2008: I turn 51

As you might guess from the length of yesterday’s and today’s posts–the squares turning into rectangles–writing these short is getting more difficult. The years feel unwieldy now rather than obscure. I’m working to contain rather than to remember. 2008: I start … Continue reading

the forgotten waltz and voice

Really? you might be thinking. More on The Forgotten Waltz? Yes, there’s more.

Consider the following:

…there was no doubt that we felt easier about the world, for the fact that our father was no longer in it. We loved him, of course, but we both knew that life was simpler now that he was dead and he wasn’t coming back. 

Now with Enright’s voice and detail:

…there was no doubt that we felt easier about the world, for the fact that our father was no longer in it. We loved him, of course, but we both knew that life was simpler now that he wasn’t just ‘out,’ or ‘late,’ or even ‘gone on a wander,’ but definitely and definitively dead, dead, dead. No coming back. No late-night key scratching for the lock. (115)

And there’s more, but I think we’ll stop there. Next post, something else.

the forgotten waltz, unreliability, and wine lines

If you were to ask me to recommend a novel written in the first person, I would say Anne Enright’s The Gathering. I’ve read it twice and I’m thinking about reading it again. But I just finished her most recent novel, The Forgotten Waltz, and although I didn’t like it as much, in some ways, it makes better or more use of the powers of the first person, in particular unreliability.

In an interview in The Paris Review, Enright says:

The wonderful thing about this kind of unreliability is that it reflects the unreliability of our own narratives about our own lives.


Gina Moynihan is the kind of person who realizes what she’s saying in the saying of it. And I think many of us are similar. Until you start articulating something, you don’t quite know what it is, and you don’t see the mistakes or flaws in your own argument until they’re in the air. She’s in the process of realizing what she’s saying, in the process of realizing what she knows or what she has refused to know–that’s the journey of the novel.

From Gina in The Forgotten Waltz:

But it was the first time I had said the words out loud, and it might have been true all along but it became properly true then. True like something you have discovered. (157)

Two other things. One of my favorite lines ever, which now makes me look at birds in a new way:

I think how kissing is such an extravagance of nature. Like birdsong; heartfelt and lovely beyond any possible usefulness. (81)

Finally, writer Hermione Lee wrote a dead-on but spoiler review in The Guardian, which includes this great summary of some of the wine lines to be enjoyed in The Forgotten Waltz:

They measure out their lives in large glasses of imported wine: there’s the phase of being “mad into chardonnay”, the “sauvignon blanc” years of happy marriage, alsace riesling as a spur to adultery, cracking open a “Loire white” as a reaction to bereavement.

So I started writing this post early this morning, then stopped to exercise and run some errands, and now it’s almost 3:00, and I have to leave my desk again. But I find I have still more to say about this novel. Until tomorrow…

related posts:

it is all just shopping

Wanted to share this quote with you from Anne Enright‘s The Gathering:

“I love this undertaker.  He has that thing that young people got, sometime after I grew up.  He does not pretend.  He does not judge.  He talks about the caskets in a ‘whatever’ sort of way, like it is all just shopping–the real questions are elsewhere.”

What a lovely, original, and novelistic dichotomy Enright allows to emerge from the personality of this character.

And another reminder to ground myself in what’s important as I scurry around for those last few gifts.


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the missing bridge

IMG_0155I’ve been trying to keep my computer issues out of my blog posts; but anyway, yesterday after I got my computer back, I went to Barnes and Noble, ordered a latte, and sat down to write a post. It had been a while (because of the computer issues).

I wanted to write about Anne Enright’s beautiful sentences, which I did, and her use of repetition in those sentences, which I did. I added a picture of her from the internet. Then I worried about copyright laws. I deleted the picture and added one of my own. I added the links I thought were pertinent. Found the article about the way she writes and added that as the opener. It reminded me of a post I’d read recently by Dani Shapiro. I added that link, read it over, and posted.

Great. Went to the grocery store and then home to cook dinner. Later, I pulled up the post to read it over again. Huge gap.

There was something missing between the beginning of the post and the end. What was missing was the part that had been in my head and that had linked the beginning to the end but had never made it to the page. I couldn’t see it at the time because I was too close to it. I took the next step and the bridge appeared. When I backed away, I could see that the bridge was not really there.

I added it and read it over, satisfied.

Just a few minutes ago, after I checked my email and checked in on Twitter, I reread the post again. In the second sentence I’d used a pronoun that could have been referring either to Shapiro or to Enright. Easy fix.

I’m not going to read the post over anymore.

Nevertheless, revising a post after it’s been up for a while makes me kind of crazy. I would like to be able to send an email to each person who had already read it:

Alert. The post you read has been changed. It makes sense now. How about taking another look ?

Thank goodness I can’t do that. It would be very annoying.

Perhaps I shouldn’t change anything once it’s up. Any thoughts on making revisions after you post?


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some days

IMG_1046Anne Enright, the author of The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, just wants to write, but as Dani Shapiro recently pointed out, some days it’s easier than others.

“I need to write,” Enright said. “I go bonkers a bit if I don’t.”

I do as well. Some days I go bonkers even if I do write.

Looking over The Gathering this morning as a way to begin my writing day, I was again struck by the way Enright uses repetition. Of course, one of the “rules” of writing is to avoid repetition. It’s tedious to readers; it can make them go bonkers.

Not, however,when the repetition is intentional and the sound of the sentence rolling off the tongue makes you want to read it over and over again. Take a look at these two beautiful sentences:

“I close my eyes against the warm sunlight and doze beside the dozing stranger on the Brighton train.”

“I was back to school runs and hoovering and ringing other-mothers for other-mother things…”

Enright writes when she can and where she can, with no set hours and no word or page targets. You can take a look at one of the places she writes here.


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out stealing horses


“We weren’t really stealing them…But we call it stealing to make it more exciting.”

Per Petterson is a writer who can stand inside a moment, turn in a circle and look up and down until there is no inch of that moment left unexplored.  Mary Gordon calls this “saturating the moment.” Read this:

“…and then he fell on his knees like an empty sack and beat his forehead on the ground, and stayed there huddled up for what seemed like an eternity, and for the whole of that eternity I held my breath without stirring. I didn’t understand what had happened, but I felt it was my fault. I just didn’t know why. At last he stood up stiffly….”

Or this one:

“‘Which farm was that?’ I ask, although there can be only one farm in question. But I was not quite with him in my thoughts, and I wonder whether that is how we get to be after living alone for a long time, that in the middle of a train of thought we start talking out loud, that the difference between talking and not talking is slowly wiped out, that the unending, inner conversation we carry on with ourselves merges with the one we have with the few people we still see, and when you live alone for too long the line which divides the one from the other becomes vague, and you do not notice when you cross that line. Is this how my future looks?

“‘The farm at home. In the village, of course.'”

In Out Stealing Horses, Trond is an old man. During the course of an evening, something happens to cause him to remember an incident that occurred when he was a boy. As the reader continues, occasionally we come upon a sentence such as,”Or that is the way I remember it.” As we continue further into the story, through the climax, we come upon, “My father could not have told me all this, not with all the details; but that is the way it is printed in my memory…” These kinds of sentences lend credibility to the story. They remind me of The Gathering by Irish writer, Anne Enright.

Petterson uses an omniscient narrator who can drop into a character so seamlessly, it’s difficult to even notice. “We heard the rain battering the roof and it rained on the river and on Jon’s boat and on the road to the shop and on Barkald’s meadows, it rained on the forest and …., but inside the cottage it was warm and dry. The stove was crackling, and I ate until my plate….”

And yet there are some things this big narrator doesn’t know: “What they talked about I have never been able to imagine.”

Petterson needs a certain coincidence to occur. So he takes it and owns it, making it a condition of the novel:

“…if this had been something in a novel it would just have been irritating…that kind of coincidence seems far-fetched in fiction, in modern novels anyway, and I find it hard to accept. It may be all very well in Dickens, but when you read Dickens you’re reading a long ballad from a vanished world, where everything has to come together in the end like an equation, where the balance of what was once disturbed must be restored so that the gods can smile again.”

Per Petterson is a Norwegian writer. Out Stealing Horses was translated by Anne Born.

rough red brick

img_1047The Gathering, by Irish writer Anne Enright, won the 2007 Man Booker Prize.  I read it in April.  In this novel, the narrator describes her family of origin in terms of the labels we acquire, as families and as individuals in a family.

  • “The Hegartys didn’t start kissing until the late eighties and even then we stuck to Christmas.”
  • “There is always one child who is able, not just to look, but also to see.  The quiet one.”
  • “I am the careful one.”

But what I remember most about this book are the different ways Enright uses memory:

This is what I remember, but that can’t be right:

“It must have been the February of 1968.  I was still eight, Liam was nine, and we were going up to ‘say goodbye’ to Charlie.  I think I knew, even at eight, that you can say goodbye all you like, but when someone is dead they’re not going to say anything back….My memory has them all bundled in shawls; Ada’s back ascending in front of us in corseted black taffeta.  But this is 1968: there would have been patterned headscarves and big-buttoned coats that smelt of the rain.”

I don’t remember that so I must not have been there:

“I don’t remember the hospital.  At a guess, Ada did not take us inside.”

I don’t remember that; it’s not what was important:

“I wish I could remember exactly what he said, but conversation doesn’t stick to my memory of Liam.”

Which gives the novel the air of a memoir, of a struggle for the truth.

I’m trying to nail down my first memory.  Every time I bring the hammer up, it seems to slip away.  I think what I remember is green drinks in glasses and rough red brick.