HISTORY OF THE RAIN

‘When it comes to Clare, when it passes our house, the river knows it is nearly free. I am plain Ruth Swain. See me, nineteen, narrow face, MacCarroll eyes, thin lips, dull hazelnut hair, gleamy Swain skin, pale untanable oddment, bony, book-lover, reader of so many nineteenth-century novels before the age of fifteen that I became exactly too clever by half, sufferer of Smart Girl Syndrome, possessor of opinions and good marks, student of pure English, Fresher, Trinity College Dublin, the poet’s daughter.’ My friend Kate recommended Niall Williams’ History of the Rain a while ago and I have been listening to it on audiobook. The first part is called ‘The Salmon in Ireland’ and the narration is very much an experience of meandering down river with a fellow poet, a fellow sufferer of the mystery of illness. I love Ireland, as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows because I have made so many friends though our mutual love affair with Marian Keyes – and listening to the Clare accent unfold the story of Ruth Swain is a perfect accompaniment to a tired, bruised soul. IMAG0107 ‘We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That’s how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told.’ Niall Williams has written a beautiful book – get it out on audio if you can for the truly Irish experience – the narrator is Jennifer McGrath – or read it, because you love attic rooms with skylights, leaping salmon, poetry and the possibility of reading three thousand, nine hundred and fifty-eight books before you die… 27.Niall Williams-History Of The Rain-jacket

CATHERINE ALLIOTT VS CHEMO

Yesterday as the infusion dripped into me and I snarled tighter under my blanket, I was glad for an audiobook of Catherine Alliott’s A Crowded Marriage, even though I’d heard it all before… Imo, Alex, snooty Eleanor, the fox that decapitates Cynthia the chicken, and not one but two possible Heathcliffian suitors… there is also Rufus, 9, who I think runs away with the story. Suzy Aitchison reads most of Alliott’s novels and she is utterly perfect at almost all voices and accents, except perhaps when she attempts Irishmen. They come out sounding a bit Norfolk…

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When you are undergoing Rituximab, which is chemotherapy but the milder form (the pure monoclonal version untainted by high octane cancer cocktails), a nurse invariably switches on the extra heavy duty fluorescent tubes – the ones that burst onto your cornea with sadistic pleasure. You whip out your sunglasses but really, it is your ears you need to seduce into escape. I recommend Alliott wholeheartedly. Also Jill Mansell. And my beloved Marian Keyes. Georgette Heyer must be saved for home because she must never be interrupted by blood pressure cuffs and the young man who will offer you sandwiches and a rather grisly looking cheesecake and although you feel guilty because he has taken the trouble to carry the tray, and ask so politely, you will refuse; you must refuse… Eat melon instead, brought from home. And chocolate, of course. From the vending machine.

THE CRÈME DE LA CRÈME

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‘The evening paper rattle-snaked its way through the letter box and there was suddenly a six-o’clock feeling in the house.’

One of my wonderful Creative Writing MA lecturers Caron Freeborn was praising the novels of Muriel Spark a week ago, and when she discovered I hadn’t yet read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, she told me to get to it immediately. So I did. Part of the same Waterstones exercise that provided me with Miranda July’s short stories from the previous post. And there is ‘a six o’clock feeling in the house’ as I read Spark’s perfect lines. Miss Jean Brodie is a novella, which has always been one of my favourite manifestations of story-telling. Scalpel work woven with a poet’s hand. I feel as though this is a poem disguised as a novella. Maybe that is because poems are woven into the body of the work. Or maybe the best works of fiction always feel like poetry to me. I am enjoying myself, and not a little in awe of the eponymous leader…

‘Plainly,’ said Miss Brodie, ‘you were not listening to me. If only you small girls would listen to me I would make of you the crème de la crème.’

JULY IN APRIL

It is probably a dull habit to read all types of books from start to finish, but I find myself unable to dip in and out of a new book of poems or short stories. I like to be thorough. The way I’d eat dessert. I wouldn’t dream of plunging my spoon or fork into the heart and smearing the centre down the sides. Maybe I should…

So it is with my latest current read. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July. It has a yellow cover. I like books with some yellow in them. Maybe it’s a glaucoma thing. Or maybe it’s a happy thing. It caught my eye at Waterstones and accompanied me through a solitary lunch at Yo! Sushi where a little boy of eight seemed quite fascinated by the creature opposite him, eating alone and looking perfectly satisfied to do so.

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Reading July in April is a delicious thing. Subversive. Which is the best way to describe these stories. Which I discover later also come in other colours…

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