Posted in Reading on Sunday 20th February 2005 at 11:13pm
For a very long dull period I have felt almost unable to read at all. This weekend whilst suffering a degree of mental disquiet, I have finally begun to devour literature once again. The text which restored my faith in the printed word was A Clergyman's Daughter - a strange, severe little novel which most Orwellians seem to recommend against reading in favour of one of his more influential titles, but which I've been meaning to pick up since the Literary London conference last summer.
What struck me most about the novel was how similar it was to a Gissing novel of the early period - a series of 'happenings' connected by long passages of psychological examination of faith and doubt, poverty and duty. Themes not dissimilar to those Born In Exile in a strange way.
Perhaps unsuprising then to find this passage in Chapter 4:
She ate her Christmas dinner - a hard-boiled egg, two cheese sandwiches, and a bottle of lemonade - in the woods near Burnham, against a great gnarled beech tree, over a copy of George Gissing's The Odd Women.That Orwell admired Gissing is not in doubt, and has been explored thoroughly elsewhere. Perhaps what suprised me most is how in this reportedly inferior novel of the 1930s Orwell achieved the very flat, greyness of tone which he so admired in Gissing to remarkable effect. Along the way he manages to debunk the state-sponsored dominance of the crumbling (both in faith and in fabric) Church of England, in a manner that I can only imagine Gissing would have applauded.
Posted in Reading on Tuesday 24th August 2004 at 10:01pm
I'm still gradually working my way through a reading list greatly extended at last month's Literary London conference. On the surface, these events could easily make me feel hideously under-educated and poorly read, but what they do in a rather warm, comfortable way is to show me other people's obsessions and interests.
Hence Storm Jameson. Until a month ago, a mystery to me. I'm writing somewhat prematurely - being 50% of the way into a collection of short novels and stories entitled 'A Day Off'. Prolific, politcal and feminist in a raw, egalitarian manner, Jameson writes with passion, energy and pace. The giddy shifts in narrative voice, and the incisive moves between blindness and insight of social interaction which she represents so painstakingly have aged somewhat over the past sixty or so years, but they still strike a chord.
A few successful forays on eBay have yielded further novels which I've pushed onto my stack. Criminally, Jameson appears to be entirely out of print despite mid-eighties Virago reprints of some of her work. I have no idea if I am reading well within her work. Perhaps someone out there can guide me?
Some links to biographical information:
Spartacus (includes picture)
Posted in Reading on Tuesday 11th May 2004 at 7:47am
I really enjoyed 'The Victorians', Wilson's last effort. It seemed to link the dominant themes of the Victorian era effortlessly - even when they seemed at odds (grinding poverty and the pursuit of culture for example). It avoided the 'lots of important men invented big things' mentality of many recent reviews of the 19th Century both in print and on television.
So, I had high hopes for this accurately titled little book. Its size certainly concerned me however. After the weight and authority of Stephen Inwood's 'History of London' and the sheer overwhelming emotional sweep of Peter Ackroyd's 'London - A Biography', one expects more pages from a history of London. From the outset however, it is clear that this is a different kind of book. Wilson's breezy dash through the accepted version of the history of London rarely digresses into the underbelly. Nods to Booth and Mayhew accept poverty as a given, and in a traditional 'history book' style the people of the city and the buildings and infrastructure are rarely related by Wilson.
By the middle of the book we are in the Second World War, and the book begins to change. From here in, Wilson becomes entagled in immigration, cultural diversity and modern architechture. He seems uncertain where he stands on any of the topics, and settles on padding out a variety of statistics on immigration, crime and transport with some pictures of buildings he deems 'silly'. In a sense Wilson is reflecting the quiet and rarely expressed ambivalence that British people feel here - wanting to accept a cosmopolitan society but terrified and misled by media representations of the 'unknown' of Islam for example. However, it seems to me that nowhere is this tension brought more to the fore than in modern London - and nowhere is it more often successfully resolved. Wilson, rather typically dwells on the incidents which have caused death and controversy, revisiting the crime scenes but drawing no conclusions. I sense that Wilson wants to say some controversial things here, but is very aware of the sort of people who read his work. He strikes a safe middle ground between Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, and besides a deep dislike for Ken Livingstone, doesn't give away any secrets.
Perhaps I expect more from a London book because I receive more from the city? In the closing chapter Wilson in fairness, does hint at the secret history of London, the dead who walk the ancient pattern of streets along with the living. Perhaps too, I'm far more prepared to accept the past as a rather closer neighbour than Wilson does, because I don't (indeed as Wilson justly points out couldn't afford to) live in modern London?
I am often accused of living in the past, which is a fair and accurate charge. This book however, by taking what seems a deliberately inconclusive position on the difficulties of a modern capital city, falls short of living in the present.
Posted in Reading on Thursday 1st April 2004 at 11:41pm
I took the opportunity during my visit to Wakefield yesterday to take some pictures of Gissing's birthplace at 60 Westgate. I've placed the gallery here
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.