Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Remembering What One Reads

 I've started Winter- the second book in Ali Smith's Seasons tetralogy- and I've been trying to remember what happened in the first. I know I enjoyed it, but.....  Let's see: there was a girl... and she was being mentored by a delightful older man who had been a dancer I think... and he was very wise..., it escapes me....

It's only a few months since I read it.

Immediately after finishing Autumn I read Smith's earlier book- Why Not Be Both? I remember that a lot better. It's about the Renaissance painter Del Cossa- with whom I rather fell in love. Does this mean that Why Not Be Both? is the better book- or simply that it spoke to me more nearly? I wonder whether Winter will stick? It has a highly promising opening- with an elderly person- a  prim retired businesswoman- being haunted by the head of a child. It's not a disagreeable haunting; in fact the head is really rather charming, and bobs about like a balloon and performs aerial acrobatics and makes big doggy eyes at its hauntee....

I get through quite a number of books. Some stick, others don't. I try to pick substantial books- ones that are more likely to make an impression- because what's the point of spending time with them if they don't? One might as well be doing crossword puzzles. Even so, some of them fade very quickly. I get Graham Swift mixed up with Julian Barnes because I find them equally forgettable. 

Unforgettability: perhaps that- when all else is said and done- is what makes a book a classic. Books can be beautifully written, skilfully constructed, technically brilliant- and as insubstantial as mist. Style is never enough- not by itself. Neither is psychological insight- or any of those other things that critics praise. The classic is the book that sticks like a burr. It may have all sorts of things wrong with it- it can be really badly written- but there's something about it- a character, a situation, an atmosphere- that clings to the mind as if it had claws. I have a pretty good memory for Dickens, for the Brontes- those sort of people. Wuthering Heights is a horrible book but I defy anyone who isn't suffering from dementia to forget it.
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