Light years ago I found a quote in Jay Rubin's book on Japanese author Haruki Murakami and it impressed me enough to make a note...
'The novel tells stories in an attempt to bring out the narrative within, and through some kind of irrational process these stories send reverberations to the stories inside each reader.'
I think it is what we all know happens as we are reading a book, the book as experience, and it felt like a creed for how I wrote about books on here. It is why I never call anything I write about a book a 'review' because it isn't. If I was only reading books to be objective and informative in order to write about them for a blog there would be no dovegreyreader scribbles. I have to read for pleasure and to share those reverberations and to create a space for you to share yours in comments (and thank you so much, because you do and I appreciate every single one) so brace for book as experience today and again on Wednesday.
It's odd when you hear murmurings about a book. A mention yonder, a tweet of praise there, a word in comments here and, in the mood for a slim read, I finally reached for A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler.
I spent a very long time looking at the cover because it reminded of walking to the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand back in January...
And again as I left, when I knew what I was looking for...and I can't quite believe all the emotions I am feeling again just seeing this picture, and imagining myself back on that plane heading home.
Despite the fact that the Franz Josef glacier is in trouble and seems to be receding at an alarming rate I find there is still something almost humbling about the power of this immense frozen river still carving its path down the mountainside.
It might be one of those aspects of school geography that has stuck in my mind; lateral and terminal moraine and 'U' shaped valleys and the smoothness of the stone left behind...
I'm always nerdishly pointing out a 'U'shaped valley on our travels and blaming the Ice Age.
I built a little three-stone cairn for my mum, my dad and my brother while I was at the foot of the Franz Josef...
So distracted was I by the swirls on the cover of A Whole Life that it was quite some time before I really noticed both the small chalet (top right) or the small and blending-in hiking man (lower left) . Ultimately that insignificance took on a much greater meaning as the simple and seemingly ordinary life of Andreas Egger unfolded.
Born into a life of poverty and hardship in the Austrian Alps, Andreas Egger makes the best of the abuse, pain and deprivation of his childhood, and the love, loss and loneliness of his mature years and from it creates an enviable contentment and happiness.
I had woken early one morning having turned the final page of A Whole Life before going to sleep the night before. It was that eerie dawnlight of the dark autumn mornings before the clocks go back, but it was blessed by the light of a full moon (apparently a 'super' moon) which had arced its way from east to west during the night. The shadows in the bedroom came from that westerly direction and cast an unusual glow at an unusual time and I found myself thinking about this book (just 149 pages long) in its entirety.
It tells of the life of one man, an ordinary seemingly unremarkable life lived in a once remote Alpine village through the twentieth century. As one reviewer, quoted on the cover, suggested, it 'magically captures the universal in all our lives' and it is indeed a slim masterpiece.
I was thinking too about an ex-work colleague, a district nurse I had worked with for many years, who had written a few months ago to tell me she had just retired, had discovered dovegreyreader, was reading avidly and thanked me for writing it because she hadn't been well and it was a joy to read. She had just emailed me again to say that she now only had 'weeks' left but would be reading dovegreyreader for as long as she possibly could...and the sadness and responsibility of that and so much more was going around in my mind.
About a whole life and our allotted time spans and things...though sadly, but not morbidly, more gratefully in an odd sort of way. That we get a go at it and all do our best sort of thing.
Andreas Egger, born at the turn of the century, arrives in the village that will become his home, as a small child, an orphan sent to live with a distant relation, a farmer. His childhood memories will thankfully be 'frayed and fragmentary' and life will deal him a hand that contains both joy and sorrow, hardship, poverty, small prosperity but above all the ability to survive. A resilience borne of necessity will sustain Andrea in times of both emotional and physical...
'Sometimes it was a little lonely up there, but he didn't regard his loneliness as a deficiency. He had no one but he all he needed and that was enough.'
Towards the end of his life, un-phased by increasing confusion, Andreas's life is appraised by the third person narrative. A resume of this life, which like every life, is far from ordinary to the one who has lived it.
'Over and over again he had hung his life on a thread between heaven and earth...he had learned more about people than he was fully able to understand.'
It would be easy to say a great deal more about a book so slender yet one which manages to contain so much, but that would be to do it, and you (if you decide to read it) a great disservice. Everyone will take something different from A Whole Life, some more than others perhaps, but as I lay thinking and looking at the moonshadows I was acutely aware of the power of a book, and the way that occasionally one segues into a time and place in life at exactly the right moment.
A Whole Life has apparently been a huge success in Germany where it was originally published in 2014, so for it to retain its power and immediacy on the other side of translation is a shining achievement, and all credit to translator Charlotte Collins.
My nursing friend died last Sunday at the age of fifty-six, none of us who worked with her will ever forget her, or the way that she could bounce into the office and immediately lift the mood if it was languishing (and trust me, it often was) and thoughts are with her family and the many whose lives she touched and cared for. We will all be giving her a good send off this week.
Call me a kill-joy and a stick-in-the-mud but, though we've carved a few pumpkins in our time, I'm not that fond of Hallow'een, least of all the flossy web-like stuff that was starting to drape the shops in London last week, and I expect the witches and spiders have now been added, but it will be All Souls Day this week too, a day to remember the departed and I will be remembering them.
Final words to Robert Seethaler...
'He had never felt compelled to believe in God, and he wasn't afraid of death. He couldn't remember where he had come from, and ultimately he didn't know where he would. But he could look back without regret on the time inbetween, his life, with a full-throated laugh and utter amazement.'