Monday, 20 June 2011

The right friends

Conflict between writing and other duties - a newsletter to prepare, 10 days to do it in, not much - inviting friends for dinner - some are beginning to take offence at our unsociability - karate, cooking and cleaning. It is now 11:30 am and have been up since 7:30 and done only cooking and cleaning. Nothing written except this.

Writing Walter: I shall write 1000 words every day.

I'll give myself an hour to write write and write - no holds barred - about the synagogue destruction, before moving on to other things.

Memo: I was telling a friend something and she said, It's a story - meaning - Write it! Last time, I did what she suggested - very satisfying. When I came to write this one, I'd forgotten what it was about. I shall sit quietly and hope it'll come back,  I know I've told this one before, so shall probably want to tell it again.

The importance of having the right friends.

I've remembered the story now. About Greece.

Friday, 17 June 2011


A blobby day, too much physical exercise has tired me out. Rest does not seem to help - even lying down feels like an effort.

And so re-read Milan Kundera's Slowness (Faber and Faber, 1996) in a good translation (from the French) by Linda Asher. The original La Lenteur was published in '96. I'd bought it because of its title as well as because of Kundera, because I'd just finished a brilliant book translated from German, The Discovery of Slowness (2004) by S. Nadolny, translated from German by R. Freedman from Die Entdeckung der Langsamheit (1999), which is the biography of John Franklin, an exceptional man, who suffered from a slowness in his ability to process incoming stimuli, and developed a profound understanding of many things nevertheless. He became Governor of Tasmania (19th century).

I once asked a clever psychologist whether speed (of response to the questions of a test) and intelligence were always linked, and he was surprised and said of course; indeed, the Wechsler Intelligence test - commonly known as the IQ test - rates people partly on the speed of their responses. This book shows how that might lead to an erroneous assessment.

To return to Kundera's book. It is three-quarters good: the ending is disappointing, almost trite. Most of it is witty and very well written, often describing a superficial intellectual discussion between men, with a commentary on what is happening underneath, who wins and who loses and by what process - which may not always be of interest to a less competitive person. But some of the ideas are fun to play with: the connection between memory and speed - the faster we go, the less we remember of our experience. A central story shows and discusses how a slow movement of the characters from one place to another enhances the memory of the events; Kundera contrasts slow and fast - one person dives into a pool, aware only of himself, another is shown - approvingly - as entering the water cautiously, slowly, gracefully - more aware.

The letter to the publisher regarding the translation was posted today.

My writing is bogged down, though little sparks appear every now and then, which may illuminate the way forward. Started chapter 2 of what I call Writing Walter. A temporary title.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Kill your darlings...

Talking with a knowledgeable friend about the short story: she would like me to remove the beginning; I am attached to it.

Kill your darlings! they say. Following that decree, I should get rid of it, though I can't see why.

Changing the story to the first person was a fruitful exercise - it is now longer and more fleshed out. I think I can do more of this, catching events that seem to be almost at the periphery of my consciousness, which gain unexpected importance as I write about them. New vistas open up.

Does the short version leave too much unsaid, especially for those who have no other insight into the society and times that are described? It is interesting to think about.

Still no letter to the publisher re the translation: I must just do it.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A happy ending

Olive Kittering by Elizabeth Strout (Randomo House, 2008): a good book, a very good writer, Pulitzer Prize-winner, I'm surprised I'd never heard of her before.

The format is not the usual novel: about twenty short stories take place chronologically in the same little town in Maine, with the characters reappearing in various chapters, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes briefly mentioned as if at a distance. The language is spare, the psychological truth of the characters a great strength. I particularly liked the way people conjecture about other people's motivations or states of mind and get it wrong, as in real life. 

There is mostly an atmosphere of depression and disappointment, which is redeemed in the last chapter, where Olive finds happiness. I wondered whether the publisher said, Really, Liz, do something about this, too too gloomy...

Indeed some of the reviews complain about that, and a friend of mine never finished the book, because some of the painful events are too similar to what has happened in her own life, through no fault of her own. Reading Elizabeth's biography, found that she qualified in law and attained a Certificate in Gerontology at the same time, the latter being a social work degree. She is very bright and in her mid-fifties.

Plan to review the short story for an hour - no more - and get on to the book again. Ch is out and the house is quiet and warm. Great!

Still reading No Simple Passage, a little irritated that it is not over by now, am finishing it in order to finish.
One word too many on p. 208 - After the 1884 earthquake:.. "Even the Jews... humiliate themselves, fasting from even until even and uniting with their brother colonists in fervent supplication to Him..."  What is this Even? Christianity is descended from Judaism, and Jews humiliate themselves ritually on the Day of Atonement every year...Frequent fasts are ordained in Orthodox Judaism. It is in accordance with their creed. I am also not sure that 'eating up large' is such a feature of the Feast of the Tabernacles, it has more to do with what you eat, not how much.