All significant truths are private truths. As they become public, they cease to be truth; they become facts, or at best, part of the public character; or at worst catchwords.
Sunday, 7 August 2011
Listening to the whispering
We have just returned from a week in Spain where we enjoyed relaxing, swimming, walking and generally eating too much. The holiday was mainly just a chance to catch up and spend some time together, it was fairly low key, although we did manage a visit to the Alhambra where we enjoyed the beauty of the architecture and intricate designs and the lovely gardens. I felt it could be a place of profound contemplative peace if it hadn't been quite so busy and if we had had a little more time to stop and reflect!
We took some holiday reading away with us as always and I don't know quite how we managed it but two of the novels dealt with the theme of abuse or child murder (great!). We tend to pick the books in a bit of a last minute spree and we try pick something that looks thrilling enough to tempt the teenagers. Anyhow, Emma Donoghue's Room, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, was based upon cases such as the Fritzl crime and other similar cases where women have been abducted and imprisoned for years, giving birth to the children of their abuser during that time. I would not have bought it if the blurb had made this clear, but for all that it was sensitively and movingly narrated from the perspective of the child born as a result of the rape and I *enjoyed* reading it.
The other novel with a similar theme ,although totally different in terms of style, was a book called The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi, a "italian literary thriller phenomenon" picked by one of the boys. This was based around the murder of six little girls whose severed arms are buried in a ritualistic semi circle. The Guardian described it as " A gripping read" and it certainly was a page turner in some ways. Perhaps fortunately (as I was in need of some comedy by now) it was so implausible as to give rise to mirth. How likely is it that three members of the detective team would be in some way implicated or linked to the murders or murderer themselves? Throw into the mix a crazed monk and nun with psychic powers and a session of hypnosis used to uncover a forgotten clue and you get the picture. The fact that Kev kept saying, "Those kids were totally 'armless" didn't help me take it seriously! The Whisperer has little literary merit but one theme that did fascinate me was the quote on which the title was based, " God is silent, the Devil whispers" - the implication being that evil is so much more wide spread and seductive than good. I spent some time pondering this and decided that I am not sure it is true and that the impulse to goodness and decency is at least as pervasive as the tendency to evil. I was quite surprised by this, having always believed I thought the opposite. I must be turning into an optimist!
Solar by Ian McEwan provided some much needed light relief. It is a wonderful comedy based around the rather inept Professor Beard, a Nobel prize-winning physicist who works in the area of climate change but is actually unconvinced of the need to save the world from environmental disaster and more interested in the intricacies of his love life - his wife is having an affair. I always enjoy McEwan's writing, and this book cleverly reflects upon the human condition, the way our selfish preoccupations dominate and even our idealism is laced with ironies. The hapless Beard is slightly overweight at the start of the book and, as it progresses, failed diet after failed diet sees his blubbery girth expand inexorably. One moment he will be resolving only to have a light salad and water and the next he will be accepting a glass of champagne and a rich dish swimming in cream. Beard's struggle with his weight is a wonderful metaphor for greed and excess and for how, in our attempt to use the world's resources wisely, the short term faction wins the day!
My final book was Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale. This was one of our book club novels that I failed to read as it came right in the middle of coursework marking. It tells the story of a gifted artist who suffers from bi-polar disorder and of her life and family. I found this a moving and compelling read, I was particularly taken with the descriptions of Quakerism that ran throughout, especially as I have been occasionally attending Quaker worship over the last few months (more on that some other time.) I liked the balance of this book; there was some real tragedy and horror described - and mental illness is in itself truly dark and horrific - at the same time there was the soothing routine of family life and love, the beautiful Cornish landscape and the enduring search for peace and understanding through the Quakerism. It made me feel that no life, however short or marked by tragedy, is meaningless. Despite ending on the brink of the death of a young life, it had a redemptive quality. It was the right book to end my holiday reading; it made me feel that God whispers.