July 28, 2010

More reading, some writing

I’ve been reading some writers who write very differently from each other as part of my search for ways of writing that I find satisfying for myself.

I forget what the references to it were that made me interested in Thomas Bernhard, a dead Austrian who wrote in German. His last book, Extinction, which I got from the library, is 326 pages in two paragraphs, one for each section. It took a while to get used to reading pages without any paragraph breaks, it gave the whole book a relentless feel. The setting is largely inside the protagonist’s head. He spends the first half ruminating about the family he hates, having just received a telegram from one of his two sisters saying his parents and only brother have been killed in a car crash. The second half is still in his head but he is physically at the family estate (they are rich). He thinks everyone despises and judges him, as he does them. There are hints that he is an unreliable narrator, as they say. He rails against the action of Austria the country and Austrians the people in WW11. Looking back I am surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it, mostly over several train trips to Wellington. I’m not going to give up paragraphs.

Lydia Davis’s Collected Stories is another matter altogether. Short stories, some a few lines, some a few paragraphs, others several pages. Written over xx years. Again, mainly from inside people’s heads but many different point/s of view and voices. A lot to do with mothers, both being one and having one. The reviewer in London Review of Books (22 July) calls them, “uncomfortably intimate.” Apart from one of the longest stories, which I didn’t get at all and thought boring, I loved reading this book, too. What have I learnt about my own writing? I don’t know, that’s something I find impossible to articulate. I certainly don’t want to write ‘like’ people I read but somehow reading the kind of writing I don’t do informs what I do.

The third book in my recent exploration is Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs. This is a writer who wallows in words, the sound of them, the meanings of them the mis/use of them. It’s a grim novel, with a lot of sub-plots, and it’s funny.

At least part of the impetus for this reading has been Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer, (Must read one of her novels.) which I referred to in an earlier blog.

I’m still flopping around with my own writing. Need some discipline to get the latest draft of the novel finished and have some people who read the early chapters read the whole thing. I have some short stories on the go, one of which used to be a poem. I took this to my writing group on Sunday and thanks to their feedback it’s improved a lot. See the end of this post for its current version. Might be a final version.

The writing group is in the throes of publishing a book of our work. More on that in my next post.

On the anniversary of her daughter’s death, she walks to the southern end of the beach, well away from the day-trippers.

Between the rumble of the train
and the waves’ reiterating roar.

She watches two oyster-catchers feeding at the mussel rocks. The afternoon looms appropriately grey, with the hidden sun now and then sheeting arrows of light through gaps in the clouds, making the waves’ white tops flare. A man fishes from the shore. A child climbs the skeleton of a tree dropped on the beach by a winter storm. Last week it had been further along, now it’s lodged in the sand like a climbing frame. She wants that child, whose mother sits on the sand with her knees pulled up to her chin, her arms wrapped around them, watching; the job of all mothers.

Oyster-catchers fly off at the skittering approach of a small black dog. The pied shag drying its wings on a rock scares into flight. The waves come in, the waves pull back, the sun’s rays are shining, then not, birds eat, preen, fly off, bent on their own safety. All are careless of her desolation and she finds a strange solace in their indifferent beauty.

A man approaches, running behind a push-chaired baby, smiling as he guides the three-wheeled buggy in a semi-circle around her and heads back the way he came. Her eyes fill with tears. She laughs, at his heels flicking up sand.

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