December 16th, 2017

Books And Pictures And So On.

Hilary Mantel can't bear Dickens- "such awful stuff- coarse, sentimental, conceited". And I can understand that. Dickens is such a full on blast of Victorian values you either duck out of the way or take a deep breath and let yourself to be carried along. He's our biggest writer- barring Shakespeare, of course. But Shakespeare  is wonderfully impersonal- or rather he's hundreds of different people- whereas Dickens is an enormous single personality. He comes on like a weather front. He bullies, brags, imposes; you will all now rejoice with me. And now you will weep.

Mantel's anti-recommendation made me want to pick up something of his, but he hasn't put out anything new for quite a while  and I have a need right now to read things I've never read before. Give me the new, always the new.... So I went through the shelves and found a copy of Ishiguro's An Artist of The Floating World which I bought a few years back, never got round to reading and didn't know I still had.

I just finished Ali Smith's How to Be Both- a book that couldn't be less Dickensian. Light- airy- all glances and suggestion- with doors left open, stories unfinished and issues unresolved. I love her imagining of the painter del Cossa. If I were more mobile than I am I'd  hop across to Ferrara to stand in front of his three months in the Palace of Shifanoia. They're my new favourite art works and Peter Breughel can stand a little to the side for the time being. Actually Peter and Francesco have a lot in common- and that must say something about the way I look at life too. Both love the manyness of things- all those people, animals, objects that crowd their pictures- Francesco belonging to the spring of the renaissance, when all was promise and hope, and Peter to its end when rather too much of that promise and hope and been stomped over by people in muddy boots.

Talking about muddy boots I just read the New Yorker Story Cat Person which has been so much discussed on social media. Muddy boots is pretty much what it is about- how two people who have a nice, light, superficial  connection- who can joke with one another and share harmless, whimsical fantasies- get drawn into a deeper connection which is entirely unsuitable- because of the muddy boots side to human nature. It's fairly cheerless. I gather female readers tend to take the woman's side and male ones the man's- which rather highlights the point the writer is making.  


 My daughter was suffering from vertigo when we spoke on the phone about a week ago. Then I got it. I told her today that I'd caught it off her long distance. I wasn't entirely joking. She and I have the sort of connection that might allow for such things.