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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Saturday, 17 November 2012

Comforted, but not with apples

Last Thursday was Reassurance Day, important for the elderly, vital for the old, oxygen for the moribund.

For dinner we had Lancashire Hot Pot. A dome of sliced potatoes, the upper slices crisp and neatly edged in brown. Absorbed slices lying tastily below. Thin-cut carrots because nobody wants a mouse’s dartboard. Lamb diced small, greatly superior to chops which impart too much grease and leave bones behind. Over a pool of clear, spoonable broth, flecked with brown, offering flavour a wine lover would say “had legs”.

A Farewell to Arms, which got better and better, was finished. I didn’t care to find out whether Ian McEwan, William Boyd or Margaret Drabble had anything to say. These days I re-read to avoid being disappointed. Mainly to wallow. So here’s to Joyce’s Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, a 1928 edition, the dust-jacket flap shorn of its price, a gift to my mother whose unmarried name, D. H. Stringer, is written neatly on the flysheet. From my father, coming a courting? Perhaps. He once bought me Joyce’s Dubliners.

A mysterious opening; “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming  down along the road…” Then here’s Stephen Dedalus, eventually co-hero of Ulysses, reluctantly playing soccer at school (“… making little runs now and then. But his hands were bluish with cold.”), clever but unable to solve the hard sum on the board, admitting he kisses his mother before going to bed. At Christmas dinner overhearing a rip-roaring argument about Catholicism between devout Aunt Dante and Parnell-favouring Stephen’s father.

And I am Stephen and Joyce is playing me like a squeeze box. And this is great easy literature. And I’m reassured by hot pot and this book.

9 comments:

Lucy said...

I can understand that. I think you may have just solved my hitherto unsatisfied yen for comfort reading, which, like food, needs to be meaty and substantial, not pappy.

I've got it on the Kindle awaiting a re-read too. Haven't read it for probably thirty years, first did so at about 17 I think, but so much of it comes back: Dante's hairbrushes; the hell-fire sermons, which I believe are also juxtaposed with the consumption of a mutton stew, to less agreeable effect than yours of the novel with lamb hotpot; 'Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow'...

We had a rather scurrilous but often amusing lecturer for it, whose remarks included: (about the bathing girl epiphany) 'What is it really? A girl with her skirt tucked into her knickers giving him the eye'; and 'I think Joyce must have been experimenting with prostitutes at about the same age as I was when my stamp collection was coming on nicely'.

Wonderful, wonderful stuff, thanks Robbie. Chicken stew and dumplings here I come.

Avus said...

I tried "Portrait" at about 15 and left it unfinished. Too young. Perhaps it's time to try it again?
Trouble is the book pile of new reads continues to grow and there are other things to do as well.

Joe Hyam said...

Clearly an inspiring hotpot.

All I can say is that I was completely carried away by the epiphany of the girl on the beach. Aged 17 there were to the best of my knowledge no prostitutes to experiment with in suburban Surrey in the 1950s, more's the pity. I think that a lifetime later I am still moved by Joyce's description. I can of course see that Lucy's lecturer had some fun at his expense, but it can't spoil the purple passage for me even today.

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: I wasn't trying to proselytise. Re-reading is a special state of mind. If you've got new stuff, and there's sufficient attraction there, that's where you should be going. Or chopping wood, or whatever. Re-reading is probably an admission of defeat. All I can say is that opening that first page broke all the rules of received wisdom: that you should never try and re-create the past, that you'll always be disappointed. The impact was enormous, immediate and beneficial. The years slid away and joy was re-created. And joy tends to be a product of youth. Also the analogy with the hot pot doesn't end there. Often, with stews, next day's rechauffage is better than Day One (though in my case the hot pot was greedily consumed on the day). Anyway, Portrait rechauffé was even better second time around because in the intervening years I read Ulysses several times and Portrait was like the foundation-stone laying ceremony for the larger book, which for me alas (because it always sounds like snobbery even if it isn't) U is the peak of Western literature.

Lucy/Joe: It's no use, is it, trying to disguise the fact that we blog shouting down a well, hoping for an echo. And sometimes one has a fair idea of what that echo should sound like. To say the quickness and the nature of your responses was what I was hoping for makes me sound manipulative but then I reassure myself (we're several days on from Reassurance Day but the effect still works) that both of you are capable of seeing manipulation a mile off and capable of ignoring it if it seems pathetic or self-serving. The fact is that I was describing a personal matter, as were both of you and this is the essence of good conversation, and blogging at its best is simply conversation technologised. Portrait has lain like a time-bomb for decades, mainly detectable as a warm glow that I knew I would return to. Opening the book and seeing my mother's maiden name on the flysheet, remembering how she in effect set me on the road for Portrait and, for that matter, Ulysses, which I discussed with her, was the sort of augury that Joyce deals so well with and I knew more or less what I was in for.

The fact is writing absorbs me and I don't read very much these days, and what I do read is often junk. This was a reminder of my first love and the strange thing is it was triggered by a sudden decision to re-read Hemingway (such a drab figure in this day and age) and that was brought about by discovering a paperback of A Farewell To Arms which I didn't know I had.

Finally I have to say I have only read the first eighty pages so far and both of you - with relish! lipsmacking! - have reminded me of what lies ahead. Thank you both.

herhimnbryn said...

A good book and a good stew, sounds grand to me (although my stew would have to be a vegi version or a well flavoured Bouillabaisse). Have not read the book, but will get it from library as your last suggestion (C's Web) has become a favourite.

Recently listened to Radio 4's dramatic version of Ulysses and thorouhly enjoyed that.

Roderick Robinson said...

HHB: This one's a bit riskier than Charlotte's Web. Very much from a male point of view. Plus a more than working knowledge of Catholicism. Not that I'm trying to dissuade you (See Lucy's comment), just creating an alibi in case...

Roderick Robinson said...

HHB: Sorry, I'd forgotten your last sentence. No worries at all, then. You'll glide through and I won't need an alibi.

Beth said...

As you probably noted, I read "Portrait" recently and loved it. Like you and for similar reasons, I read favorite authors and re-read favorite books. Reading time feels shorter, time in general feels compressed, and I don't want to waste it on junk or books that make me feel miserable. Just started David Copperfield - I gave up on Dickens after high school enforced-reading, and never returned, to my own loss. Time to do something about that. But your Hemingway project has more appeal, I must admit!

Roderick Robinson said...

Beth: As my wife gobbles up mostly new books at the rate of 230-plus per year, I often feel unadventurous. But many of the books I re-read date back to my youth, were misunderstood at the time, and then forgotten. As to Dickens, I have lost count of the number of people who have "gone off" him as adults and then wondered a year or two later whether they were entitled to this decision. Reading Evelyn Waugh's diary I came upon: "Dombey And Son. The worst novel ever written" and was utterly delighted. That had been my opinion a month earlier (Mainly due to the oppressiveness of producing it in installments, I thought). Barnaby Rudge was another. But then Bleak House was marvellous. I have concluded that one is entitled - at the very least - to believe that the quality is variable.

Hemingway. My main reason was that almost no one talks about him these days and I had an unworthy desire to be in the van. The earlier pages (of Farewell) seemed like parody but gradually the style of writing and the tale he had to tell mated logically. Time now to try one of the titles I found very dull fifty years ago: The Sun Also Rises.