Speaking of London Bookstores, which of course I mean the bookstores I painstakingly gave you a glimpse of in the last blog. What? Haven’t read it yet? Fie on thee!
For my loyal followers (those that have read at least one of my blogs), I offer a book I picked up at South Kensington Books.
A disquieting book, The Lemon Tree, a grouping of stories. Not disquieting because Julian Barnes (Flaubert’s Parrot, The Sense of an Ending) tosses out porno-erotic words like fuck and cunt – which one would think reasonably go together – but because the stories dissect one of life’s great mysteries and tragedies, growing old. Life slipping over the edge.
There’s love, of course, sweet days of splendor-in-the-grass, as Wordsworth put it. There’s also rapturous sex and promises of wondrous days to come, promises that slowly fade with the seasons of life, so slowly that no one notices until the promise has passed and winter is upon us.
Love. Barnes relishes the stages of love in ways you may or may not find comfortable. Fresh blooms morphing into limp petals, petals floating idly in a last attempt to live. The water in the bowl, a tepid, malodorous mix of the dead and dying, until the stench is poured down the drain and all that remains is a white residue of that which has passed.
Getting old. A collection of things we did, no longer do, or no longer can do. Ah, the pity, the depth of anguish these stories evoke. And yet, some of them rise above the fading light and fog-like gloom.
“A Short History of Hairdressing dances in the delight of every age. “Hygiene” sparkles with wit. “Knowing French” sports a lyrical attitude in the face of the fading light.
I don’t often read a book of individual stories. Not sure why. Perhaps a book, be it novel or non-fiction, lends itself to dreams that put us aside from our selves. Stories are a jazz riff to a novel’s concert. When I say stories, I’m talking about short stories and short, short stories, all the way up to short novellas. An odd thing about stories is that they lend themselves to movies more readily than a book of say five hundred pages. With a book, a writer and director are compelled to trim and chop, to turn a tree into a single branch, or even a toothpick.
Some of the tales in The Lemon Table run to twenty pages or more, some stretch to only a few pages. With one reading you can easily imagine a movie. A story allows you to build, to amplify instead of chop. A good story is distilled, almost like poetry.
No matter the length, Barnes does a superb rendition of character construction. In ‘The Revival,’ a tale of unrequited love, the description is so often simple, “But thirty miles was all they travelled together.” And yet, you feel the aging man’s anguish and longing, love for the sake of love and the sake of living.
Barnes’ writing is so beautifully descriptive that my imagination leads me on, even when my heart screams “You don’t want to know this!”
Evocative is a word that comes to mind. Perhaps ‘mirror’ would be even better.
A big question: Is the book uplifting or depressing? On the surface it’s a little of both, until you realize the tone is a call to action. Make of life what you will. Don’t let precious time wither. There’s plenty to be happy about. Don’t wait. Use your time well. Love. Travel. Celebrate. Do all those things, with people who make your life worth living.
Julian Barnes wrote a remarkable collection of stories. Read them. Use them well.