Sunday 23 March 2014

Again, lack of action from Curious Sloth is due to activity on the NE:MM front. As we don't have a print copy this month everything's going on the blog. Check it out here:

Thursday 10 October 2013

We're all striving for that balance

The elusive work-life equilibrium which will make us perfect and content. Recently, upon the suddenly progressing illness of a family member, a friend of mine had the courage to step back from some of the hassle of the daily grind to give some extra time for connecting with family and friends, and (in true Carrie Bradshaw-fashion) this led me to thinking:


There’s a perpetuating myth amongst my peers that happiness for a young woman involves a challenging career in her chosen field at the same time as planning THAT uniquely similar wedding. As well as keeping up with the news, politics, feminism, Twitter (yeah, well, maybe not both of those last two combined), ‘culture’, and probably completing another qualification on the side. But, you know what I think, how much calmer would I feel if I didn’t multi-task all of this but could have a series of singular foci.

I’m not claiming to be in this position right now. Yet I would like the option of having my ‘everythings’ and what I’m sort of realising is that not all of these have to overlap. I’m sure it’s not that radical of me.

Sunday 18 August 2013

The Forgotten Waltz – Anne Enright

This was my first Anne Enright, and oh I’m so glad there are loads more to discover. What a beautifully crafted exploration of a woman on the verge of a family.
An affair with a friend of a friend that drags out from a passionate one-night business trip fling. The story seems to be such a typical exploration of mid-life worries: the death of a mother, the stress of family life, sibling anger at others’ decisions, the struggle for property, that bricks-and-mortar epitome of ourselves which can be so important.
Putting pen to paper to describe it, I begin to realise the cleverness of Enright’s craft. The story runs roughly chronological, but told with a lot of hindsight from the narrator, Gina. And yet what really happens? A marriage starts and ends, the narrator moves back into the old family home, and a little girl witnesses a kiss between her father and another woman. But the flitting style of narrative, leaves much unsaid and leads us in implicit directions.
It’s all about the turning of the relationship around the young daughter of Seán, Evie, who may or may not be scarred by some type of epilepsy, and is therefore so carefully protected. Enright leads us through the implications of this on a family unit: the mother trying to control everything, the father trying to obey and caught unhappily in a marriage that cannot be escaped, the little girl oblivious, sometimes vacant, in the middle of it all. But this isn’t even all the focus of the story, because this is Gina’s story:

These things happen all the time. You catch a stranger’s eye, for a moment too long, and then you look away.
I was just back from holidays – a week with Conor’s sister in Sydney, then north to this amazing place where we learned how to scuba dive. Where we also learned, as I recall, how to have sex while sober; a simple trick, but a good one, it was like taking off an extra skin. Maybe this was why I could meet Seán’s eye. I had just been to the other side of the world. I was looking, by my own standards, pretty good. I was in love – properly in love – with a man I would soon decide to marry, so when he looked at me, I did not feel afraid.
Perhaps I should have done.
And I can’t for the life of me, recall what Evie looked like that day. She would have been four, but I can’t think how that would play on the girl I know now. All I saw that afternoon was a child with a dirty face. So Evie is just a kind of smudge in the picture, which is otherwise so clear. [p9-10]

This is writing that can turn on a feather, as agile and quick as our racing thoughts. Mesmerisingly good. And yet with an imperfect heroine who never accepts fault, who stalks her lover one night, and who will always be second in line for affection behind Evie to Seán.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

No pianist for sure... Cynthia Ozick's "Henry James inspired" Foreign Bodies

Who leaves a grand piano in the middle of their cramped New York flat for almost half their life without even playing it? Well that would be Bea Nightingale in Cynthia Ozick’s excellent and illuminating Foreign Bodies.

It (that is, the piano) belonged to her former husband, and the metaphor of a dead weight weighing Bea down and a giant potential space in her life for maybe creativity or love or passion is really quite excellently conceived. 

I know I’m not meant to imagine myself into a book, but as a pianist the compulsion to play this imaginary piano in the pages of Ozick’s novel is overwhelming. What am I meant to do with that urge?

The storyline of the novel is rather complicated. We are led from America to Paris, then back again to New York, then back to Paris, then over to the west coast (to the owner of the piano), all in the vain attempt made by Bea’s brother Marvin to control her and his children. Marvin has already placed his wife in care, unable to deal with her mental well-being. In fact the scenes with the wife, although she is such a minor character, have stuck with me, strangely, the most of all. But the novel doesn’t really focus on Marvin; it has rather a patched-together perspective mainly dealing with Bea and her nephew Julian. This is partly told through letters between Bea and Marvin, which convey so brilliantly Ozick’s skill and character painting. I truly loathed Marvin!

What was unusual for me was that I very rarely have patience with characters who are unlikeable, yet with Ozick’s Foreign Bodies they are ALL frustrating and flawed. Somehow though Ozick compelled me to keep reading, and I even found myself enjoying the portrayals of such annoying characters.

Definitely one to re-read with time. Though probably not for all, as this excellent review by Kevinfromcanada makes clear with an apt use of metaphor.