Well, a nice matching pair today, even though one of them (the Sinclair) was a February read and the other a March read. You can’t have everything, can you! I’ve still got one hanging around from February, too, but I’ve realised that Vita Sackville-West’s “The Edwardians” features some Forsyte-like characters, and don’t imagine for one moment that I haven’t plunged into the Forsyte for March already, so all will be well there. So, a theme of mental illness or distress this time (nice), with two very different books, once from a male, one from a female perspective, one from outside, one from inside the experience, one historical, one contemporary, one involving quite a lot of walking, the other quite a lot of nuns … OK, maybe they aren’t QUITE so similar after all …
Iain Sinclair – “Edge of the Orison”
(21 June 2014 from book sale stall in the village square)
I can’t have read any Sinclair for AGES as he doesn’t appear if you search this blog. I have read his M25 one, at very least, and his psychogeographical works are entertaining but quite dense (I’ve not read any of his novels; not quite my thing, I fear).
This one is a musing on John Clare, the Essex peasant poet who famously went mad and did some long walks, giving Sinclair a handy excuse for going on some long walks and musing on madness. So he walks in Clare’s footsteps with a variety of his friends who have featured in other books, and there’s also a rather sweetly prosaic and familiar-feeling search for his wife’s family history, too, with some lovely scenes of them delving into archives and consulting local history librarians, all mixed in with his standard poetic psychogeography.
As I know very little about Clare, it wasn’t as immediately gripping as his walk around the M25; but I did love the descriptions of his family life and the walks themselves, and it was fascinating to see more than one mention of Iris Murdoch, which is something to follow up on (I really can’t remember if he mentions her in his other books). His prose is dense as ever, but does come alive when he’s walking with his friends and wife, and it was a satisfying read, if not the easiest read on the shelf.
Karen Armstrong – “The Spiral Staircase”
(14 August 2014 from Linda via BookCrossing)
This one was also not the easiest of reads, but for different reasons. It’s the memoir of Armstrong’s time directly after leaving holy orders, with a brief description of the background of her time as a nun, and taking us up to the real launch of her career writing about comparative religion and the history of religion. Matthew has read one of her big books on the history of religion and I’d vaguely heard of her story, so I was interested enough to put this aside when it came to me in a box of BookCrossing books to sort through and release.
In the book, Armstrong starts to find herself and establish an identity outside of that of a nun, and she also gradually discovers that the fainting fits that she’s had since the nunnery were not, as the nuns and a series of psychiatrists try to make out, attention-seeking behaviour, but a progressively worsening form of epilepsy. Now, this is mentioned on the back of the book, which is fair enough, and I understand that not everything can (and I don’t want to get into the trigger warnings discussion here), but what is not mentioned is the equally major and important theme of eating disorders, related to both Armstrong and two of her friends, which I would have preferred to have a warning about, personally. I thought this might be one of those things that everybody knows, but apparently not. Anyway, consider yourselves warned – it’s not that graphic but is potentially triggering or (in my case) upsetting.
Anyway, it’s an interesting read in general, although the religious theory gets a bit intense towards the end, and I won’t be rushing out to pick up the first bit.
There was a mention of John Clare and a page of musings on Iris Murdoch, which rather amusingly tie the book to the Sinclair in a more useful way than I thought the theme of mental health struggles would.
Currently reading: I’m currently leafing through Nick Hornby’s “The Polysyllabic Spree” – unfortunately, I’m not that fond of Hornby as a writer (OK, I love “High Fidelity” but he leaves me a bit cold elsewhere) and I’m not massively into the books he reads as he keeps a reading diary for a magazine for a couple of years. The conceit of the board of editors referenced in the title is too twee and fanciful for me, but it’s a book about reading and about buying books, it’s not too laborious a read (although it has very small print, making it a smaller and thinner book than it would otherwise be), so I’m carrying on with it. The other current read is the third Forsyte Saga book, “To Let”, and I’m very much enjoying that! No more books in … so far … What are you reading at the moment?