August 01, 2009

Two Sarahs for the Man Booker

Sarah Waters and Sarah Hall. The day after I wrote about the trouble I have remembering which is which, aggravated by their joint appearance on the Man Booker longlist, I opened the June issue of the Literary Review and chortled Callooh! Callay! It was like being lent an eraser during the maths final and seeing that someone had written the formula on it that you needed. Gradient = rise/run! Page 52, review of The Little Stranger, photo of author Sarah Waters! Page 54, review of How to Paint a Dead Man, photo of author Sarah Hall.

O Sarah Waters (photo caption “exerts a grip”), I will never again mix you up with Sarah Hall (photo caption “delicate”) of the limpid Cumbrian gaze, all lakes, fells, peaks and valleys, and the head girl-hockey star jaw! You, Sarah Waters, with your lived-in face and hoyden’s mussy hair, who called your books “lesbo-romps” and know enough Victorian sexual slang to use some for your title, you are a perfect namesake to the unforgettable Mrs. Waters from Tom Jones, the one great 18th century English novel I’ve read. (Gulliver’s travels and Robinson Crusoe for me belong to that category of books Italo Calvino calls Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, and Moll Flanders I’d say is in another of his categories, Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered).

Mrs. Waters is the woman Tom rescues when he comes across her being attacked on a country highway. He offers her his coat, as her dress is all torn away from her extremely white breasts (I went and reread the scene just now), but she refuses it. Tom walks back to town with her, declaring he will walk in front “for I would not have my eyes offend you and I could not answer for my power of resisting the attractive charms of so much beauty”. Then she keeps needing help to get over the stiles, and before long, it’s the “amorous battle”, as the chapter title has it. The dinner they share became, in Tony Richardson's hands, one of the most famous eating scenes in the history of movies. You can see it, entitled "Lusty eating scene" on the food blog Feeding groom, along with the recipe, should you wish to try this yourself.

I loved Tom Jones. STYLO QUO NON ALIUS UNQUAM INTIMA QUI POTUIT CORDIS reads the inscription on Fielding’s tomb: "No other man was so able to unlock with his pen the recesses of the human heart". Apparently it’s poor Latin, written by a British chaplain in Lisbon, where Fielding died, having gone there to recover from indulging too much in food, drink and the labour of literature.

Sarah Waters’s new book, which I have just gotten out, is not a romp but a ghost story. The Little Stranger, it’s called, and it’s an early favourite for winning the Booker Prize. The Literary Review made it sound really good, in the vein of The Turn of the Screw, once again an “only” for me, the only Henry James novel I’ve read all the way through -- I’ve got his other novels in yet another of Calvino's categories: Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First. I just reread The Turn of the Screw this year when we got new copies at the library. What a perfect book! It would suck me in between its covers, I’d get off at my usual bus stop and think for a second something was wrong, all that asphalt and sun glinting on car roofs. It was supposed to be gravel paths, where you would dread to hear a footstep crunch behind you.

The Little Stranger has a great opening line: “I first saw Hundreds Hall when I was ten years old.” It promises to be very scary. I'm seeing the narrator as a bit of a William H. Macy. I count the first crunching gravel on page 5.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:30
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