April was all about mysteries. I started by re-reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894). The stories are still enjoyable, but they no longer have the hold they had in my teens, when just one would set me off on a Sherlock Holmes reading frenzy. After that, I moved onto The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie. This is the first story featuring Hercule Poirot (because I like to do things in order). Then I read the much more contemporary Blue Monday (2011) by Nicci French, which is the first in the Frieda Klein series and was recommended to me by @Gherkinette on twitter. It’s smart, easy to read, not overly violent and I really like the psychotherapist detective. To give myself a break from the mysteries, I also read American Primitive (1983) by Mary Oliver and it was lovely.
In May I finished the wicked, subversive Lolly Willowes (1926), by Sylvia Townsend-Warner, and Hilary Mantel’s life-affirming Fludd (1989). Although these are very different books, they both offer stories about transformation and the importance of owning your own life. In non-fiction, I read Andrew Martin’s Ghoul Britannia: Notes from a Haunted Isle (2009) because I’m interested in our cultural fascination with ghosts. It’s an amusing take on the development of the ghost story, but it felt a bit underdeveloped and the text was full of editing mistakes.
Five things that interested me recently.
I liked Suzanne Heintz’s artistic response to the question Why aren’t you married yet? Fourteen years worth of pictures of herself posing with a mannequin family certainly draws attention to the mythology of white, middle-class family “happiness”. Even though Suzanne is posing with mannequins, these images and the meanings they are supposed to convey (and impose) are instantly recognisable. Perhaps she’s also suggesting that people don’t care who the members of her family are, or what her relationship with them might be, as long as “family” is performed in the correct way. There is even the suggestion that this mythology reduces people to the status of mannequins. Roland Barthes would be proud.
Ludovic Florent’s series of photographs Poussiere d’etoiles (stardust) inspired me after a difficult day. These images that capture dancers interacting with a cloud of flour are a gorgeous tribute to the art of dance and the power of the human body.
she put all the letters into Elinor’s hands; and then covering her face with her handkerchief, almost screamed with agony.
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
In February I celebrated my birthday. Then I spent the rest of the month being ill with a chest infection. March was emotionally intense, but it ended well with a visit to London that included meeting up with wonderful twitter friends.
My favourite books were Patricia Highsmith’s novel Carol (1952) and Christopher Bram’s non-fiction work, Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers who Changed America. Carol is a wonderful lesbian novel, noirish, romantic, suspenseful and ultimately uncompromising. I loved Eminent Outlaws and really want to write about it at length. I hung onto it until the library demanded it back, but I just couldn’t articulate my thoughts. At some point there may be a post about not being able to write about Eminent Outlaws.
“Effort had always been my avenue for success. I may not have had the intelligence or the ability of others, but I could usually trump whatever I was lacking with my dogged determination. As I explored effort, I saw that much of my tension came from a need to succeed, and until I addressed that urge, the impulse to improve would be behind all my spiritual labor. As I explored the desire to achieve, the psychological pain of unworthiness that had been driving the effort surfaced. Other questions arose, like “Where is all this effort taking me?” and “How will I know when I get there?” I realized from these questions that I had no idea where my effort was pointing and no blueprint or arrival information. All I had was what other people had told me, and that just led to more confusion and striving. Perhaps the most disturbing understanding that arose through this line of inquiry was that I was on my own, and I now realized I was hopelessly lost.”
Rodney Smith, Stepping out of Self-Deception: the Buddha’s liberating teaching of no self, (Boston & London: Shambala, 2010), p. 67.
It was a sudden revelation, a tinge like a blush which one tried to check and then, as it spread, one yielded to its expansion, and rushed to the farthest verge and there quivered and felt the world come closer, swollen with some astonishing significance, some pressure of rapture, which split its thin skin and gushed and poured with an extraordinary alleviation over the cracks and sores. Then, for that moment, she had seen an illumination; a match burning in a crocus; an inner meaning almost expressed. But the close withdrew; the hard softened. It was over – the moment.
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, edited by David Bradshaw, (Oxford; New York, 2000), p. 27.
Gay’s the Word is an essential stop for us whenever we visit London. This time around, we picked up Alexis De Veaux’s Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde (2004) in the used section for £5. The used shelves also yielded up a couple of good lesbian short story collections: Anna Livia and Lilian Mohan (eds.) The Pied Piper: Lesbian Feminist Fiction (1989), which contains stories by the likes of Gillian Hanscombe, Patricia Duncker and Mary Dorcey, and Ruthann Robson’s Lambda nominated Eye of a Hurricane (1989).
Andy bought a new copy of Lolly Willows (1926) by Sylvia Townsend Warner. This is a novel about a middle-aged spinster who abandons her family responsibilities to become a witch. She also got Ash (2009) by Malinda Lo, which is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella and had the shop assistant raving. Apparently, he’s bought it for all his friends.