Friday, 14 November 2014

What I Loved: The Dangerous Bride (Lee Kofman)

I've just finished 'The Dangerous Bride' sitting in a sunny spot eating my muesli and feeling terribly indulgent for using working time this way. But I can justify the choice because this book is a fabulous resource for a writer, and although I've read it in only 2 days it's already sparked a lot of thinking about form, structure and tone that I'm sure will help my own work.

The story explores love, relationships, migration, sexual freedom, family, security, and above all (for me anyway) it is a quest that is informed and accessible - a brave and intelligent work.

Born with a broken heart, Lee survived open-heart surgeries in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, and wonders if her fairytale-rescue fantasies, her emotional heart-breaks and fascination with love may be a natural result of these month spent in hospitals "where people died frequently and openly." At 10 years' old Lee was hit by a bus and needed more surgeries, and while she talks about hiding her physical scars during her sexual explorations, in her work it feels as though nothing is hidden.
"I led Noah into my writing cell turned love den, where my lover and I, unnerved by the newness of each other, spent unslept nights. For the first time, I felt Noah to be an intruder.  This hurt. I hoped wildly that after all that time apart, he would now push me onto the bed with a passion strong enough to exorcise my pain, and possibly my lover. Instead, he scrutinised the room, his protective arm around my shoulder. In the remaining daylight, under my husband's critical gaze, the place turned into a pumpkin."
Structurally, this is a book that moves between non-chronological personal stories, meetings with people that are written as narratives, interviews that are captured with a lot of direct quotes, and extensive references to artists, literary characters and broader research into different forms of relationships. It's easy to imagine that creating, collecting and combining all of this material  could have resulted in an inaccessible mess, and I don't know how many drafts were completed or how extensive the changes made were, but the result is a really engaging, accessible exploration from an exciting voice.

In her acknowledgements, Lee says, 'Throughout the entire process of writing this book, Peter (Bishop) kept reading my confused drafts and helping me to deepen the work. Our lengthy conversations about what I was doing would leave me dazed and exalted.' Both he and Sally Heath (MUP Editor) should feel extremely proud of how their input has informed and shaped this work.

I hadn't heard Lee speaking until after I finished this book, and when I did listen to an interview I felt an even greater appreciation for her. Imagine learning English as an adult and having the command of language that she shows here. On the page I heard open yearning. I felt sadness, frustration and respect for all sorts of different reasons. Listening to her I was so pleased to hear her lightness, that the child seeking rescue hasn't been quashed, but it doesn't sound like need. She sounds more like a woman who won't be beaten or bitter; a vibrant, considerate woman who analyses and enjoys life, and I'm looking forward to meeting her.

I'm not strictly following Lee's 'Reading Diet' recommendations (or NaNoWriMo guidelines) at the moment, but perhaps my current appetite for a diverse range of writing is as close as I'll get to a non-manogomous relationship. Or at least as far as I'll admit to in public.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Understanding my response to Graham Greene

I was surprised to find a collection of Graham Greene books in one of the boxes I took out of storage recently. Surprised because I don't remember being a Greene fan, and I do remember trying to be ruthless when I packed up my worldly goods to store in 2008.

I picked up my 30c copy of 'a gun for sale' and when I finished a couple of days later I felt a bit disappointed. I wanted to feel like I'd just had the privilege of spending time with one of the 20th century literary greats, but I didn't.

I've since read a few recent reviews which talk about it reading like a less serious draft of 'Brighton Rock', a book confused about whether it is literary or a thriller, one of his most entertaining "entertainments" and a thriller to devour in a single sitting.

None of these observations really satisfied me, and I was still trying to understand my response to the book when I heard this quote from John Peel on a podcast -
"anytime he ever hears a piece of music that he doesn't like, he just assumes that it's his problem"
And I realised that was what I felt after finishing 'a gun for sale' - I was disappointed in myself.

I had a strong visual association throughout the book, and think it compares to watching a movie that I didn't mind at all, that maybe I'd be glad I'd watched on DVD rather than made a night out of going to the cinema to see.

It's a book that's based on an intriguing premise, and if we're talking about effective character names then I don't think I'll forget Raven as the choice for the protagonist, and I did read until the end. I've decided to apportion 'blame' for my disappointment to: the era it was written in (a victim of its time); my expectations; following two fabulous works by Janet Frame and Dorothy Porter.

While this isn't his most successful novel, and I didn't love it, I'm pleased that I wasn't satisfied with just saying, meh, that was okay. I wanted to understand my reaction, and am glad that I've been reminded to  look for the good in someone's work, an approach I hope that I use with people. After all, we know how much time and effort goes into the creative process.

Of course I haven't paid that respect to some books since I decided a couple of years ago that there is no obligation to finishing a book just because it has been deemed good enough to publish.

Guess I need to work on my consistency.