Tuesday, November 25, 2014

this week #6

So it's been a while since I did one of these posts. I'd like to be one of those bloggers that post regularly. Something about regularity feels comforting. But, I'm not that person. I get distracted by reading book after book and scratching down sentences and paragraphs of my own; and by copying snippets of interesting conversation I overhear into my composition book and taking screenshots of things that feel important, until I come across them days later and wonder why I felt that way. 

I get distracted sucking squares of dark chocolate until they melt into nothingness and all I'm left with is the slightly bitter taste on my tongue. I get distracted drinking tea, mixing my Sencha with my Irish Breakfast and my Marrakech with my China Jasmine and it's perfect. I get distracted by the afternoon sunshine streaming through my window, and I close my eyes enjoying the light and the warmth.

Apart from the distraction, I get so hung up about posting something 'good' that I don't post anything. And then, inevitably, when I don't post I get anxious about not posting. It's a vicious circle. And a strange one at that. 

Here are a few things from this week. And maybe one or two from the week before.

The Electronic Encyclopedia of Experimental Literature is exactly what is sounds like - you'll get lost, but it'll be that good kind of lost, where you aren't worried you're just soaking up the experience, watching the sky change colour and the hours move and feeling like you're in the right spot. Finally.  

The Art of Plating: Food as something more than just nourishment, more than just sugars and carbohydrates and fats and sodium. It's kind of beautiful, no?

The case for finishing every book you start. - Still debating the merits of this theory with myself. Do I have to, really? Every single book? I'm not convinced. 

Sometimes you travel for the experiences, the sights and smells, the people whose stories you discover, other times you travel for the artisan cheese: the men you meet on a cross country road trip.

kb xx

Sunday, November 16, 2014

reading: a girl is a half-formed thing

I think I vaguely knew this book existed, that it was out in the world. But when I saw it at the library the speed at which I snatched it from the shelf perhaps indicated that my vagueness masked something a little stronger. And when I put it down three days ago I felt full with something that I could not yet articulate. 

You know those puzzles you often see online, the ones that appear to be a jumble of letters, nothing quite making sense. But somehow you can decipher the message, something to do with the first and last letter being in the right spot allows your brain to reorganise the letters within each word until you see the message. Until you can read it as clearly as if it were never jumbled in the first place. Over the last few days, as I've let this story wash over me I've thought more and more about those puzzles, about our ability to find what is clear beneath what is not. 

Eimear McBride writes in a stream of consciousness style, but there is nothing smooth here. Her words are sharp, jagged even, torn and rough and sometimes difficult to read - difficult because of both the style and the subject matter. 

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a story about family, about faith, about death, about desperation. It follows the narrator, an Irish girl, from about the age of two as she grapples with the world. With a pious mother, an older brother living with a brain tumour, an absent father, a sexually abusive uncle who rapes her at thirteen - a trail of destructive relationships that leads to an ending not wholly unexpected. 

We follow her as she grows out of her small country hometown, as she moves to the city and starts college, as she follows this path of using sex as a salve for a wound that gapes at the edges. As she continues to engage in a toxic, abusive relationship with her uncle that becomes increasingly violent. As her brothers brain tumour returns and she watches him die. She is falling apart, piece by piece, from the very first pages. Her destruction catalogued across a landscape whose brutality matches her existence, in a family who is saved only from complete failure by the relationship of the girl and her brother - the you in the story. 

No characters are named, descriptions are painted in broad strokes and sometimes not at all. The staccato language, the unformed thoughts, the lingering feeling of reading one of those puzzles, the ones with the jumbled letters, and yet as I turned page after page I understood this story. I grasped these characters, I began to see what was clear underneath what was not. 

There is something about this story. I'm not sure if it's the style, the characters, the ending I had almost hoped for but that still hurt. I don't know, but when I turned that last page and realised that was it, it was a sharp hit to the gut. There wasn't anything else. 

It's taken me a couple of days to sit down and write this and I've barely read anything since I put this book down. Maybe I needed the time to process it, needed the time to get what was in my head and put it into words. And even now I don't feel like I'm doing this story justice. I don't feel like I'm getting this down right. 

Eimear McBride is an Irish author and A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is her debut novel. It took six months to write and nine years to publish. Let that wash over you. It has been almost universally praised, an instant classic. A work of genius and just damn good storytelling. Something that works at you until it gets under your skin and you find yourself wanting to reach into the pages and grab the hand of the narrator and hold onto her tight. 

But something else about this story, apart from the Irish girl at its heart, has grabbed me, has allowed me an insight into my own work that feels overwhelming. McBride's story helped me realise my reluctance to paint my own characters in minute detail, my own preference for broad strokes. It helped me to understand why I place thoughts and feelings above specifics and why sometimes that is not just a way to write, it's the only way. 

Some stories are better when you have to fight for what is underneath, when you have to do some of the work of clearing the dust and dirt and rubble of words to decipher the message. And when you let that message settle into every corner of your mind, when you wait until it bubbles to the surface, maybe that's when you get to be a part of the story, even if only in the smallest way. 

This is not an easy read. But then, why should it be? What it is, is a book worth your time. A story worth working for. The narrator is a character worth knowing, worth remembering. Eimear McBride is an author worth the praise. 

kb xx

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

the places you'll go: land's end

There is a place on the south-west coast of England called Land's End. It is the most westerly point of England and is, naturally, a popular tourist destination. I spied in on map, while attempting to pin point Devon, and now I find myself determined to go there.

Part of my move to London is about adventure. About putting myself in the middle of a situation without prescribed boundaries and expectations; a situation with the potential for adventure that feels unattainable at home. And a big part of that, is not making concrete plans. Apart from a plane ticket, my intentions, my plans, my goals are roughly sketched; missing colour and clarity, they are sometimes nothing more than a few swipes of pen across a blank page.

But as the date of my departure from Australia draws closer, as I find myself pin pointing places on maps that I missed on my first European sojourn, I find myself with a growing list of places I want to go, things I want to see. In the spirit of sharing on this here blog I'm going to add them here under the, hopefully, auspicious moniker 'the places you'll go'. Which is, of course, a very direct reference to Dr. Suess.

Land's End is the first if these.

The name Land's End appears to derive from the old Cornish Penn-an-Wlas which translates to end of the land. The Romans called Land's End the seat of storms, a fitting description for a stretch of coastline notorious for shipwrecks. One of which has captured my attention. 

On the 23 of September, 1641 the English ship, Merchant Royal sunk roughly forty miles from the coast of Land's End. It's described as the richest ever shipwreck, according to reports by the surviving crew the ship was carrying '300,000 pounds in silver, 100,000 pounds in gold and as much again in jewel.' The Merchant Royal has never been recovered, it rests somewhere under the water off the Land's End coast, its silver and gold and jewels a mystery still. 

Despite the romanticism of a jewel carrying shipwreck, I find myself drawn in the first instance to this wild place because of its name. It feels both dystopian and medieval and I imagine standing on the edge of a cliff with the expanse of the Celtic Sea ahead of me and having that be an experience that will stick with me. An expanse of sea past the Land's End, in the most literal of senses how is that even possible?

Notwithstanding the beauty of Land's End, it is also incredibly dense with archaeological heritage, with more than 800 sites dating from the Neolithic era, the Bronze, Iron and Dark Ages and the Age of the Celtic Saints. Which I, in my own special way, find terribly fascinating.

I'm not sure how I'll get to Land's End. A mix of trains and buses and maybe I'll even walk part-way there. I'm not sure when I'll go to Land's End, some point after April next year is all I have, but I'll definitely get there. I'm not really even sure why I feel the need to go to Land's End, why I want to stand on the most westerly point of England, why I want to stare into the expanse of the Celtic Sea, why I want to see even just a few of the archaeological sites scattered around the area. I'm really not sure, but I'm going. Maybe that is what adventure is, not knowing and going anyway, or perhaps more accurately going in spite of the not knowing. 

kb xx