So my reading Sunday got off to a bright frosty Tamar Valley morning start, breakfast in bed, the weekend papers and a pile of books alongside.
BH out walking dogs.
The view as I sit up in bed is the one you see on the blog, top left all the time and it's one that would keep me happily snuggled under the duvet reading all day if I let it.
I had skimmed an excellent piece in yesterday's Guardian Review which I wanted to give a close read. James Wood on What Makes a Character Real.
Several ideas jumped off the page and bit me,
' I think novels tend to fail not when the characters are not vivid or not "deep" enough, but when the novel in question has failed to teach us how to adapt to its conventions, has failed to manage a specific hunger for its own characters, its own reality level. In such cases our appetite is quickly disappointed, and surges wildly in excess of what we are provided, and we tend to blame the author, unfairly, for not giving us enough - the characters, we complain, are not alive or round or free enough.'
This is followed by some discussion relevant to the book next to me, Wood disputes E.M.Forster's assertion that short stories rarely offer space for characters to become rounded suggesting instead that
'it is subtlety that matters - subtlety of analysis, of inquiry, of concern, of felt pressure - and for subtlety a small point of entry will do.'
So how will my latest collection which has temporarily replaced a daily read of Grace Paley match up?
No pressure there then for Balancing on the Edge of the World by Elizabeth Baines and published by Salt. I'd read the next story Power, with all this in mind.
Poor Elizabeth, how mean is that?
Actually you know me by now, if this had all gone pear-shaped I would just have put the book to one side and you'd have been none the wiser.
I read closely and carefully and looked for the subtle small point of entry into the characters and Elizabeth provided it very quickly
'We were in the garden because Mum was on the phone again.
'Why don't you play outside? she said, as soon as she'd answered it...'
and when the girls hover reluctantly in the doorway and she asks them again
' she looked irritated and a bit upset...a pleady question not an order.'
And within a few sentences I have been allowed entry into this story, this world, the characters and already I know exactly where I am and where I think the story might be going. I emerged just eight pages later with a complete picture of the family, the balance of power and the people firmly established in my mind. Well rounded indeed, the wandering father, the ever-forgiving mother, the perceptive yet confused and insecure children and the slow shift in power towards the end.
Slow careful reading is a joy indeed and I suspect The Sunday Salon may be the perfect excuse I need to wallow in the words.
More later I'm sure but the coffee's waiting on the kitchen table, you're all welcome.