2018: wot i read*

*disclaimer: i have drunk a LOT of hot chocolate & this post was written on, hahahaha, a massive sugar high

i haven’t posted in months! because i had some kind of unpleasant insomniac episode & screwed up a coursework submission & now my uni is coming after me, & also my housing situation has gone to s h i t, & also some weird shit is going down with my Personal personal life. also i’m writing too many things at once.

i’m in the process of getting my sleeping problems sorted out (i had an appointment with a campus doctor who pretty much just told me to google it), & i’m getting back into a routine with my running, i.e the cornerstone of my mental health. jo & lucy & i have had to find a new place for next year, because our asshole landlords didn’t tell us they’re planning to turn my bedroom (MY bedroom, as in the CUTEST bedroom, which i SLEEP in) into a bathroom this summer. but it’s okay! because we’ve found a super cosy old house with an actual fireplace & an upstairs bathroom &, wait for it, that ultimate luxury: double glazing.

also: do you guys think i should cancel my gym membership & buy a waffle iron? because i’m starting to think i should cancel my gym membership & buy a waffle iron. i don’t know, guys, it’s been a weird few months.

anyway. my favourite person in the whole wide world is visiting me soon. & i’m reading a very unknown mervyn peake novel. & i’ve got into dandelion hands. i need to wrap up this post & go to bed. basically: my reading in 2018 ran the gamut, as usual. i only included books i read cover to cover & individual short stories, so the high doses of mallarmé & t.s eliot & keats aren’t on there, nor are all the academic essays & random bits of seneca & martial & dryden that you read when you do a 17th century lit module.

i’ll be back with more bullshit soonish, depending on how far i get my life together this week!

 

  1. Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh

i finished 2017 on kind of a waugh kick, & read this over a pretty terrible few days in early january. it’s bitter & brilliant (generally speaking, with waugh everything funny is sad & everything sad is funny). i just wish i’d been able to appreciate it more at the time. anyway, i thought this passage was beautiful.

“Don’t you think,” said Father Rothschild gently, “that perhaps it is all in some  way historical? I don’t think people ever want to lose their faith either in religion or anything else. I know very few young people, but it seems to me that they are all possessed with an almost fatal hunger for permanence. I think all these divorces show that. People aren’t content just to muddle along nowadays… And this word “bogus” they all use … They won’t make the best of a bad job nowadays. My private schoolmaster used to say, “If a thing’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well.” My Church has taught that in different words for several centuries. But these young people have got hold of another end of the stick, and for all we know it may be the right one. They say, “If a thing’s not worth doing well, it’s not worth doing at all.” It makes everything very difficult for them.”

  1. Among the Bohemians, Virginia Nicholson

i enjoyed this so much. it was one of the few things i could get really interested in over those few weeks. there’s loads of fascinating stuff about the bloomsbury circle & some very juicy anecdotes. my JAM. i want to go hang out with all these guys. especially viva king, goddamn.

  1. Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson

this one struck… close to home. her writing stops my heart.

  1. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D Salinger

a reread on the train back to norwich in the new year. not my favourite salinger (that’s prolly seymour: an introduction) but there’s nothin like this book for when you want to punch something. that makes it sound like i was punching the book. i wasn’t doing that. i just find it a weirdly cathartic read.

  1. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

i’d never read it before & i enjoyed it so much. i love the way vonnegut invents verbs whenever he needs a new one.

  1. Pedro Paramo, Juan Rulfo

this was one of the weirdest things i read for my course this year. think mexican wuthering heights, except chronologically it goes all over the place & also you aren’t quite sure who’s dead & who isn’t, because practically everyone seems to be a ghost.

  1. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson

unbelievably i had never read this before. it’s very good but i like her fairy tales much more. i was amused by how much i related to this, tho.

  1. The Garden Party and Other Stories, Katherine Mansfield

read for my course. this is full of bright haunting images. in my head all her stories look like monet paintings.

  1. Reckless, Cornelia Funke

an old favourite from when i was a kid. it’s strange, though- altho it was marketed as a young adult novel i’m not sure it really is. the protag, jacob, is twenty-four- too old to be the hero of a kids’ book, really- & difficult, tough, strange. he’s a fantastic character & the book is terrifying in the way of really, really good fairy tales. i reread it while the beast from the east had us snowed into our flat & everything was white & glittering & me & lucy were making proper hot chocolate every day, the kind you make with a big bar of really good 70% dark. good days. i love cornelia funke.

  1. Pére Goriot, Honoré de Balzac

this book fucked me up. some of balzac’s character analyses… whew. i got so hooked on what he’s selling that i ended up writing the most dramatic piece of coursework of my life on it. see:

Goriot’s love reduces him to an undignified asceticism- because it is real and the real makes demands, lines one’s skin, drains one’s fortune. Easier to do as most of Balzac’s Paris does: renounce it and live in comfort. ‘Our heart is a treasure chest, and if you empty it out you are ruined’.

  1. Henry IV, William Shakespeare

also studied for my course. love this play. it’s a happy place for me. falstaff! also, i find hal to be a really acute portrait of a certain sort of person- well-meaning but calculating, with a theatrical performativity that isn’t quite spontaneous, with a perfectly sincere streak of heroism & the ability to shape-shift at will. you think i’m joking?

  1. Anne of the Island, L.M Montgomery

i reread lucy maud’s books about once a year, when i get the itch. i wanted to reread this one bc it’s anne’s uni experience, as well as maybe being my favourite of the anne books (up there with house of dreams). i just… i will never be tired of these books. the emily trilogy is easily my favourite of lucy maud’s inventions, but the anne books just make everything seem brighter without ever being preachy or condescending, or seeming to skip over the really tough stuff. i owe a LOT to l.m, i really do.

  1. The Vicar of Wakefield, Anthony Goldsmith

the less said the better.

  1. Two Gentlemen of Verona, William Shakespeare

what the fuck even is this. it’s ridiculous. it also has this piece of stunning poetry dropped into the midst of a bunch of utter STUPIDITY:

For Orpheus’s lute was strung with poets’ sinews,

Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones,

Make tigers tame and huge leviathans

Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands.

  1. Chronicles of Avonlea, L.M Montgomery

i remember only one of the stories from this, the fucking hilarious hurrying of ludovic. i love how well-known characters just scurry in & out of the frame all through this book. also, everyone loves anne SO MUCH, & talks about her in such flattering terms, like… how does l.m pull this off? if any other author did this about any other character i would call bullshit. but because it’s anne- & because we know that anne is a wonderful whimsical sweetheart who occasionally exudes HUGE dumbass energy- it works.

  1. Further Chronicles of Avonlea, L.M Montgomery

clearly i was on a kick.

  1. The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare

big yikes.

  1. Henry VI Part Two, William Shakespeare

i was super confused for a second until i remembered that i started with this one bc it’s thought to have been written before parts one & two. i remember absolutely nothing about it.

  1. À Rebours, Jean-Rhys Huysmans

oh, fuck me, this book. it’s a nightmare procession of decadent BULLSHIT. it’s all crack to me. fellow wilde disciples: this is thought to be the book that corrupted dorian gray. you know that chapter of dorian that everybody except me seems to hate? the one that’s basically just a torrent of jewels, books, flowers & half-hinted debauches? (the one that happens to actually be my favourite chapter, whoops.) this book was obviously a huge inspiration for that, because that chapter kinda reads like a riff on à rebours. except des esseintes is somehow even more horrible than dorian. & there’s lots of stuff about my boy gustave moreau. no, i don’t have a the sirens laptop sticker. no, it isn’t next to my cartoon oscar wilde & secret history quote & birth of venus stickers.

  1. Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend

a lovely whimsical book about a lady who ditches conventional spinisterism to go live alone in a village & become a witch & also possibly a lesbian. what a fucking icon. also there are some sensuous metaphors, y’all.

  1. Henry VI Part Three, William Shakespeare

there are two terrifyingly brilliant soliloquies given by gloucester (i.e richard iii) in this, & i take my copy down & reread the last one when i hate everything.

  1. Bluets, Maggie Nelson

so good i can barely talk about it. pure poetry, tbh.

  1. The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith

the novel the movie carol was based on. it’s very good. highsmith gives me shivers. those little cogs & wheels that showed the hairpin turns of ripley’s brain are just as effective when it comes to all the terrifying twists & plunges of a love affair. read this over a weekend visit to see one of the most important people in the world to me.

  1. The Blue Castle, L.M Montgomery

i read this whenever i need to get shit STRAIGHT in my head. it always fixes me right up. some of l.m’s most gorgeous nature writing went into this. a seasonal montage chapter sounds like a terrible idea but it’s so gorgeously done here that it makes me want to ditch this century & set up camp on mistawis w/ barney & valancy & their dumb fat cats. no, but seriously: this book reminds me of what is real & important in life. it’s also deeply, deeply funny.

  1. Henry VI Part One, William Shakespeare

i remember liking a lot of stuff here, but like… there’s these big symbolic set-pieces of dialogue that read really weirdly. but it’s one of his earliest plays, so, you know, dude gets a pass.

  1. Wise Children, Angela Carter

all about the sweat & glitter & greasepaint & uh, incest of a huge showbiz family (one side well-established shakespeare actors, the other side taking whatever dancing gigs they can). it’s hilarious. i adored it.

  1. Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare

so… that happened

  1. Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector

this was so vivid to me that it made me terribly uncomfortable. it’s a story about a girl living in abject & miserable poverty in brazil, told in bizarrely luxurious prose, the kind of rich & textured writing that lives in weird colours & gets inside your head. i read it in the same day that i read the last act of titus andronicus & the combination made me feel like i was absolutely off my head for days.

  1. Anne of Avonlea, L.M Montgomery

this has some of my favourite characters & episodes of the series. just… miss lavendar… & davy… & the bit where they all go for a picnic in the woods… & mr harrison… incidents that are more alive to me than a lot of my own memories.

  1. Captive Prince, C.S Capat

this trilogy is NUTS. i read the first chapter, wasn’t convinced, & then went on to polish off all three books in just under two days. i was up til four, five in the morning reading. it’s a trilogy with a dumb tropey concept straight out of fanfic but it’s about sexual tension. it’s agonising & you can practically feel the whir & tick of character development beneath the whole thing. i really wasn’t expecting to like it as much as i did. there’s a lot of humour there, too, without which it would have probably sucked.

  1. Prince’s Gambit, C.S Capat

this is my favourite book of the trilogy. it’s so much fun!

  1. Richard III, William Shakespeare

bRILLIANT. nuff said. (terrible segue: i have a teddy bear who my friend ibby & i decided one day to name by opening my complete works of shakespeare at a random page & picking the first name we saw. he ended up being called catesby after richard iii’s evil valet.)

  1. Kings Rising, C.S Capat

filled, hilariously, with political machinations.

  1. The Fiery Pantheon, Nancy Lemann

i aspire to be walter. i love the weird rhythms & patterns of lemann’s writing.

  1. The Comedy of Errors

what the hell, honestly.

  1. Magic Flutes, Eva Ibbotson

the marketing of eva ibbotson’s romance novels is so stupid & patronising it makes me furious. yes, it’s a good thing they were reissued at all, but with those stupid captions i’m surprised anybody read them. they even changed the titles, for god’s sake. anyway: i love these books. they’re pretty magical: really funny, carefully-drawn modern (ish) fairytales. this one involves a huge austrian castle that is pretty much a character in its own right & a heroine who was the reason i wanted to hack all my hair off when i was eleven. this book is also everything i know about opera.

  1. A Company of Swans, Eva Ibbotson

the love with which eva ibbotson writes of brazil floors me. also, her characters are wonderful.

  1. The Prelude, William Wordsworth

i studied this for reading texts. there’s some sublime passages. it’s kind of an epic poem about the experience of reading.

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

read because i adore the ghibli movie. the book is even funnier, although as pure fantasy i think the film hits more of my personal sweet spots.

  1. Love’s Labours Lost, William Shakespeare

hahahaha. there’s some serious zingers in this. i think it’s suffered in comparison with much ado, but this is funny as hell in its own right. moth & armada & biron & rosalind & the princess are all brilliant characters.

  1. The Lonely Londoners, Sam Selvon

not sure there’s anything quite like this. it reads like a song. one of the best books on isolation i’ve ever read.

  1. Sarrasine, Honoré de Balzac

you wander into an empty theatre. the stage is covered in statues of apollo. on closer inspection, you realise that the statues are of young girls. there is dust on your fingers. the statues begin to sing. you notice that you are holding a trowel. what are you doing here? the girls are laughing at you now. you do not know why. perhaps your tie is knotted wrong.

  1. The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman

i lost my mind & blew over a hundred quid on a sandman folio box set in second semester. i don’t read many comics but the sheer scope & creativity here- even in its earliest stages- blows my mind.

  1. S/Z, Roland Barthes

this was the most intellectually gruelling book i’ve read since (& possibly including) ulysses. i found it so hard to get my head around that when it actually started making sense to me it was so rewarding. it’s a very thorough deconstruction of how our minds & our narratives interact & work, & the underlying systems that hold stories together.

  1. The Sandman: The Doll’s House, Neil Gaiman

um, this one is fucked up. it’s also the first issue i ever read of sandman. i was thirteen, obsessed with neil gaiman, & had to get my mother to write me a note saying i was allowed to take it out of the library, because the sandman was prohibited for the under-16s.

  1. The Sandman: Dream Country, Neil Gaiman

so beautiful. i adore the midsummer night’s dream story.

  1. A Song For Summer, Eva Ibbotson

in general, i think this is the weakest of her romance novels, but there’s still loads of really charming stuff about it. to be honest, though, a lot of this one just gives me dragonfly pool deja vu; the concept of the Extremely Liberal School Filled With Rich Unpleasant Children And Surrounded By Palatial Countryside was done so well there that it kinda overshadows this. still: i love marek. her heroes & heroines are all very well individualised (to say that they often belong to the same trope system), but i don’t think she has another character quite like him.

  1. The Sandman: Season of Mists, Neil Gaiman

so brilliant. the artwork for hell is spectacular. i’m a huge sucker for lucifer narratives in general.

  1. The Sandman: A Game of You, Neil Gaiman

wtf. kind of a heartbreaker.

  1. Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

rereading this felt like reading a whole different play to when i read it for school aged twelve, probably because my school sucked. it’s so much funnier than i remember. & i know this gets said about shakey all the time, but it really is all about the language w/ this one.

  1. The Sandman: Fables & Reflections, Neil Gaiman

‘soft places’ knocked me down.

  1. A Countess Below Stairs, Eva Ibbotson

i refuse to use the stupid new title. i’m so bitter. anna is one of my favourite ibbotson heroines. (& muriel might be one of my favourite ibbotson villains. she’s so awful it beggars belief.)

  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare

SEXY.

  1. Richard II, William Shakespeare

one of my favourites. over the course of the play- as richard falls from political grace- he has to grapple with who he is as a human being now that he is no longer a king. & in this way his humanity blossoms, he struggles, there’s lots of narcissism & christ comparisons- & also a really silly funny scene where aumerle receives & issues so many challenges to duels that he runs out of gauntlets & has to borrow one.

  1. King John, William Shakespeare

two things MADE this play. a) the bastard of faulconbridge (he got his own post). & b) queen constance’s grief speech. listen. i had goosebumps. BUMPS. OF GEESE.

Death, death: – O amiable lovely death!

Thou odiferous stench! sound rottenness!

Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,

Thou hate and terror to prosperity,

And I will kiss thy detestable bones;

And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows;

And ring these fingers with thy household worms;

And stop this gap of breath with fulsome dust,

And be a carrion monster like thyself:

Come, grin on me; and I will think thou smil’st,

And buss thee as thy wife! Misery’s love,

O, come to me!

  1. Notes on Cafes and Bedrooms, Rosemary Tonks

the first collection included in bedouin of the london evening, which is amazing. i studied this for a conference at the end of summer term. the conference ended with me getting ostracised by a whole bunch of people & us kicking someone out of our housing arrangement, so… whoops? people are really sensitive about books over here, you guys.

anyway, i posted the speech i gave here.

  1. The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

yes anti-semitism but also: shylock is complex. the prejudice is 100% present. but shylock isn’t a stereotype, he’s a fully realised human being. portia made me gag a bit. but this has some of the most beautiful passages i’ve come across in shakespeare. (the film adaptation is bangin, too.)

  1. Iliad of Broken Sentences, Rosemary Tonks

the other part of bedouin. lots of greco-roman myth gets dragged into this one. it’s jazzy.

  1. Henry IV Part Two, William Shakespeare

oh, god, this play makes me sad. you can feel the cosy grubby world of part one crumbling away. falstaff 😦

  1. Ada or Ardor, Vladimir Nabokov

one of my favourite books i read last year. wrote about it here.

  1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote

i’d never read it before. i really liked it. holly is so WEIRD.

  1. House of Flowers, Truman Capote

read a few of his short stories after tiffany’s. i barely remember anything about this one.

  1. The Diamond Guitar, Truman Capote

on the other hand i have a super vivid memory of this one. read it while my mother was driving me back from uni with a carful of luggage at the end of june. it’s a #nohomo story about a prison romance, basically, complete with wrenching betrayal & heartbreak.

  1. A Christmas Memory, Truman Capote

nope, the memory’s gone.

  1. Vathek, William Beckford

another favourite. wrote about it here. i really want to read beckford’s travel diaries.

  1. The Merry Wives of Windsor, William Shakespeare

falstaff gets the shit kicked out of him by a bunch of irritated, fabulous ladies.

  1. Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

i was laughing so hard reading this that my mother knocked on the door to ask if something was wrong. such bliss, my brothers.

  1. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

i have no idea where to start. everyone else knows this already, because everyone else read this in like 2007, but the hype is real with this one.

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K Rowling

i started rereading the books in the summer & had a great time. i honestly don’t care what stupid shit j.k’s said on twitter this week. these books gave me so much joy (& scared the shit out of me so delightfully) when i was a kid & the magic’s still there for me.

  1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K Rowling

rereading the books for the first time in ages reminded me just how weird & funny they are. a lot of that seems to have got lost in the transfer in the past few years.

  1. The Folding Star, Alan Hollinghurst

god, this was such a find. i didn’t really like the swimming-pool library, so i was surprised to find how much i loved this. it’s full of dust & shadows & prose so gorgeously (over)wrought that it physically hurts. reading it took it outta me but in a weird way i couldn’t put it down. i think i finished it in about three days, despite how dense it is.

  1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K Rowling

i just love this one.

  1. Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin

read for my 19th-century russian lit module. it’s very, very funny. pushkin is razor-sharp when it comes to absolutely trashing onegin. he does not spare his characters. his rendering of tatiana is a perfect balance of tragic & hilarious.

  1. A Hero of Our Time, Mikhail Lermontov

maybe my favourite discovery of the year. it’s a fierce, unsparing look at the psyche of one very weird character- a guy who is privileged, charismatic, ruthless, creates scenarios & manipulates people into feeling for him & then keeps on falling into his own play-acting. is he a sociopath? he’s capable of great feeling. it’s one of the most tragic & passionate & desperate things i’ve read all year. it’s about what it’s like to feel like a patch of darkness, wanting there to be something good in you.

  1. Sejanus His Fall, Ben Johnson

brilliant terrifying play about rome as a totalitarian police state. stunningly reminiscent of stalinist russia in a lot of ways, particularly the chinese whispers aspect of everyone telling tales on their neighbour.

  1. Dentaphilia, Julia Slavin

i was assigned this as reading for a cw class. it’s brilliant. horrifying. the narrator is an awful human being, as far as i’m concerned.

  1. A Real Doll, A.M Homes

more cw reading. when i read this i started laughing out of sheer disgust. i say that as someone who has been known to give dramatic campfire readings of thomas the tank engine pornography. it’s about a teenage boy & his little sister’s barbie doll. i think it’s kind of great but huuuuuuuuge yikes.

  1. Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol

oh my god, this book is OUT there. i love nabokov’s analysis of it.

  1. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower

i read the short story (again, for cw). some of the prose is extraordinary. i dreamed of some of the images in it- the field of heather like the fleece of a giant animal tossing in its sleep, for instance.

  1. Fathers & Sons, Ivan Turgenev

the last page killed me. i was on a silent study floor of the library at the time & i was crying so hard i think i disturbed several history students who were trying to work.

  1. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Nikolai Leskov

chilling. this feels incredibly modern (something that comes up again & again in nineteenth-century russian lit). i love his flat deadened tone. really scary.

  1. Crime & Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

gah. what do i even say. this book is, for me, a reference point for so much stuff in my life.

  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

i’d read it when i was twelve or so but i connected with it more this time, which prolly doesn’t say great things about the progress of my maturation. i relate to patrick a whole lot.

  1. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl

this book is so ridiculous & kind of irritating but it also really got to me. the ending is genuinely devastating.

  1. Sexing the Cherry, Jeanette Winterson

love jeanette winterson. loved this book. the dog-woman is marvellous. the twelve dancing princesses section… whew.

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dyou like my bedhead

  1. Dangerous Liasons, Choderlos de Laclos

this was one of the books that i read this christmas holiday, when i was still reeling because i could finally read for pleasure after the crush of coursework. i enjoyed it so much. it also contained what is easily the hottest line of anything i’ve read this year, possibly ever, which is Very well: war.

  1. The Box of Delights, John Masefield

my dad showed me the old bbc series every christmas when i was a really little kid, & i kept remembering it & getting super nostalgic, so i read the book. i’m glad i finished the year on this. his prose is poetic & dreamy & kind of perfect. there’s a very interesting thread of paganism running through the book in its myths & history, as well, & masefield doesn’t seem to fear that; it becomes part of the narrative, even the central narrative of the thousand-year-old cathedral.

*

so there you have it. i’m gonna post a list of the stuff i intend to get read this year, i think. in the meantime i’d love to hear what you guys thought of any of the stuff i’ve banged on about here.

happy new year ❤

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this is from that one time i got to feel up some old-ass books & it was great

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smoky days/identity theft/operation jo march

hello & welcome to your latest episode of Isabel Cannot Time-Manage For Shit

here is a picture of me trying to eat my glasses

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my last post was in september. or october? anyway, since then i’ve done a bunch of dumb impulsive shit, most of which won’t make it to a public blog, & we’ve had a good deal of personal drama. also, uni’s been nuts. now i adore 19th-century russian lit, 17thc lit is fascinating, & creative writing is my OXYGEN, but it’s all sorta come down on me like a ton of bricks & i’ve been scrambling to make my deadlines whilst doing things like, you know, sleeping 5+ hours a night & eating things that aren’t hummus on toast. not that there’s anything wrong with that.

it’s a smoky day. it was even before i crawled out of the rolling stack at five p.m to find it was already all dark. there’s a grain to the air like we’re being shot on 35mm, & the trees are all bare & black & wavery, & everything still smells a bit like leaf-mulch & wet earth, & possibly you can tell i really, really love autumn. especially bonfire night. i slay at apple-bobbing, obviously.

i’ve fallen asleep watching fireworks out of my window for a couple nights running now, because our dumb asses kept forgetting to go to an actual bonfire & now none of us can be bothered to get out of bed (we’re coming down from a waffle house trip). there’s something about norwich on days like this- the arabesques & spires & winged gargoyles, the swaying catkins on the fir trees on the uea broad, the still-leafy lamp-orange tunnel of the avenues in the dark, the grim romance of it all- that makes fireworks seem extra-beautiful. like thrown handfuls of vanishing stars, sliding down the cathedral roofs.

anyway, a catch-up.

-so on friday i melodramatically hacked off my hair. £5 scissors from superdrug & jo scuttling around holding up a smeary mirror so i could get the back. i figured i’d probably regret it- my contingency plan for if it looked terrible was to shave it all off- & i thought i’d at least miss my pretty luna lovegood curls. but i don’t regret it at all. i’m too busy raking my hands through it & buying pretentious hair gel. ever since i was eleven or twelve there’s been a part of me that’s wanted to do this, just grab scissors & get hacking, or at least go to a hairdressers’ to get my hair cut short, but- excepting an appalling dorito-esque haircut when i was eleven & wanted to look like leslie from bridge to terabithia (it didn’t work), & an uncharacteristically sleek bob when i was fourteen- i never did. i’d always kinda wanted a really messy androgynous haircut, but when my hair got long & wavy again i worried about regretting it. i thought it would be a waste to get rid of it because it was pretty, & everyone else seemed to agree. anyway, somewhere around thursday midnight i went to the bathroom & out of nowhere got completely sick of my hair, & even sicker of feeling like i had to keep my hair, so the next day i bought the aforesaid scissors, asked several friends whether they thought i should do it (‘um, no’ being the general response) & after fortifying myself by eating quite a lot of pasta went ahead & did it anyway. (people ask why i didn’t go to a hairdresser. the truth is that a) i had a physical urge that had to be excised & b) i had no idea how to express to a hairdresser that i wanted sebastian-flyte-meets-blue-is-the-warmest-colour hair. i may also still be suffering with post-traumatic stress following the whole dorito incident eight years ago.) i have a long coiled-up ponytail in my drawer next to my unopened gianduja bombe truffles. is that weird? i kind of want to do a nick cave & pin it above my bed.

oh, uh, also i love my new hair.

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-the night before halloween, which was freezing, by the way, i caught myself dancing around on my bed to spooky scary skeletons, at which point i decided that this had gone far enough & messaged angus to ask if i could use him to gatecrash the predrinks he was gatecrashing through someone else & bop along to the lcr with him later. an hour later (which was mostly me whining about not knowing which of my six black chokers to wear) we were heading off through a glittering frosty night, marvellously underdressed (angus had rolled up in a green t-shirt & announced he was going as shaggy from scooby-doo; i, velvet-jacketed & demon-winged, was going as myself) to the aforesaid predrinks. about a third of the way into the bottle of shitty white wine i’d brought my memory started going flaky & from then on my recollections devolve into snapshots. angus & i jamming wildly to there she goes, my beautiful world in someone else’s ribbon-strung living room; somehow negotiating myself, through a drunk-typing haze, an lcr ticket from a girl on facebook, which i managed to acquire fifteen minutes before we got there; dancing for hours under a haze of shifting neons, in that kind of nightclub double consciousness where you’re completely beside yourself from the strange lights & the alcohol & time isn’t a thing anymore & yet your blood is pumping & you can feel the music pounding in your sternum & something at the root of your brain feels acutely aware & alive. flailing arms to come on eileen on the steps of the pit, which was a moving sea of sweaty people stained in fake blood & red spangles, & every inch of the floor was crammed with empty vk bottles. scrubbing someone else’s black facepaint off my chin with damp loo roll in the lower bathroom, bullying angus into borrowing my jacket on the walk back when i turned up my street. i was wearing six-inch chunky platform boots & looking up at the stars i felt like they were the only thing rooting me to the ground.

apparently i woke lucy up by clumping in around four a.m, which is actually kind of an early record for me. of course the upshot of this was that i spent oct 31st as grinning, woozy, nauseous trash, swilling ibuprofen with my coffee.

-also, jo & i dressed up as each other for halloween. we bought wigs- the jo wig was called femme fatale on the packaging, the me wig (of course i hadn’t cut my hair then) was gothic temptress, & as jo is really quite terrifying & i’m a massive flirt this was rather uncannily accurate. i wore one of jo’s many floral dresses, plus petticoat, dainty red shoes, pearls (that, incidentally, i gave to her in the summer) & even her little silver watch. she donned my purple trousers, velvet jacket & choker, oscar wilde graphic t-shirt, demon wings, & william blake docs (which gave her ankle scars). the effect was unsettling. we discovered several fundamental truths about ourselves. it’d probably be a great short story idea. i looked sort of like a drag queen, not helped by the fact that i kept manspreading, & jo looked sort of like she’d just stepped out of twin peaks (season two). jo & i occupy very different places on the butch-femme scale. i think we gave several lecturers the heebie-jeebies.

-in re: literary pursuits, i’ve mostly been trying to get my 19th century russian lit module by the throat. at its most intense this involved three sleep-deprived days during which i basically camped out on floor 2 of the library to get through all five hundred-plus pages of dead souls in time to give a presentation on it for my wednesday seminar. there was also the rainy train journey to leicester when i listened to glass animals & read lady macbeth of mtsensk in one sitting. the morning i read the last page of fathers & sons- sitting on a silent study floor of the library- & started uncontrollably weeping, probably confusing/annoying/concerning the people in the booths next to mine. the scribbled, crisscrossed essay i wrote (in a breathless two hours) on pechorin’s androgyny, sitting scrunched up in the russian literature bit of the rolling stack with my boots off. but what, then, is the inapprehensible mysterious force that draws one to thee? why is thy plaintive song heard, why does it resound, unremitting, in the ears, as it carries through all thy length and breadth, from sea to sea? what is in it, this song? what calls, and sobs, and clutches at the heart?

-the other thing i’ve been flipping OUT over is thomas browne’s religio medici, which i read last week for 17th century lit. it’s idiosyncratic & personal & there’s the odd moment of sublimity- like a passage where he talks about metempsychosis which gives me the fucking chills- & it also reads in places as a love letter to ambiguity, to paradox, to the dark spaces in faith that let imagination run wild.

-also: it took me two years but i’m finally catching up on spn. i blazed thru s12 & am one episode into s13. i have, hoo, a lot to say.

-oh, yeah, & jo & i watched the grand budapest hotel last night. i loved it i loved it i loved it. i don’t even want to sort thru my feelings about it yet. but it was dreamy & eccentric & silly & lovely- & yet at the end  there’s a moment where a curtain lifts & all this bitterness & compassion comes through- i thought it was wonderful. ‘monsieur gustave was also the most liberally perfumed man i have ever met.’ ENCHANTING.

anyway, this is the part where… i go the fuck to bed.

goodnight.

00:33, nov. 6 2018

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“brooding on the vast abyss”

so, i just realised i haven’t posted in eleven days, whoops. i do however have an excuse: i seem, somehow, to have acquired a job. for the past five days i have been working as a paid fundraiser for a charity (which shall here go unnamed), which basically means knocking on people’s doors & asking them for money. the experience has been… mixed. it’s a really cool job in some ways- like at least you’re outside & walking around (my GOD are you walking around) & i’ve had some really nice guys in my group. you talk to some lovely people, too. but it’s also kinda mentally & physically exhausting- you have to be mentally ‘on’ all the time, & if you know me you’ll know that i have trouble being mentally ‘on’ for ten bloody minutes. you also tend to walk about fifteen to twenty miles per shift, so i’ve been crashing when i get home every night. snacks are the key. i’ve been surviving on plums & pecan pie nakd bars.

after my first shift, i wrote: it was nerve-wracking & disheartening & difficult, but at least i got to see the pale evening sky, & the gibbous moon bearded w/ mist, & sea-foam roses in someone’s garden, & the stars above a tiny train station in the middle of nowhere. & that’s true: i’d rather do this than some soulless retail job.

yesterday, though. oh, boy. yesterday was a fucking catastrophe. our train was cancelled (due to someone jumping in front of a train somewhere in essex), so we were late to shift (which meant we didn’t have a break, &, listen, when your shift is six hours of walking around as fast as you can you really, really need a break). five hours later, we were exhausted, we hadn’t got any signups, a woman had been a complete bitch to me. then, just as we got our route very tangled up & were wondering whether we’d knocked this street before, a massive storm hit. i had no umbrella & was wearing a little purple hoodie. r.i.p. for the next hour i was knocking doors in the pitch black with water streaming down my face, holding my rain-smeary glasses between fingers that had gone numb fifteen minutes ago, having to get my group to point out which bits of the houses were the doors because i was blind as a bloody bat.

it took me two trains, fifty minutes’ walking, & nearly three hours to get back to edric, after which i had the longest hottest shower of my life & woke jo up so that i could bitch to her. man, it’s a good thing i’m getting paid by the hour.

in other news:

-jo & i made the best cookies of our LIVES last week. i joke not. the millies’ cookies recipe on bbc goodfood, guys: it’s idiot-proof. if you want lil round cookies that are super soft inside & taste like annie lennox’s voice w/ added chocolate chips, i highly recommend. we made bonfire toffee tea & watched princess kaguya & then howl’s moving castle to cheer us up bc we were both crying our eyes out. listen, i want to live in that film. i just really relate to howl, okay. i too live in a cave full of glittering paraphernalia & exude large quantities of slime when i’m frustrated. (jo claims kinship w/ sophie.)

-i’ve started reading paradise lost, which, DAMN, son. i have fallen unabashedly into the lucifer camp. listen, he’s so bizarrely sympathetic! he’s arrogant & self-sacrificing & remorseful & independent & there’s some GORGEOUS lines on his black-winged flights through the gloomy deeps. i’ll do a proper excerpts post later.

-i’m also reading eugene onegin, which is unexpectedly very, very funny, & also rather moving & beautiful & full of flickering movement & life. the stanley mitchell translation is so good!

-also, listen up, fellow spn dudes: the new hillywood parody. oh my GOD. tears of joyous mirth, my brethren.

-anyway, after the shitty day i had yesterday jo & i are engaging in some hardcore r&r, which means we’re debuting the grimy takeaway down the road & watching submarine. there may also be grilled peaches & red wine involved, & writing, & coconut frozen yogurt.

 

greetings from MADGE THE SNOOVER & CAPTAIN OF THE FEMALE DANDIES.

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rivers & rain (& rereading harry potter)

it’s been a breathless & accident-prone week. i have spent most of it rampaging around in rivers. the run-down:

-the past few days have been bright & golden-sticky. the other day my pal/mom friend caiti & i waded up a stream in rivelin woods, in a shady mossy spot of river where the leaves cut out funny shadows on the water. i was in flip-flops & she in granny sandals & we slipped & slid around on the underwater rocks, & splashed each other when we thought the other wasn’t looking, & had a shouty conversation about books, & once, up to my knees in water, i grabbed hold of a branch to steady myself & imparted to her my theory that my friends & i are actually characters in some sort of pretentiously quirky coming-of-age novel. i have stuck fast to this theory for five years now. it would explain everything.

we found a rope swing by a pool of bright water, & took turns on it, & when it was her turn i lay on the forest floor & stared at the clouds, one of which looked exactly like a huge hand with talons, or a piece of monster munch. i had rivers & roads stuck in my head. i thought, it can’t get much better than this; i felt that i had grasped the crackling centre of the universe.

-after a late-night harry potter marathon with ibby & eliza, i felt that i must reread the books immediately. i’m fifty pages into chamber of secrets. i’m enjoying them so much. starting to remember what it was like to read them as a kid, how edgy & dark & weird they felt to me. i keep messaging ibby at funny hours with variations on BABE OMG HARRY AT THE BURROW IS MAKING ME SO EMOTIONAL THAT BIT WHERE HE SEES THE WELLIES BY THE DOOR I CAN’T TAKE IT. ibby is an angel & has been very understanding.

-i have also acquired a job as a Spider Bailiff. what this means is that i go round the houses of the affluent upper-middle-class with my auntie & her magnificent array of cleaning equipment, evicting arachnids from corners & obliterating their homes with variegated feathery things on poles. there’s also a lot of hoovering & loo-cleaning & wiping down irritatingly shiny expensive-looking surfaces & also rich people seem to have serious issues with stacking dishwashers. i spent about half an hour cleaning suspiciously short, curly hairs off a toilet bowl on friday. i’ve been rattling through abbatoir blues on my headphones & trying to think about it as little as possible.

-i also dropped my auntie’s high-end hoover down a flight of stairs the other day. send thoughts & prayers. that hoover is worth more than my monthly rent.

-this ties into the part where i dropped my phone in a river on tuesday, & walked into a lamp-post on wednesday, & showed up to a party barefoot, grinning & soaked to the skin by a thunderstorm on saturday. spending weeks in Writing Mode does terrible things to my depth perception & motor control. there was this one time in year twelve when i got on the school bus with a cornflake stuck to my glasses lens because i was so busy working out a plot point.

(i put my phone in a bowl of couscous overnight, there being no rice in the house. i now keep finding couscous in my bed. this is deeply disturbing given that i didn’t even take the couscous into my room. does this equate to a recurring scene in my novel, wherein my protagonist wakes up from a visionary nightmare with grave-dirt scattered between his sheets? will i meet my final resting place in a coffin full of couscous? can nobody tell me what this means?)

-there’s also the part where i swallowed a fly whilst out running on thursday evening, & coughed it up two hours later. which… isn’t the grossest thing ever to ever happen to me, but it’s a strong contender.

-in more heartening news, ibby, eliza, rachel, robyn & i went to pride yesterday! we smuggled in peach schnapps in a fanta bottle, spread out a blanket, ibby planted her rainbow flag, & spent an hour scrunching up our faces at the waily awful singing of a drag queen who looked a bit like wuthering heights era kate bush, but kept on noisily mangling madonna songs. eventually even the heavens protested in the form of a colossal thunderstorm, & after ten minutes of valiantly huddling under a spindly umbrella we evacuated with a certain amount of relief & went back to ibby & eliza’s, where we marathoned merlin til three a.m & i nearly bust an artery laughing at the two-parter with uther & the troll. gay culture?

-i also spent about forty-five minutes trying to get my bisexual eyeshadow right, so you guys can appreciate it, goddammit:

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-speaking of the godawful music (much more upsetting than the evangelist nutter at the gate holding a giant cross with red crayon scribbles all over it & telling us we were hopping the fast train to the inferno), i seem to be some sort of Music Magnet. in second semester, i began to hear opera-singing outside my window (in particular, a rich & delightful tenor trolololing it out) almost every night. i wondered briefly if i was having auditory hallucinations of some sort, since lucy couldn’t hear a thing, but then again she was on the other side of the corridor. when i moved back here, the pub across the road decided what it needed more than anything else in the world was atrocious karaoke every night of the week. mostly this means some very loose johnny cash interpretations & abba renditions that make me sweat. yet in the past week or so i begin to hear- yes- the opera singers have followed me, clearly, & they won’t give up. that tenor is back. sometimes the singing worms its way into my nightmares. god only knows what’ll happen at warwick st. especially since i’m considering saving up for a record player (to enable my hipster soul to take wing as it’s always wanted).

-in light of the fact that a certain ANT BOILER & RECKLESS FOOL will be moving in together soon (saturday! saturday!) i have been gathering Things to Hang on Edric, our house. so far the collection consists of

  • a very cool retro-ish mulholland drive print of diane with a disembodied hand over her eyes
  • some black-&-white postcards i found at a rambling antiques centre, including one of a creepy old monument somewhere, & one of a gargoyle in leicester cathedral (caption: THE GRINNING IMP)
  • fairy lights! they’re all warm & twinkly! like little melty snow jewels!
  • a lewis carroll photograph of alice liddell
  • my melting clock
  • a careful selection of my favourite spn & crimson peak posters; i’m thinking we get a bowie one for the kitchen (jo? i know you read this blog, you gay piece of shit, thoughts?)
  • i may or may not also have started a tacky fridge magnet collection for when we get there but we don’t need to talk about that

god, it’s going to be good to have our own space. our own space where we can sprawl. it’s going to be full of books & music & silly lit students crashing about & watching david lynch movies & fighting it out for bathroom access & honestly just thinking about it sorta warms the cockles of my cold-ass heart.

-i woke up yesterday to the rush & scent of it bucketing it down. the rain fell so hard that droplets shattered on my windowsill & sprayed creamy seashells stacked on the sill, the notebook pile by my bed, my glasses. i moved my books out of the way & let it hit. inhaled. petrichor so strong it was dizzying, & god, i love that word.

winter, 1892 (ish)

see below: an extract from my novel. it’s my birthday & i’m lazy. this is from chapter #25, provisional title: SWEET CHIMING CHRISTMAS BELLS. unseasonable, i know.

it’s a story of dreamy boys & girls, snow, various sorts of unrequited love, & lots & lots of gothic architecture. oh, & there’s airships. & murder. & catacombs. it’s all terribly metal.

artwork’s mine.

*

A fortnight before the Mawstice ended, Elizabeth caught the train down to Hollowing. It was not like any train she had been on before; it was small and rickety and made mostly of wood; she had to sit on top of a crate of chickens, and kept coughing from the smoke and sawdust. Her hands were red with cold by the time she got off.

The Hollowing station was a single wooden platform, backed by fir-woods; on it Theo waited alone. She registered thin wrists sticking out of a greatcoat- black curls grazing cheekbones- and then he was shaking her hand, getting out of his coat to wrap it round her shoulders. ‘Elizabeth, I’m so glad to see you- but what on earth are you doing dressed like that? You must be frozen- here-‘

He led her out to a snow-rutted road, and she laughed. Waiting for them was a ridiculous outdated pony-trap, at least half a century old; the wheels looked on the verge of crumbling from sheer age. Harnessed to it was a wizened horse that looked no younger than the trap, jaundiced eyes staring out at them, its strawberry coat patchy and faded.

‘I felt absolutely awful harnessing Mary to this thing,’ Theo said, helping Elizabeth in. ‘I felt like a murderer, honestly, but he’s the only horse left. If he starts foaming at the mouth, would you mind us getting out and walking? I’d really rather not have his blood on my hands. Not to feed the rumour-mill, but it’d be tantamount to patricide. Are you comfortable? Do you need a blanket? I can give you my scarf if you like.’

Elizabeth, who was starting to sweat in Theo’s overlarge coat, assured him that she was perfectly fine, and no, she did not need a blanket or his scarf or anything like that.

Theo sat in front, reins in hand, and gradually they jolted off up the hill, into the forest, climbing slowly and painfully. Occasionally he would lean back to shout an explanation on the lay of the land, or enquire after her health; mostly, though, they let the landscape pass by in silence. Elizabeth had visited nearby in the past, and had found it beautiful. They were deep into myth-country. The endless forests housed any number of fey, witches and immortal bears, if the stories held true; the snow fell deep and silent here; and underneath the bright winter air lay the smell of the sea.

She knew from what Theo had told her that the fishing-village of Hollowing lay in a valley, hemmed in by the sea on one side and two hills on the other. The Arkwright house crowned one of these hills, distant enough that the village was invisible from it. The other hill, if scaled, led eventually to the cliffs where stood Hollowing Monastary, childhood home to Melchior Collins.

On this journey they did not pass through Hollowing village, or glimpse the sea; it was several miles uphill until finally, just when Mary’s powers of endurance began to be seriously thrown into question, they reached a pair of iron gates. These Theo dragged open, one by one, putting his entire body behind them to make them move, before driving the pony-trap though and finally pulling up in front of the house.

Staring, Elizabeth got out. The Arkwright house was an ancient block of stone, with a hole in its roof on the far side, revealing struts and the jagged teeth of beams. The windows were grimy, its door a faded and peeling blue. Elizabeth wondered if she was imagining the air of dreamy malevolence that clung to the place.

As Theo wrestled her suitcase away from her with protestations of chivalry, the door burst open and Usher came charging out, heralding them with enthusiastic barks. He danced round Theo first; came to attack Elizabeth with his tongue; went back to Theo.

Amid Usher’s assaults it was a moment before Elizabeth realised that someone else was coming out of the door- a young woman, who leaned back against the doorway, folding her arms, smiling. They went to her, Theo lugging the suitcase. ‘Liorn,’ he said. ‘This is Elizabeth- Elizabeth, my sister, Liorn.’

Liorn looked soft and lovely and invulnerable in a nurse’s white pinafore, tendrils of leaf-gold hair uncoiling round her face. Matching the reasonably tall Theo in height, she towered over Elizabeth, and looked older than Elizabeth would have thought; after a moment she recalled that Liorn was twenty-nine. She offered a hand to Elizabeh, smiling. ‘Theo hasn’t stopped talking about you from the moment he arrived. It’s good to meet you at last.’

‘Oh- you, too,’ said Elizabeth, shaking Liorn’s hand, reddening under a searching look.

They were guided in. Down a narrow corridor; into a dank-smelling room. ‘I doubt that Mother and Grandmother will be appearing today,’ Liorn was saying, ‘but our brother Eamon’s here somewhere. I’ll tell him you’ve arrived-‘ she left the room.

Elizabeth looked around. The room had a certain decayed grandeur to it; an exotic carpet, now threadbare, covering the stone, and delicate, faded paper on the walls, discoloured in places, appearing to bubble in others, peeling a little. There was a strange absence of furniture. One sofa, dark rich velvet, and a couple of mahogany cabinets could not fill up acres of floor, and there were rectangular dark patches on the wallpaper in places, where paintings must once have hung. Cobwebbed candelabras of half-blackened silver stood on the cabinets. A great window of warped old glass let in the winter light; it looked out over blinding snowfields, and the occasional claw of a tree.

Theo, meanwhile, had left Elizabeth’s case in the hallway. Now he stood close to her and smiled, kind and crinkling, in the way she loved best. ‘It’s alright,’ he said. ‘Liorn will like you- and Eamon. I’m so glad you’re here.’

Before she could reply a man shouldered his way into the room. ‘Theo- you’ve brought your friend? Ah- here she is.’ He had to crouch a little to see her properly. ‘Well, you look awfully respectable. I’m sure we’ll do each other fine. Welcome in.’

A huge hand was offered her. She shook it and thought she felt her bones pop.

Presumably this was the infamous Eamon, but he did not look how she had imagined. She’d pictured an elder Theo, slender and rakish; Eamon was a big man, sunburned, crinkle-eyed, his shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbows. Over his arms, creeping up his neck, was an atlas of tattoos in whale-blue ink, delicate as lace. He had Liorn’s blond hair, cut close to the skull. Once he had finished shaking Elizabeth’s hand he moved on Theo, but only ruffled his hair in a way that almost knocked him over.

‘Eamon,’ came Liorn’s voice. She was standing in the doorway. ‘Would you mind taking Elizabeth’s case to her room?’

Eamon left, with a friendly nod.

‘We’re going to put you in old aunt Lettie’s room,’ said Theo. ‘Don’t worry, there’s no Lettie in it now.’

‘He’s trying to scare you,’ said Liorn. ‘It’s been a guest-room for a century and I promise you that no-one has died in it of late.’ She took Elizabeth’s hand. ‘How would you like a tour of the house, Elizabeth?’

‘Oh- yes, please.’

‘You don’t have to, of course,’ came Theo’s voice; he had thrown himself extravagantly over the sofa and was chewing on some sort of root. ‘The only bits you really need to know about are the lavatory and the kitchen.’

‘But it would help,’ said Liorn, ‘if you ever want to find your way to either of those.’

Elizabeth consented; Theo drew his legs up from where they were splayed over the sofa. They set off.

 

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flip-flops & globs & hares, oh my!

-i write this sitting on a rock in the arse-end of nowhere. i actually got lost half an hour ago & ended up in some kind of farming metropolis, surrounded by agitated horses. but all is well; i am now enthroned in state upon a shapely rock, looking out at the valley. i think the purple flip-flops were a rash choice of footwear, though.

-so far my home-for-the-summer status is strictly theoretical. i think i’ve spent more time haunting ibby’s house, wandering the woods, facing down zenwriter among the dust motes & sunbeams of the library, than actually at home. all this going outside has put me into a state of being that i have not experienced since the age of ten: reader, i am tanned. it’s wreaking havoc with my whole scruffy impoverished pre-raphaelite aesthetic.

-a large & persistent golden retriever just appeared out of nowhere & disgorged a stream of bubbly slobber all over my rucksack. i wanted to be friends but i think he just wanted my strawberries. so it goes.

-i feel like the last person ever to discover what a fantastic writer hilary mantel is, but i finished wolf hall this morning. i think my favourite thing about it might be the awareness there of a not-quite-banished world just beneath that one, lingering in the grins & sneers of gargoyles, in carved saints, in bowls of milk left out for the fey-folk. in the ghosts whose language is the creaks of rope & floorboard.

-it’s so hot here. in the suburbs you can feel the heat striking up from the asphalt. i’ve been despairing over my wardrobe, which goes black, black, purple, black, maybe a bit of scarlet here & there, you get the picture; i’ve been hacking up old t-shirts with scissors & the result tends to be indecent but pleasantly breezy. i’ve also developed a habit of wandering around barefoot over the past few weeks; occasionally this bites me in the ass, because the pavement gets so hot it actually burns my feet. okay, yes, this predicament would be easily evaded if i put my damn shoes on, but where’s the sense of adventure?

-i’m also the last person ever to watch kenneth branagh’s film of much ado, but so much of it was just spot-on perfection. i laughed so hard during the benedick-‘overhears’-his-frat-bros-gossiping scene that there were tears streaming down my face. i think it was claudio launching into a full on wailing, breast-beating performance that did it. i couldn’t take it. i also LOVED how emma thompson & denzel washington played don pedro basically asking beatrice to marry him. he’s absolutely laying himself on the line- it’s very vulnerable- but he does it so lightly- & she gets this, & i love her response. she makes light of the situation, but she’s gentle about it, she does it in a way that doesn’t shame him. it’s very compassionate. i find it a really touching scene.

-i have finally, finally got round to reading hemingway! i’m about seven chapters into the sun also rises. it’s his first novel & the writing is very good, although there’s something a little too self-consciously ambiguous to it at times. i’m not sure what i’ll read after it- it’s between the thousand autumns of jacob de zoet & the well of loneliness. unless i’m feeling whimsical- in which case who knows.

-i’ve been rewatching season eight of supernatural. the whole amelia thing works so much better than i remember- it’s a difficult & delicate relationship, but there’s a maturity to it, & to the writing. sam is not in a younger brother role here; everyone is an adult; he & amelia are both weary drifters. it’s not nice (& oh boy neither are those colour filters) but it works. & my god- all the sam-dean-benny stuff is so WEIRD- by which i mean that there’s such an absurd jealous love-crossed vibe to the whole thing. they really go for it & everyone is seething & deceiving each other & lying out the wazoo. it’s completely horrible. i’m enjoying it so much.

-okay, so, a fucking hare just came lolloping into the clearing where i’m sitting on my rock-throne. with long graceful back legs & black fur in its ears & it sat up & gave me the most hardass stare you ever saw & then went gambolling off, presumably to bully its family. i’ve never seen a hare before. clearly i am at the centre of a teeming hub of wildlife.

-jo & i communicate through a convoluted system of in-jokes & personal slang that occasionally amounts to our own language. we undertook some artistic collaboration.

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this resulted in her painting these lovely dancy little chaps!

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jo’s selling them as stickers on her redbubble at castle of jo (& her cuttlefish are beautiful too). so, you know, go & buy them if you want your life to be filled with small jumping beans of joy. also to fund our olive habit.

-i’ve been plugging away at A Certain Project for weeks now, & i keep saying that i’m gonna go on one of my 31k-in-twelve-days kicks, but between all my reading- shakespeare in the morning, poetry in the evening, novels wherever i can fit them, plus things like, you know, socialising & exercising & watching stuff- i’ve been getting maybe seven hundred words a day done. i’m going to face the fact that unless i let everything else go out of the window for a fortnight, i won’t get this done. so i’m going to let everything else go out of the window for a fortnight. i’ll try & keep posting- probably little stuff- so that you guys won’t be deprived of my delightful online presence.

-you get no apologies for the title. ‘but isabel, do you have no shame?’ no, & you still get no apologies for the title.

-anyway, my throne is getting distinctly chilly, & i’m a little worried that the next visiting creature of the wild will be a grizzly bear or something, & most significantly i want to watch the joss whedon much ado tonight, so i’m going to attempt to flip-flop the four rocky miles home. pray god that i arrive with my feet still attached.

 

note: isabel did indeed retain her feet, although she arrived home with some exotically placed blisters & a sunburned neck. it moreover turns out that she was trespassing on land belonging to some fancy-ass golf club or other for most of her walk. she advises readers to wear sturdy shoes if they plan to go on extended hikes in the british countryside, & to watch out for friendly animals; the last creature she encountered was not a bear but an extremely willing cat, who ruthlessly exploited her back-scratching skills for a good ten minutes on her way home.

 

 

vathek: screwball grotesquerie

guys. guys. this book is WILD.

the whole thing is basically a sublime farce/orientalist pipe-dream of william beckford. this dude was a fascinating character- an arabian nights-obsessed dreamer with far too much money who extravagantly squandered his youth wandering all over europe having affairs with men, women & demons of all descriptions. his travel books are wonderful, apparently. i’d love to get my hands on one. he was inevitably exiled from english polite society, & ended up sequestering himself to translate arabic manuscripts for years on end.

then he made a public mockery of himself by building this gothic monstrosity, which, i mean, look at it:

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it’s hilarious & over-the-top & it collapsed in 1835. three years after beckford sold it for £300,000. i swear to GOD, william.

anyway, vathek. my edition sums it up as ‘the ruthless caliph vathek’s journey to superb damnation among the subterranean treasures of eblis’. it’s a nasty little fairy tale: the caliph is childish, rapacious, cruel. it’s also very, very funny.

this is mostly because of the hilarously deadpan nature of beckford’s prose. the novel opens thus:

“Vathek, ninth Caliph of the race of the Abassides, was the son of Motassem, and the grandson of Haroun Al Raschid.  From an early accession to the throne, and the talents he possessed to adorn it, his subjects were induced to expect that his reign would be long and happy.  His figure was pleasing and majestic; but when he was angry, one of his eyes became so terrible that no person could bear to behold it; and the wretch upon whom it was fixed instantly fell backward, and sometimes expired.  For fear, however, of depopulating his dominions, and making his palace desolate, he but rarely gave way to his anger.”

full disclosure: i tried reading this several years ago, when i was fourteen or so. somehow, probably due to vague preconceptions about anything written before 1800, the humour completely escaped me & i just felt alienated. this time my cynical eighteen-year-old soul latched right onto it. i was laughing out loud.

one particularly memorable passage comes when vathek, displeased with a man who comes bearing treasure from beneath the earth, literally kicks him out of the palace; the guy, who is some sort of ambiguous demonic creature, rolls up into a ball & just… keeps rolling, as you do. he rolls in his spherical state all around the city, kicked along by vathek & a gathering horde of people, until eventually he rolls up a mountain & off the side of a precipice into an abyss.

“The ball, indeed, in passing from one apartment to another, drew every person after it that came in its way, insomuch that the whole palace was thrown into confusion, and resounded with a tremendous clamour.  The women of the harem, amazed at the uproar, flew to their blinds to discover the cause, but no sooner did they catch a glimpse of the ball than feeling themselves unable to refrain, they broke from the clutches of their eunuchs, who to stop their flight pinched them till they bled, but in vain; whilst themselves, though trembling with terror at the escape of their charge, were as incapable of resisting the attraction.”

it’s so awful & so funny.

but there’s more there than black comedy. overall the novel’s pretty fanciful- it doesn’t take itself enormously seriously- but there’s some very strange & wonderful episodes scattered throughout. a personal favourite of mine is a bit where nourounihar (naive love interest) & gulchenrouz (even more naive pretty boy) are told by their household that they’re dead, & wake by a twilight lake, believing themselves to be in the afterlife:

“She recollected also, that herself and Gulchenrouz had been sick and dying; but all these images bewildered her mind.  Not knowing where she was, she turned her eyes on all sides, as if to recognise the surrounding scene.  This singular lake, those flames reflected from its glassy surface, the pale hues of its banks, the romantic cabins, the bull-rushes that sadly waved their drooping heads, the storks whose melancholy cries blended with the shrill voices of the dwarfs, every thing conspired to persuade them that the angel of death had opened the portal of some other world.”

then there’s a scene that reaches a high baroque level of screwball grotesquerie, where vathek stages a ceremonial procession as a cover for sacrificing the city’s fifty most beautiful young boys to a demon; the machinations of vathek’s mother, carathis, who shouts at vathek whenever he reverts to decadent indolence, which is often; the terrifying underground landscapes of eblis’s halls, eblis being one of the more down-to-earth & restrained characters of those who populate this novel.

eighteenth-century literature can be a tough nut to crack; the only other novels from the period that i’ve read & can think of off the bat are candide (which is brilliant), the vicar of wakefield (which is ghastly), & robinson crusoe (which dickens accurately described as the only universally popular book that has never made anyone laugh or cry). vathek is, obviously, not a conventional novel of the period- it’s probably one of the most out-there books ever written- but there’s an impish quality to the humour & a self-indulgence to the passages of decadence that really got me. i enjoyed the hell out of it.

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rubber ducks & public disgrace

-well, i’m back from uni. nothing to show for it except some superficial soup-making skills, one hundred & twenty-eight new books, & an interestingly shaped scar on my shoulder from running into a tree. first year sure went fast.

-jo, will, lucy & i made sure to carpe the diem (& the noctem, for that matter) very thoroughly in the last few weeks of uni. i spent half the nights sitting on the balcony, writing & watching the stars come out in a pale sky. jo & i attended a reception for the english lit staff & students, where we perhaps took advantage of the free wine a little too thoroughly. this ended with us giving a dramatic & antiphonal recitation of the love song of j. alfred prufrock & me calling jo a gay piece of shit in front of a high-ranking member of the academic staff. there followed several minutes during which we stumblingly explained that i am not, in fact, a giant homophobe, & am, in fact, quite gay. we wobbled back to jo’s block in shame & disgrace.

-we also threw me a fake birthday party. my actual birthday isn’t for another month, but that’s semantics. this was a deeply silly event involving party hats, a caterpillar cake, & tricoloured rubber ducks. will went on a tropical juice errand, charging jo & i to name the ducks in the meantime; they were perforce christened fyodor, clive staples & BOB.

-since coming back i have seen many lovely people & eaten an awful lot of strawberries. a couple days ago i went with my friends ibby & eliza to go see ocean’s eight (i loved it, by the way, it was fun & silly & cate blanchett’s motorbike, cate blanchett’s blue suit, cate blanchett’s hair, just cate blanchett in general, we were all fanning ourselves). it was a tiny, dusty cinema, almost empty, just us & a couple rows of people at the back. the trailers came on; we were rolling our eyes at the trailer for some spy flick when suddenly gillian anderson’s face appeared onscreen. dear reader, the three of us simultaneously yelled out a sort of joyous ‘HURRRRRGH’, so loudly that it blotted out the trailer. everyone in the cinema busted out laughing.

-i’ve been reading richard siken’s poetry collection crush, dearly beloved among spn fans. very, very easy to see why: it belongs to the same iconographic tradition. actually, that’s putting it mildly; there are some startling similarities. dusty roads & moonrise & all sorts of Weird Suppressed Vibes. honestly, i’m losing my shit over it. i can’t wait to get my hands on war of the foxes.

-i also read vathek a few days ago. it was… well. it was messed-up & bizarre & in a weird way one of my favourites of the novels i’ve read lately. i won’t say too much about it bc i’ll probably do a seperate post on it.

-man, it’s strange being back in my old haunts. i climbed the gates to one of my old secondary schools yesterday & had a good look, which made me feel rather ghostly. i’ve mostly been reading, writing, wandering in the woods. i’m glad i’m leaving in august. i’m enjoying myself, but i feel temporary here.

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ada or ardor: love on black wings

so, it’s a love story. it’s a perverse, amoral, self-satirising, deeply romantic & generally iridescent love story.

the premise: a romance between a brother & sister. completely unabashed. given the same narrative treatment as any conventional romance, if you overlook, of course, the plot obstacles presented by the illegality of marrying one’s sibling. &, you know, the fact that the narrator is of course (this being a nabokov novel) a fellow of enjoyably dastardly unreliability.

it’s also a book of layers upon layers. puns in english, russian, french & latin, often snidely half-explained in nabokov’s own notes on the text. there’s a meta element- the novel is written within the novel by van veen, the narrator, & edited by ada veen, his lover/sister, so that every so often- usually after a particularly provocative passage- there’ll be a little [really, van] or [this isn’t how i remember it at all]. then there’s the part where the novel actually takes place in a weird alternate universe called antiterra- i’ll admit this puzzled me for about three hundred pages, during which i did a lot of flicking back & forth wondering why there were cinemas & fast cars when van veen kept repeating, insistently, that the year was 1884, & what the whole deal was with electricity, for that matter (a forbidden topic, it seems, on antiterra).

then there’s a tolstoyish digression on the texture of time, which i found both heavy going & distinctly tongue-in-cheek; the funniest if-you’re-reading-this-it’s-too-late note i’ve ever seen; transgressive sexual weirdness (alternately sumptuous, farcical or coolly ironic) that only seems less shocking than that of lolita because of how casual van veen is about it; & several doctors all mysteriously named rabbit in various languages.

there’s such an imaginative richness to nabokov’s prose, & i’d rather excerpt it than pick it apart. this bit’s from part one, which centres on van & ada’s first summer together.

“In this our dry report on Van Veen’s early, too early love, for Ada Veen, there is neither reason, nor room for metaphysical digression. Yet, let it be observed (just while the lucifers fly and throb, and an owl hoots – also most rhythmically – in the nearby park) that Van, who at the time had still not really tasted the Terror of Terra – vaguely attributing it, when analyzing his dear unforgettable Aqua’s torments, to pernicious fads and popular fantasies – even then, at fourteen, recognised that the old myths, which willed into helpful being a whirl of words (no matter how silly or mystical) and situated them within the gray matter of the star-suffused heavens, contained, perhaps, a glowworm of strange truth. His nights in the hammock (where that other poor youth had cursed his blood cough and sunk back into dreams of prowling black spumas and a crash of symbols in an orchal orchesta – as suggested to him by career physicians) were now haunted not so much by the agony of his desire for Ada, as by that meaningless space overhead, underhead, everywhere, the demon counterpart of divine time, tingling about him and through him, as it was to retingle – with a little more meaning fortunately – in the last nights of a life, which I do not regret, my love.”

i mean, look at that- it cartwheels through parody, wordplay, phantasmagoria, musicality, & ends up half a love letter.

ridiculously, unsurprisingly, i found myself rooting for the ada-van love story. the novel should be an act of moral contortionism, but van, as narrator, brushes the incest pretty much aside, & so any such wrangling is left to the reader. oh, & van is a complete ass, by the way- aggressive & absurd, often thoughtless, sometimes cruel. & passionate, & sometimes even compassionate, & with a dark distinct sense of humour.

ada is a funny one, more impenetrable than van- they share a certain thread of moral bankruptcy, but she seems even dreamier, even more out-of-time than van; arrogant, a little wild, obsessed with orchids & insects. (i love these little passions nabokov’s characters have.) both ada & van are complex, frustrating, funny; they make whimsical references to mansfield park, execute bizarre ploys to lock their little sister up so they can go & bang each other in peace, write each other letters in insanely convoluted codes…

& then there’s lucette, the novel’s ophelia, who might be my favourite character- her plotline is strange & tragic & wonderful & has true moral gravitas, i think. there’s a scene where she & van, meeting for the first time in years, spend hours talking in a dingy bar, & she starts to emerge as someone who could have been good had life not ruined her- one of zweig’s ‘god’s stepchildren who have no hope, but feel that their earthly existence can be justified only by loving and being loved.’ & nabokov lets her talk & talk:

“‘I enjoy- oh, loads of things,’ she continued in a melancholy, musing tone of voice, as she poked with a fork at her blue trout which, to judge by its contorted shape and bulging eyes, had boiled alive, convulsed by awful agonies. ‘I love Flemish and Dutch oils, flowers, food, Flaubert, Shakespeare, shopping, sheeing, swimming, the kisses of beauties and beasts- but somehow all of this, this sauce and all the riches of Holland, form only a kind of tomen’kiy-tonen’kiy (thin little) layer, under which there is absolutely nothing, except, of course, your image, and that only adds depth and a trout’s agonies to the emptiness. I’m like Dolores- when she says she’s “only a picture painted on air.”‘”

the whole book’s wonderful, but there’s something special about the lucette plotline to me. nabokov devotes a peculiar compassion to unrequited love- & it’s visible here perhaps even more clearly than in lolita & pale fire.

it’s a hard book to talk about because there’s subterranean treasure in every page. where do you even start? i loved it, of course. it’s a huge novel, lit by stars & spilled diamonds- the kind where every human being is also a firebird, a conjoined water-nymph, a monster with black wings. it didn’t move me the way pale fire did, but that’s an unfair comparison; i’m not sure anything’s ever moved me quite the way pale fire did. ada or ardor is its own brand of fantastical.

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‘In such a night as this…’

so, i meant to post this last night, but instead i wrote myself into fuzzy-eyed exhaustion. LOOK AT THIS SCENE.

 

LORENZO: The moon shines bright!- In such a night as this, when the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, and they did make no noise; in such a night, Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls, and sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents, where Cressid lay that night.

JESSICA: In such a night did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew, and saw the lion’s shadow ere himself, and ran dismay’d away.

LORENZO: In such a night stood Dido with a willow in her hand upon the wild sea-banks, and waft her love to come again to Carthage.

JESSICA: In such a night Medea gathered the enchanted herbs that did renew old Aeson.

LORENZO: In such a night did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew, and with an unthrift love did run from Venice, as far as Belmont.

JESSICA: In such a night did young Lorenzo swear he lov’d her well, stealing her soul with many vows of faith, and ne’er a true one.

LORENZO: In such a night did pretty Jessica (like a little shrow) slander her love, and he forgave it her.

JESSICA: I would out-night you, did nobody come; but hark, I hear the footing of a man.

 

it does everything. i mean, first of all, it’s shakespeare at his most musical: ‘in such a night stood dido with a willow in her hand upon the wild sea-banks, and waft her love to come again to carthage’.

i could take that line apart, but i really don’t want to.

there’s humour (‘i would out-night you’!). & it’s romantic, of course, but there’s an echo of tragedy- because all the stories referenced end in tragedy. & yet once you know the context- that jessica & lorenzo are the naive young lovers who never seem to be in any real body-or-soul danger, unlike the other inhabitants of merchant– there’s another layer of fun there. jessica & lorenzo know the context of these stories; they know that theirs is unlikely to end in death. & so they’re fantasising, they’re laying the ley-lined silk of literature over their own romance & glorying in the allure of it. it’s a love-scene between lovers of literature. it’s behaviour i certainly recognise; it’s behaviour that i imagine all bookworms who’ve ever been remotely lovesick ought to understand. i find that really charming. thanks a bunch, shakey.