Back to books!
I’m back to devouring fiction. Below are a few notes on the why and the what.
Until 2 weeks ago I hadn’t read any fiction for nearly two years. The reasons are easy to list: Netflix, toddlers, ironing, full-time job, ‘my Kindle is by my bed’… And then a few things happened (just day-to-day stuff with extra resonance, nothing criminal or negligent) and now I’m writing extra-quickly so I can get my nose back in my book.
These are the things that happened:
- A child (of mine!) started school with an empty, but proudly-held, bookbag. I crumbled a bit inside when I realised my bookbag had been empty for quite a while.
- I was waiting for a meeting in the Eastside Visitor Centre and spotted ‘Female Lines, New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland’. I’d been meaning to buy this anthology as soon as I heard about it, driven both by excitement and a sense of duty and responsibility. That was nearly a year ago.
- Standing in line to pay for the weekly shop I clocked a copy of ‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman in a stack on special offer at the end of the till. A conversation floated back to me – a friend of a friend at a party – an English Literature teacher (is that relevant?!) – highly recommending the novel, and my subsequent excited anticipation. Well over a year ago.
- In one of my 3-minute-social-media-forays that drive my husband to distraction I came across a list of book recommendations under the heading ‘fiction to empower women’ (I now can’t find the list, a testament to my use of social media) but I did scribble down some titles – see below – and had an equally frenzied Amazon* session.
(*Amazon met an immediate need. See ‘Where to Find’ below which lists a few of Belfast book retailers I’ve been frequenting in the last weeks.)
I’ve never been in a book club but I’m compelled to pretend I am by writing this, so I wrote a few notes on a few books –
Female Lines, New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland
Edited by Linda Anderson & Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado. First published 2017 by New Island Books.
I’ve been dipping in, and here’s what’s really struck me so far:
Jan Carson’s short story ‘Egg’ (a story commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and originally performed on 12 March 2017 by Roisin Gallagher). Description or analysis from me won’t do it justice, I just loved it. My heart was wrenched, but not in a painful way. I’m still thinking about it.
There’s some space in the anthology dedicated to reflections on experiences of making work. I found these riveting:
‘The Hijacked Writer’, Rosemary Jenkinson – an essay on the challenges for women playwrights- through the journey of her play ‘Here Comes The Night’ and embedded in the politics of the arts in Northern Ireland.
‘On Writing Three Sisters’, Lucy Caldwell – charting her obsession with Chekhov’s play to the process of the rewrite (set in 1990s Belfast): ‘You think you know a play. Then you climb inside it’; to the previews and to Trump’s election as President in the final days of the run. It reads as a deeply personal and yet wholly inclusive testament to an experience full of challenges and often despair. ‘When Three Sisters opened, I felt I’d never write another play again. By the time is closed, I knew that if I didn’t start one straightaway I’d lose my nerve and never would’.
Both writers mention press – the impact of reviews on them (i.e. they do matter!) ‘…a play is a living, breathing thing and a vicious review can kill it’ (Caldwell), and the low standard of reviews from within Northern Ireland. Says Jenkinson ‘Another problem with local reviewers is that they reflect Northern Ireland’s artistic inferiority complex in refusing to believe that a local play can be as brilliant as one first mounted in London or Dublin’.
Next up some poetry, and an essay by Margaret Ward.
The ‘Empowering Women’ list
Margaret Drabble, The Millstone. First Published 1965.
The cover photograph of my Penguin edition is weirdly literal; I’m not sure I would have picked it up off the shelf! It implies, as does the title itself, a gruelling and heavy read. I’m half-way through and it’s really not. It’s delicate and funny. Our narrator Rosamund is making a stand, although not necessarily out of choice. She’s self-possessed and self-deprecating. She dates two men in order not to feel obliged to have sex with either. I found a brilliant article on the book by Tessa Hadley which I’m also half way through so as to avoid any spoilers.
Edna O’Brien, The Country Girls. Released in 1960
I’m embarrassed didn’t know of these works (‘The Country Girls’ is the first of a trilogy that includes ‘Girl with Green Eyes’ and ‘Girls in their Married Bliss’), nor of the public outcry that followed their publication. In an Irish Times article from last year Eimear McBride writes: ‘The moral hysteria that greeted the book ensured that both it and O’Brien have become era-defining symbols of the struggle for Irish women’s voices to be heard.’
Other titles from the list:
Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac
Mary Wollstonecraft, Letters written during a short residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark
Nora Ephron, I feel bad about my neck
A closing note on Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
I LOVED THIS BOOK! I loved it so much. I want time to pass by a bit quicker so there’s a legitimate window before I read it again. I’m so late to the party that there’s going to be a major motion picture out any moment now. Reading fiction makes me feel like I’m in my own private motion picture – characters, emotions and landscapes actively playing in my subconscious.
Where to find books in Belfast
- No Alibis (Also check out their Events Programme) Northern Ireland’s only independent crime fiction bookshop. And more.
- Linenhall Library Charity Bookshop – Fountain Square, College Street (just around the corner from the Fountain Street entrance)
- Eastside Visitor Centre – Selection of books for sale in Café JACK
- I’ve also been scouring every charity shop I’ve passed. Most recent purchase is Harriet Harman’s very accessible, often eye-opening political memoir – A Woman’s Work.
- LIBRARIES, LIBRARIES, LIBRARIES! Also check out their events programmes. And remember to write in support when you’ve valued something: firstname.lastname@example.org
See for example below: