembers it was made into a pretty fab BBC mini-series, with Ciaran Hinds playing villain)

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy (Surely that’s a pseudonym?  This was the novel self voraciously read and re-read, summers in Bacolod)

The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff (Did anyone see Channing in the film adaptation?  So gorgeous, even when wearing Roman toga)

From Hell, by Alan Moore (The first book self bought on this trip; she spent a gorgeous April afternoon reading it in Russell Square, and then had to mail it home because it was too heavy to lug to Ireland)

One of self’s all-time favorites is Sebastian Barry’s anguished novel of World War I, A Long, Long Way.

And she knows a writer who is addicted to Nora Roberts.

Today self bought a wee pocketbook from the National Gallery of Art:  The Happy Prince & Other Stories by Oscar Wilde.  Oh, she cried already after reading the title story.  It was just so — poignant.  The swallow and the Prince, each dying of neglect, but united by generosity of spirit (Clearly, self adores angst!)

Now to read the next story, “The Nightingale and the Rose.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Gogol and Jhumpa

For some reason, self’s reading pace in 2014 has been positively glacial.

She brought three books with her when she left California, and she’s only managed to finish one:  the Jhumpa Lahiri collection Unaccustomed Earth.

What happened was, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, she wrote like she was on fire.  She was only able to read a few pages at a time of UE. By the last week of her stay in Annaghmakerrig, she’d calmed down and began re-reading the last three stories of UE.  And only then was she truly able to appreciate the stories’ many-layered richness.

Then, she left the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and began an odyssey that included:  Dublin, Cambridge, Oxford, and Cork.

She’s still in Cork, by the way.  If anyone’s trying to keep tabs.

Here she is, on p. 14 of Jhumpa’s novel The Namesake, which she began reading two weeks ago (Self wasn’t kidding when she described her reading pace as glacial).  It begins, with all things, with a character being moved — no, haunted — by Gogol’s story “The Overcoat.”

Self will quote a little excerpt, and then she has to make herself go outside because the day really is too beautiful.

Ashoke was always devastated when Akaky was robbed “in a square that looked to him like a dreadful desert,” leaving him cold and vulnerable, and Akaky’s death, some pages later, never failed to bring tears to his eyes.  In some ways the story made less sense each time he read it, the scenes he pictured so vividly, and absorbed so fully, growing more elusive and profound.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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