I’ve at last finished THE HABIT OF BEING, a selection of her letters. It took me weeks. There are 600 pages, I only have a certain amount of time and energy for this kind of reading, and it took me a while to get into them. In particular it was hard for me as a Quaker to enter into her devout Catholicism and the racism of some of her attitudes, though common for that time and place, was still hard to swallow. But I am glad I keep going. As I got close to the end, I kept looking anxiously to see how many pages there were left, knowing that she was soon to die young and sorry that there wasn’t going to be any more. It reminded me of when I read the MEMORIALS OF EDWARD BURNE-JONES years ago in the library of the Barber Institute in Birmingham and found myself in tears when I got to the end. It is a curious thing, reading about someone’s life as it unfurls and all the time knowing what they cannot know: when it will end.
What I particularly enjoyed -in addition to the salty humour – were her thoughts on writing.
‘When you present a pathetic situation, you have to let it speak entirely for itself . . . you have to present it and leave it alone.’
‘You can suggest something obvious is going to happen but you cannot have it happen in a story. You can’t clobber any reader while he is looking. You divert his attention, then you clobber him, and he never knows what hit him.’
‘It appears I have finished my novel . . . someone said you don’t finish one you just say to hell with it.’
She also once wrote something along these lines: ‘a writer can do anything that they can get away with, but no-one has ever got away with much.’ I like that.
I think she would have been wryly amused to find her short story, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find,’ in THE CRIME LOVER’S CASEBOOK, which is where I first read it after picking it up in a remainder bookshop.
I’ve just got back from a holiday in France – hence no blogging for a while – with a cold that turned into a sinus infection. Feeling low a day or two ago I got into a hot bath with a novel by Jeffery Deaver. If there is a writer who is the absolute polar opposite of Virginia Woolf or James Joyce, he would be a pretty good contender. His novels are virtually pure plot and it is a bit mean of me to refer to him as a guilty pleasure because of their kind they are so well done. They are the verbal equivalent of cottage pie or macaroni cheese for supper – no effort is required on the part of the consumer, plenty though I am well aware on the part of the cook and the same will be true of Deaver. They are very inventive, move at a terrific lick, and he’s a better writer than Dan Brown, who I really can’t read. The other writer for days when I feel really weedy is Agatha Christie, who is a more sedate precursor of Jeffery Deaver. I can only read those if I can’t remember who dun it.
For my serious reading at the moment I am reading Flannery O’Connor’s letters and am so impressed by her, especially her lack of self-pity. Her life was cut short by lupus at the age of 39 and even as a young woman in her twenties, her life was very circumscribed by the disease. Yet these very limitations allowed her to concentrate on her considerable talent as a writer. She lived a fairly isolated life with her mother on a farm in Georgia and much of her contact with other writers was through these fascinating letters. Chapeau! as they say in France to salute an achievement.