I am currently reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. It is about endings and it’s overall very depressing. All of the chapters are poignant, but it was the chapter for Ted that I have been most moved by. Egan’s descriptions of Ted’s desire and his relationship with his wife are beautiful and tragic. Here are two excerpts.
Yet each disappointment Ted felt in his wife, each incremental deflation, was accompanied by a seizure of guilt; many years ago, he had taken the passion he felt for Susan and folded it in half, so he no longer had a drowning, helpless feeling when he glimpsed her beside him in bed: her ropy arms and soft, generous ass. The he’d folded it in half again, so when he felt desire for Susan, it no longer brought with it an edgy terror of never being satisfied. Then in half again, so that feeling desire entailed no immediate need to act. Then in half again, so he hardly felt it. His desire was so small in the end that Ted could slip it inside his desk or a pocket and forget about it, and this gave him a feeling of safety and accomplishment, of having dismantled a perilous apparatus that might have crushed them both.
As Ted sat, feeling the evolution of the afternoon, he found himself thinking of Susan. Not the slightly different version of Susan, but Susan herself — his wife — on a day many years ago, before Ted had begun folding up his desire into the tiny shape it had become. On a trip to New York, riding the Staten Island Ferry for fun, because neither one of them had ever done it, Susan turned to him suddenly and said, ‘Let’s make sure it’s always like this.’ And so entwined were their thoughts at that point that Ted knew exactly why she’d said it: not because they’d made love that morning or drunk a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé at lunch — because she’d felt the passage of time. And then, Ted felt it, too, in the leaping brown water, the scudding boats and wind — motion, chaos everywhere — and he’d held Susan’s hand and said, ‘Always. It will always be like this.’
Recently, he’d mentioned that trip in some other context and Susan had looked him full in the face and chimed, in her sunny new voice, ‘Are you sure that was me? I don’t remember a thing about it!’ and administered a springy little kiss to the top of Ted’s head. Amnesia, he’d thought. Brainwashing. But it came to him now that Susan had simply been lying. He’d let her go, conserving himself for — what? It frightened Ted that he had no idea. But he’d let her go and she was gone.
So the book I’m reading, that was handed to me at Owl Bookshop, is super famous. It’s a South American masterpiece and has even been made into a film starring Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Antonio Banderas, Winona Ryder and Glenn Close. I am kind of stunned by this. I’d never heard of it before.
I’m only at the fourth chapter, but I’m quite taken. It’s not fantasy at all, which is what the owner of Owl Bookshop led me to believe, but it does have a lot of magic realism. It tells the story of a family over four generations and I am only at the early stages, the first generation, but it’s captivating. The way it is written is all winding descriptions and chapters begin with one story and lead into many more before rejoining the original tale at the end in full circle — each chapter its own story, which is how books should be written but so frequently are not (i.e. my own book).
Not close to finishing, but I will keep this copy (discarded by a library in Shropshire before somehow making its way to Turkey) and I am sure it will be handed on to others.
It seems to keep odd hours. I went over at about 10am but it was closed. I thought I might give it one more shot, since it’s likely I’ll finish Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper tonight. So I went over and indeed it was open now, after 4pm.
There was a black cat there that desperately wanted my attention. I patted it for a while but then it started nipping so I was like, cat, if you want to be petted you can’t bite.
The owner, whose name is in the Lonely Planet and who has an extremely deep voice, helped to find me some fantasy after I eventually asked. He gave me the first two books in a series that looks way too commercial so I just put them back. Then he gave me this one I’ve never heard of but sounded OK and I eventually bought.
He then suggested Mervyn Peake to me and I told him I’ve got all three Gormenghast at home but have not read yet. The truth is, I tried reading Titus Groan at least three times and couldn’t do it. It’s so slow, plodding.
I noticed though that he had a copy of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and suggested that if he likes Mervyn Peake he should give it a go, it’s widely praised (by me as well) and being made into a TV show which must give it cred. He seemed a little intrigued and then a few moments later came back with a notepad and pen and asked me to write down my favourite fantasy authors. I went a little blank, but wrote down Ursula K. Le Guin, Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Sheri S. Tepper, Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones. He asked me if fantasy was my genre and I said that it was most definitely and it keeps me writing.
I paid him six lira for my chosen book and said I may be back some other time. I thought it was a good exchange. Maybe I’ll give Titus another go.
George R.R. Martin is a cruel writer. I am more than three quarters through A Storm of Swords and it is thoroughly depressing. Martin makes you feel genuinely passionate about so many characters and then ruthlessly kills them off. The good guys never win in this story. And if they get ahead, they get set back four times faster. And the worst thing is you know it’s coming, but you still cling to the hope that goodness and justice will triumph, but they never do.
It’s very hard getting through this book. I don’t even know if I’ll pick up A Feast for Crows for a while, see if I can find some more heartening reading.
— Mikael Blomkvist, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson.