Archives for category: Fiction

photo

Susan Hill’s novel, written in 1974, is a story about loss, relationships, and about how we mourn.

The acute loss central to the story results from the sudden death of Ruth’s young husband Ben. However, a more global pre-existing loss is also unmasked by the tragedy.

Ruth is devastated by Ben’s death, and inhabits a place of unremitting despair where she is untouchable by others. Reluctantly, she attends the funeral, where she resents the mourning of others:

‘She imagined the line of dark mourners mounting the stairs and peering into the coffin. As Ben. Ben. How could they? How could so many people have touched him and looked at him, unasked, since the moment of his death, when she herself had not?

But it was better. She thought, they don’t have Ben.’

‘They were forcing her to take part in some curious ritual of their own…’

My sister’s husband died a few years ago, and I can see her response to his death, and to fellow-mourners, in Ruth’s behaviour. At the time, I struggled with my sister’s reaction, as I tried to deal with both his loss from our lives and also her belief that only she was entitled to mourn this loss.

Ruth, with time, comes to realise the wide-reaching effects of Ben’s death:

‘The death of Ben Bryce had been like a stone cast into still water, and the water had become a whirlpool with Ruth sucked down into the terrible heart of it. But the waves spread out, through the countryside down to the village and beyond the village. People felt changed, as if by war or earthquake or fire, even those who lived closest to death and knew its face.’

She comes to acknowledge her behaviour at the time:

‘But she had been too wrapped up, first within the warm womb of her happiness with Ben, and then in the cold shell of grief. She had not thought of anyone.’

We read to find ourselves, and to witness experiences that resonate with our own. Thus, within In the Springtime of the Year, I found some consolation in its echoes of my sister’s reaction to her husband’s death:

‘…she had kept Ben’s death to herself, as a private thing, tried to possess it utterly and allow no one else the right to mourn…’

CQ

This book was an unexpected delight.

‘Delight’ may not be the best descriptor, as John William’s Stoner is a profoundly sad, at times even bleak read. Yet I felt enriched by the experience. It is truly one of those must-reads.

The title refers to the main protagonist, William Stoner, and the book chronicles his life. We are introduced to Stoner after his death, and from the outset we begin to have a sense of the man and of his life:

‘An occasional student who comes upon the name may wonder idly who William Stoner was, but he seldom pursues his curiosity beyond a casual question…his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers.’

An only child, Stoner’s parents were farmers. A solitary and mostly silent childhood was spent toiling the physical world of soil and land. Later, he left to study agriculture at university. A required element of the curriculum was English literature, which opened up a previously unknown world to him, one that filled him with wonder and awe. While studying, he dutifully returned home during the holidays to work on the farm. His relationship with his parents remained a largely unspoken one, and Stoner never shared his ‘other world’ with them.

‘He thought of his parents, and they were nearly as strange as the child they had borne; he felt a mixed pity for them and a distant love.’

Discovering a love for teaching, he remained at the university for the remainder of his life, although he struggled to successfully communicate the wonder he himself experienced within, with his students.

The solitary condition of his childhood persisted during his university years:

‘He had no friends, and for the first time in his life he became aware of loneliness.’

However, for a time he did have two friends, one of who commented:

‘You have the lean and hungry look, sure enough. You’re doomed.’

It was a prescient observation, as Stoner’s life proceeded to a succession of tragic episodes, and to a life defined by sadness, an inescapable sadness that he was born into. When his parents died, Stoner reflected:

‘He thought of the cost exacted, year after year, by the soil; and it remained as it had been—a little more barren, perhaps, a little more frugal of increase. Nothing had changed. Their lives had been expended in cheerless labor, their wills broken, their intelligences numbed.’

Any relief that Stoner did occasionally experience from the relentless doom that enveloped his life was short-lived. He married, but it was a failure on every level. They had one daughter, Grace, with whom he was initially very close, but this later evaporated. Having briefly found friendship, his closest friend was killed in the war. He had a lover with whom he had many moments of happiness, but this was poignantly relinquished.

As a result of his life experiences, Stoner mostly lived on the periphery, becoming increasingly detached, dislocated, and numb:

‘…at will, he seemed able to remove his consciousness from the body that contained it, and he observed himself as if he were an oddly familiar stranger…’

‘He felt at times that he was a kind of vegetable, and he longed for something—even pain—to pierce him, to bring him alive.’

The final section of the book, when Stoner is dying, is the most introspective and self-reflective:

‘Dispassionately, reasonably, he contemplated the failure that his life must appear to be.’

Intensely self-critical, and by then utterly defeated by life, he answered his own question on why his life became what it ended up being:

‘What did you expect? he asked himself.’

He is as detached from the fact of his own dying as he has learnt to be about most things in his life:

‘He had no wish to die; but there were moments, after Grace left, when he looked forward impatiently, as one might look to the moment of a journey that one does not particularly want to take.’

The sadness that clings to Stoner’s life is almost palpable. Although unremitting – the reader is never left off the sadness hook – it is impossible to resist reading Stoner. Seduced by the prose and by William’s way of telling, the reader is willingly drawn into a life story that speaks to a universal sadness within all of us.

CQ

I have read two books by Irish authors recently: Kevin Maher’s The Fields and Roddy Doyle’s Guts.
In Doyle’s book, there is an overt cancer theme throughout. For Maher, it is more of a subplot.
What struck me about both, was how the authors used humour.
I laughed out loud, which is very unusual for me, when reading most of Guts. I wondered afterwards how Doyle worked humour around such a serious topic – bowel cancer, unsurprisingly. Humour is not a flippant or reductionist tool in Doyle’s hands. Rather, it invites you in, seduces you into joining the ‘party’, and you feel welcome and involved. The banter and asides, which are all-pervasive throughout, facilitate an expression and a sharing of stuff that might otherwise be unbearable.
Jimmy, who has just been diagnosed, tells his father the news in the pub:
‘— Are yeh havin’ another?
— No, said Jimmy. I’m drivin’.
— Fair enough.
— I have cancer.
— Good man.
— I’m bein’ serious, Da.
— I know.

— Jesus, son.
— Yeah.
— Wha’ kind?
— Bowel.
— Bad.
— Could be worse.
— Could it?
— So they say, said Jimmy.
— They?
— The doctors an’ tha’. The specialists. The team.
— The team?
— Yep.
— What colour are their jerseys?’

In The Fields, the protagonist’s dad has a lymphoma:
‘And Dad, fair dues to him, plays down the whole cancer thing like it’s a very very long and serious life-threatening cold. He doesn’t even use the word ‘cancer’. Ingeniously, he calls it, ‘my neck thing’…
…They don’t know where it came from, but Dad suspects it might be because of the new microwave…
When he walks through the kitchen after that he kind of ducks when he passes the microwave. Just in case it’s still spewing out cancer-causing rays that might start cooking his few remaining healthy cells.’

Both books are works of fiction, and although they deal with very serious topics, these very believable stories of interconnected lives that have been interrupted by illness and impending mortality leave you feeling uplifted and hopeful.
The magic of Irish humour, really…

CQ

I have some thoughts on what I would like to experience, and to hopefully share, over the forthcoming week:

The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen

This work of fiction focuses on Elizabeth Stone, an academic (primarily of Milton) who has been diagnosed and treated for advanced ovarian cancer (thematically reminiscent of the play W;t, previously discussed here https://sufferingandthearts.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/wt/). Unexpectedly given an ‘all clear’ following treatment, the protagonist re-explores her life, and her loneliness.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

This will be my 6th read from the Booker Longlist. Described as a book depicting ‘overwhelming grief’ and ‘suffering’, it promises to be suitably apt for this blog…

Love’s Work by Gillian Rose

I have just started re-reading this hugely impressive book by the philosopher and writer. It impressively covers many issues, including death, illness and Judaism, in such a short text. One sentence in the book:

‘It was the occasion of my initiation into the anti-supernatural character of Judaism: into how non-belief in God defines Judaism and how change in that compass registers the varieties of Jewish modernity.’

prompted the next item on my list:

The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama

This is a current BBC series that I have started to watch, in order to redress my ignorance of the history of Judaism.

Alexis Hunter and Jo Spence Art Exhibition

This exhibition, at the Richard Saltoun Gallery until September 27, focuses on the development of feminist art. I have previously discussed Jo Spence in the context of the art she created around her diagnosis of breast cancer, and her living with, and dying from, the condition (https://sufferingandthearts.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/jo-spence-art-photography-illness-and-the-body/).

http://www.richardsaltoun.com/exhibitions/26/overview/

When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun

This film screens at the Lexi Cinema on Wednesday. Seven years in the making, it tells the story of the Tibetan movement, and struggle, to free Tibet.

http://thelexicinema.co.uk/2013/08/17/when-the-dragon-swallowed-the-sun/

Finally, a thought

Something I came across today, and am still considering, from Nietzsche:

“We possess art lest we perish from the truth”

CQ

I first came across the writer and medic Gabriel Weston when I read her debut book and memoir Direct Red (2009), which won the PEN/Ackerly Prize for Autobiography. I liked it. Weston’s personal account of the challenges of balancing clinical committment in a morally ambiguous (male) world resonated strongly for me.

Weston’s current book is also her first work of fiction. However, with the scenario remaining firmly within the world of medicine, the workings of a medical mind behind the pen of Dirty Work were apparent throughout. Clinical moral dilemmas remain pervasive in the novel, specifically in this case that of doctors performing abortions.

I enjoyed the experience of reading Dirty Work, particularly when Weston’s medical background facilitates thought-provoking reflections:

‘A good doctor needs to know how to spin a yarn. That’s what they teach you at medical school, though no one ever says it in so many words… They call it history-taking, this supposedly neutral process in which a patient and doctor collaborate to weave a shape out of what’s gone wrong. They make it sound straightforward.’

Weston continues to consider how, as doctors ‘take the history’, they encourage patients to dwell specifically and exclusively on symptoms, ‘ignoring the white noise of emotion’.

‘The doctor is rewriting the patient’s story while seeming only to bear witness to it.’

A mistake, a clinical error, results in suspension for the female medical protagonist, who is subsequently investigated by the hospital Fitness-To-Practise committee. The novel follows her throughout the three week questioning period, and witnesses her change of attitude towards medicine in general, as well as the part she herself plays within the field.

She learns much about herself throughout this process, and concludes:

‘I have done much worse than not articulating the particularities of my own experience. I have been deaf to those of my patients.’

‘What a doctor needs…is a quiet appetite for truth.’

I enjoyed the experience of reading this book (an experience that reminded me of Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard, perhaps the not dissimilar themes of female protagonist, career woman, moral dilemma, ‘perfect’ life going astray…).

The plot went a little off track for me towards the end. The ending itself left me dissatisfied, and brought to mind something I heard the film director Mike Figgis say recently. Figgis deliberately chooses open-endedness in his films, this sense of not being finished or closed allowing viewers to create their own conclusions. Whenever he reads a book, he stops 20 pages or so before the end, as most imposed closures ultimately disappoint. I can relate to this. The ending in Dirty Work was not a ‘bad’ one. It just left me a little disappointed, and flat.

It will be interesting to see where Weston’s writing heads from here. To date, her medical background informs the content of her books. Whether she will stick to this theme or whether she will explore other literary terrains, remains to be seen.

CQ

I read this book almost in one sitting. It is that good.

Which isn’t surprising, as I have read and loved all of Jon McGregor’s books to date.

The title of the book is intriguing (and long, so it will be henceforth abbreviated to ‘This isn’t the sort of thing…’), and I am not sure I fully understand what it means or intends. Except that, perhaps perversely and ironically, what the book contains might just be the very sort of thing that actually does, or might, happen to me, or to you…

A collection of short stories that are in many ways connected, some very obviously so, ‘This isn’t the sort of thing…’ is quite an enigmatic and elusive book, yet also seductive, all of which are perhaps not unrelated.

The collection opens with the story That Colour, which launches the book both physically and thematically with the following sentence:

‘She stood by the window and said, Those trees are turning that beautiful colour again.’

The story ends ‘I said, But tell me again.’

This entrance establishes what was for me a recurring theme throughout the stories, the potentially destructive force of both the said and the unsaid.

We see it again in In Winter the Sky, where the unsaid reaches a critical urgency:

‘He had something to tell her.’

Sometimes, the telling only makes everything worse, which we witness in The Chicken And The Egg, where the protagonist works up to eventually sharing his secret phobia with his wife. When he finally unburdens, the sharing backfires, and he finds no safety or relief from the telling:

‘He hasn’t actually discussed it with anyone else since then, to be fair. He’s not at all sure it would help.’

Unsurprisingly, other stories weave a thread of deliberate silence. Close opens pointedly with the sentence:

‘She wouldn’t tell Patricia.’

There is also that which should never be said, as we see in Thoughtful:

‘She threw her pint glass across the garden and told him to just shut up.’

Avoiding and obstructing what someone else needs to say is the central theme of Vessel, where the tulips-bearing friend is ushered out the door before he can ‘say’ anything.

There is a profound sense throughout the collection that words can be dangerous and ultimately destructive. The need to share, to tell another, creates an urgency, which culminates in either silence or a saying aloud, neither act dissipating the fear they have arisen from. A sobering indictment on the possibilities of sharing and of trust.

I have just re-read this book, having initially enjoyed it many years ago.

I connected with it again, even more so this time round. And even more so now, the furore that surrounded the appearance of The Country Girls in 1960 both infuriates and embarrasses me…another fuel to my fire on the issue of repressed and fear driven Ireland.

I like O’Brien’s prose. It is readable and immediately accessible, but also nuanced and intelligent.

She captures well, and in a way that feels recognisable and reassuringly familiar, an Ireland and its people of a certain era:

‘Poor Mama, she was always a worrier. I suppose she lay there thinking of him, waiting for the sound of a motor-car to stop down the road, waiting for the sound of his feet coming through the wet grass, and for the noise of the gate hasp – waiting, and coughing.’

Women of Ireland indeed lived lives of worry and fear, suffering much in their years of waiting. The Country Girls is very much about escaping that Irish female destiny, which at least partly explains its condemnation by the fear-driven Catholic Ireland.

When her mother dies, Cait, the main ‘country girl’ of the title, fears that she will re-appear:

‘What is it about death that we cannot bear to have someone who is dead come back to us?’

Moving from rural Ireland, the ‘country’, to the city of Dublin was transformative for Cait (I, like Edna O’Brien, made a similar journey, but for us it was the longer, both literally and metaphorically, distance from provincial Ireland to London):

‘I knew now that this was the place I wanted to be. For evermore I would be restless for crowds and lights and noise. I had gone from the sad noises, the lonely rain pelting on the galvanized roof of the chicken-house, the moans of a cow in the night, when her calf was being born under a tree.’

I also connected with the need, that desperate one, to escape the boredom of growing up in the Ireland of a certain era, as verbalised by Cait’s friend Baba:

‘We’re eighteen and we’re bored to death… We want to live. Drink gin. Squeeze into the front of big cars and drive up outside big hotels. We want to go places.’

I no longer need to go places, at least not so much physically, but I am glad that I left Ireland behind, physically, when I could and did.

CQ

I read this recent Guardian piece with interest (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/04/sick-lit-young-adult-fiction-mail). In brief, it refers to, and (reassuringly) criticises, a recent article in the Daily Mail on “the disturbing rise of sick-lit”, ‘otherwise known as young adult fiction that dares to deal with real-life situations rather than dragons, wizards and vampire romances’, the Guardian journalist Michelle Pauli suggests…

Reassuringly also, the Guardian article attracted many comments, almost invariably vitriolic of the Daily Mail’s narrow minded and unenlightened stance, hardly surprising I guess as the Guardian tends to have a relatively broad minded and enlightened readership…

Clearly, the Daily Mail believes that teenagers should remain unaware of serious issues such as depression and terminal illness, amongst others. There is so much to be said about this, but I will resist. The Guardian riposte deals with the issue more than adequately.

The books quoted in the Daily Mail article had already been on my teenage daughter’s to-read list. She has read, as have I, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and Jenny Downham’s Before I Die. She does not appear to have been traumatised in any way by the experience. The opposite, I suspect. She has not yet read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, although she is currently enjoying one of his other books, or Joanna Kenrick’s Red Tears, but plans to read both.

I have asked said-daughter if she would like to write something here on her experience of reading such ‘sick-lit’ stuff. She is keen.

Watch this space…

CQ

I have only read a few of Banville’s novels, namely The Sea and also some crime fiction that he writes under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black.

Ancient Light (Viking) was published in 2012. I read it over the holiday period and was totally gripped and seduced, mainly enthralled by Banville’s prose and his use of words.

Perhaps I was also a little confused by the non-linear narrative, but possibly the whole point of the book is that all is not what it seems… Whatever, it did not detract from the enjoyment of my reading experience. On the contrary, it has left me still considering it, days after the last page was read.

I need a dictionary nearby when reading Banville. Reading Ancient Light, I learnt many new words and meanings, for example leporine, proscenium, caducous, homunculoid, susurrus (my favourite)… His observational and descriptive powers are staggeringly impressive, and the way he sees and feels, and assembles words – ‘steepled fingers’, ‘there is nothing like the loss of an only child to soften the wax of sealed convictions – is beautiful indeed to read.

The novel opens with the sentence:

‘Billy Gray was my best friend and I fell in love with his mother.’

An opening that does summarise a significant chunk of the plot and storyline. Yet, the apparent simplicity and straightforwardness of this short sentence tantalises and entices the reader into a story that is far from simple.

The main protagonist, Alexander Cleave, who has also appeared in earlier Banville books, is a semi-retired actor, currently writing his memoirs. The novel is written in the first person, and thus all that we are told and shown is through Cleave’s perspective.

Nothing is quite how it seems, which the author acknowledges at the outset, disabusing the difference between memory and invention:

‘Madam memory is a great and subtle dissembler.’

Only near the end of the book do we discover the origins of its title – the ancient light of the galaxies that travel for millions of years to reach us. Looking at the night sky, we are thus always looking into the past, and the novel’s core focuses on just that, and is deeply rooted in Cleave’s past. Indeed, the sections that are based in the present seem much less real than those describing Cleave’s childhood, specifically his love affair, at 15, with the 35 year Mrs Gray.

Central to the book is loss, Cleave’s loss of innocence, loss of friendships and an early loss of childhood within the clandestine relationship. His subsequent life seems to have been lived, and overshadowed, by this first, and short, love affair. In fact, it seem as if the past, particularly in terms of its associated feelings, recurs as a ‘pseudo’ present.

There is also the loss of Cleave’s daughter Cass (who also appeared in earlier books), who committed suicide, and the void and distress her death have left for both him and for his wife Lydia. Of Lydia, Cleave comments:

‘She drinks a little too much, but then so do I; our decade-long great sorrow will not be drowned…’

This is one of many black ironies that Banville slips in – Cass died as a result of drowning.

Cleave and his wife share only sorrow now, a ‘mournful telepathy’, and their grief sets them apart from others:

‘Bereavement sets a curious constraint between the bereaved, an embarrassment, almost, that is not easy to account for.’

For Cleave, mourning is ‘a constant, parching deluge’, which so wonderfully encapsulates the non-straightforwardness of human emotions, particularly grief.

Cleave is a tragic figure, mostly consumed by, and frightened of, his own grief:

‘The dead are my dark matter, filling up impalpably the empty spaces of the world.’

The young actress Dawn Devonport ,who Cleave works with, recently lost her father. She in turn attempts suicide, and there is an almost bizarre transposition of roles, as Dawn becomes a surrogate daughter to Cleave and Lydia… But such is Banville’s writing that such subplots do no feel overdone or manipulated.

Mothers dominate much of the book, including the boy Cleave’s lover Mrs Gray, his best friend Billy’s mother. Before she appeared in his life:

‘Mothers were not people that we noticed much; brothers, yes, sisters, even, but not mothers. Vague, shapeless, unsexed, they were little more than an apron and a swatch of unkempt hair and a faint tang of sweat.’

At the time, Cleave, an only child, lived with his own widowed mother. He suspects that on occasion, in the the throes of passion with Mrs Gray, he cried out ‘mother’… He also desperately wanted to make Mrs Gray pregnant… Cleave’s daughter Cass was pregnant when she died.

These snippets are dropped in almost casually by Banville. One is unsure what to make of them, if anything.

Cleave speaks of the phenomenon of coincidences, only to dismiss them:

‘The statisticians tell us there is no such thing as coincidence, and I must accept they know what they are talking about.’

Yet, he also comments, following Cass’s death:

‘Coincidences were not now what they had been heretofore, mere wrinkles in the otherwise blandly plausible surface of reality, but parts of a code, large and urgent, a kind of desperate semaphoring from the other side that, maddeningly, we were unable to read.’

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that the book is fundamentally based on coincidences…

I get the sense that Banville ‘plays’ with his readers, very cleverly, and tantalisingly.

One could read and analyse Ancient Light on many levels.

My own conclusion is that it was a joy to experience this work rather than an enigma to be deciphered.

CQ

I had been meaning to read this book for some time, and only just got round to it this week. Timely, as a BBC documentary on the author’s life will be screened over the Christmas period.

Jansson was already famous for her Moonintroll cartoon strips and children’s books before The Summer Book appeared in 1972.

The narrative focuses on the relationship between 6 year old Sophia and her grandmother, who live on a remote island in the Gulf of Finland. The child’s father is also there, but is very much a silent presence in the background. To some extent the book was a response to the death of Janssen’s beloved mother in 1971, and is based on ‘real’ people from the author’s life, her own mother represented by the grandmother, and Sophia the author’s niece. The location also reflects Jansson’s personal history, with the setting based on a house that she and her brother built on a remote island off Finland in 1947.

Although the (short) book predominantly follows the companions as they spend time together, exploring, talking, swimming and foraging, there are also other threads running through the narrative, particularly the grandmother’s musings on ageing and death. Deceptively straightforward sounding chapters such as ‘The Morning Swim’, ‘Moonlight’ and ‘The Magic Forest’ contain much more than is apparent at first glance. In the latter chapter, for example, the forest itself becomes a metaphor for living and dying:

‘This forest was called “the magic forest”. It had shaped itself with slow and laborious care, and the balance between survival and extinction was so delicate that even the smallest change was unthinkable.” (p.27)

The notion of death is introduced early, when Sophia asks her grandmother directly, with an endearing frankness and openness that only the very young can engender:

‘When are you going to die?’ (p.22)

Shortly afterwards, we learn that Sophia’s mother has died:

‘Sophia woke and remembered that they had come back to the island and that she had a bed to herself because her mother was dead.’ (p.25)

The book is about imagination, in both the old and in the young, and it is also about wisdom that similarly transcends generations. What is particularly impressive, is Jansson’s ability to portray a dual perspective, the simultaneously believable voices of both a child and an elderly woman.

It is thus not only 6 year old Sophia who bubbles with imagination, but her grandmother also displays impressive imaginative ingenuity. When Sophia’s friend Berenice comes to stay, and is bored and tiresome, the grandmother suggests that she draws something:

‘”Draw a picture,” she said.

“I don’t know anything to draw,” the child said.

“Draw something awful,” Grandmother said, for she was really tired now. “Draw the awfullest thing you can think of, and take as much time as you possibly can.”‘ (p.45)

Death features again in Sophia’s questions about heaven, and in the grandmother’s internal reflections on the euphemisms for death:

‘It was too bad that you could never have an intelligent discussion on the subject. People were either too young or too old, or else they didn’t have time.’ (p.135)

The grandmother struggles with the process of ageing, as she becomes aware that her memory for recent events is slipping (p.56), and how much she hates the chamberpot under her bed, a ‘symbol of helplessness’ (p.170). At times, she seems weighed down by sadness, and by an almost palpable sense of loss:

‘A very long time ago, Grandmother had wanted to tell about all the things they did, but no one had bothered to ask. And now she had lost the urge.’ (p.90).

She also feels that she cannot describe things anymore, the words have somehow been lost to her, and so, it will all die with her death:

‘And unless I tell it because I want to, it’s as if it never happened; it gets closed off and then it’s lost.’ (p.90)

But, just as she is there for Sophia, listening and reassuring during her many tantrums, so too is the little girl there for her grandmother. She attends to the older woman’s outburst:

‘But now I have the feeling everything’s gliding away from me, and I don’t remember, and I don’t care, and yet now is right when I need it!’ (p.93)

And so, on a night when she was unable to sleep due to ‘thinking about sad things, the grandmother shared her anxieties with the attentive child, thereafter sleeping soundly…

The relationship between the older and the younger companion is very moving. Even when they quarrel, it is with love:

‘One evening, Sophia wrote a letter and stuck it under the door. It said, “I hate you. With warm personal wishes, Sophia.”‘

The prose is just delightful, for example the tree trunks ‘formed a tangled mass of stubborn resignation’ (p.27), and when the pair quarrelled, they ‘quarrelled the wrong way.’ (p.111).

The Summer Book has never been out of print in Scandinavia. I am not surprised. It is a truly magical work, which can tell us much about humanness, but perhaps especially about relationships, and how being there for the other can enhance, and even make sense of, the whole business of being.

CQ