To get to Kingsbridge I need to leave London and travel back to a wilderness, first.
This morning A column of fire arrived, together with Last hope island (a history of Britain’s role in helping invaded nations fight the Nazi). A thick parcel full of promise, a paper portal to a town I have visited twice – and what satisfying trips those were. I am very curious to meet the new characters and see the changes the Tudor era has brought to Kingsbridge, but I can’t just get there yet: before I start Ken Follett’s new work, I need to finish at least one of the books I am already reading, but I’m afraid it will take some time. I am stuck, in at least two different places.
I commenced reading A time for everything, by Karl Ove Knausgaard in late August. A really fascinating novel, but it is difficult to say what it is about: it starts with a nocturnal sighting of angels in an unidentified land of mountains and forest, followed by a retelling of the events that led to the destruction of Gomorrah, which in turn leads to another unamed stretch of mountains and valleys where the biblical first family lives. This episode is focused on Cain’s tormented personality and his difficult relationship with Abel; the mountains and valleys are sparsely inhabited, and page after page you follow the brothers while you look around the vast, peaceful landscapes, sympathising with Cain and waiting for tragedy to strike. It is beautifully written (or I should say, beautifully translated into English), I feel as if I were breathing the beautiful landscape in, but it is a very slow read, so when Girl on a train arrived in September I thought I’d give it a go, planning to ride through it fast and then go back to the Norwegian novel with its terse, solitary wilderness and its surprising approach to biblical stories
Girl on a train is not bad, but not my thing. I am not going to leave it – I very rarely dump a book, but the praise I had read had made me hope it would carry me away. I just can’t find the plot all that exciting, so when I read it my mind wanders – when the protagonist was home alone thinking of her dead husband, I was reminded of a similar situation in a very different novel: Lost in a good book, by Jasper Fforde.
I used to avoid reading two books at the time, and to criticise my husband, who reads a lot but rarely finishes a book because he starts too many. Then I started allowing myself to read a novel while I was also reading an essay, because I need a good story, but really, I can’t believe I am wading through all these at the same time: the two novels, plus a science book which explains some biological phenomena with quantum physics (it’s brilliant: it’s The physics of life ) and on top of it all I am – for the eighth time I think – reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher stone. I didn’t mean to start it over, I just wanted to check a couple of details but then… it is so refreshing…
I decided to keep the Potter book downstairs and read a bit at meals, while the two “new” novels are upstairs and are read in turns. The funniest thing was that having revisited the Potterworld, it surfaced in Waines’s novel: there is a moment when the protagonist, a young free lance journalist, goes to Brixton to talk to a family, and there’s a page in which a dirty street, with its run-down buildings and dumpster made me think she may bump into Harry, Ron and Hermione when they apparate in Muggle London in an emergency at the beginning of The deathly hallows. I almost saw them behind the dumpster.
It is funny, but also really fascinating how all the stories we read that are set in the same time and space setting really fuse, in our mind: all the dickensian characters who live in London or get there in the course of their vicissitudes are there together, maybe they bump into one another; and why shouldn’t Dr. Jeckyll have patients among them? And can’t we imagine one of Dostoevsky’s neurotic young men waiting on the same platform as Anna Karenina?
This needs a new post, when I have time.