Sunday, May 11, 2008

the good the bad and the postscript

I don’t have many memories of bedtime storytelling from my childhood. It’s not that my parents were neglectful, I just wasn’t particularly interested in books until my mid teens. I do remember my father reading tales of The Secret Seven to me when I was in hospital with a broken leg. But no abundance of early fairytale flavoured memories.

But when I read Jeanette Winterson I feel like I’m remembering that feeling. That primitive need to be absorbed and entertained by a crazy tale. And Lighthousekeeping is a great one. Like a vine in an enchanted forest it loops and tangles. Sometimes it catches my ankle and trips me up. Sometimes it cradles me in its coils and lets me dream.

‘It was an uncomfortable place; the wind screeched at the windows, a hammock was half the price of a bed, and a bed was twice the price of a good night’s sleep. The food was mountain mutton that tasted like fencing, or hen tough as a carpet, that came flying in, all a-squawk behind the cook, who smartly broke its neck.’

And the fact that it’s sea based is icing on the cupcake. I think that sea based novels are creeping up to sit on the pedestal previously reserved for cold-based novels.

‘…I am splintered by great waves. I am coloured glass from a church window long since shattered. I find pieces of myself everywhere, and I cut myself handling them.’

Other books fall short of the pedestal. The Other Side of You was one of those books that I finish yet remain unsure whether I enjoyed it or not. What I do know is that Salley Vickers (who I can’t resist calling Salty Knickers!) always surprises me. For some reason I expect her to write novels that are one step up from chick-lit, but actually she writes intelligent and dense stories. And that the relationship between a psychiatrist and patient makes for an interesting novel - although I have read better versions of the story, with Clare Dudman’s 98 Reasons for Being and Patrick McGrath’s Asylum springing to mind. And that while I like novels that refer to characters love of particular artists, I didn’t feel particularly interested by all the talk of Caravaggio. Perhaps you have to like the artist referred to if you are to enjoy the novel? But that my main problem was the narrator. His tone irritated me throughout and I struggled to maintain sympathy with him. This reminded me of how I feel when I read John Banville.

Both novels had one of those P.S. sections at the back where they put an author interview, lists of recommended books, and essays about aspects of the novel. In Winterson’s I was charmed to read,

‘I wanted to pile stories on top of stories, like bedcovers for a cold night.’

While I found myself quite irritated with Ms Vickers own written voice, so perhaps my tone problem shouldn’t be blamed on her character alone? Its nothing personal, she probably wouldn’t like me either!.