Saturday, June 19, 2010

I Love Paris In The Fall

While In the middle of Sprig Muslin and The Group I had been in a second hand bookshop and unable to resist buying a copy of The Paris Review Interviews; Women Writers At Work which I promised myself would be the next on my reading list. Fortuitously, one of the authors interviewed is Mary McCarthy and she was writing The Group at the time of the interview. Reading her discussion of it as a work in progress just hours after I had finished reading the book itself was fascinating; it gave me a lot to think about.


She describes the book as fundamentally about progress. I had read it as such a personal sketch of each character's life journey that it was a surprise to find the intent behind the book had been so impersonal. However, I saw at once that this less sentimental approach makes all kinds of sense to the reading and understanding of The Group. It ties everything together thematically. I also think it makes McCarthy's writing all the more impressive to have been able to breathe such lifelike qualities into characters that she was using for such a particular purpose.

There is plenty of interest in this interview not about The Group. Just as she says The Group is about "progress", McCarthy labels another of her books as being about "doubt". It was intriguing to note that such broad yet particular themes appear to be at the base of various of McCarthy's novels. It is not clear whether she set out to write about a particular emotion or idea, or whether she subsequently categorised her novels thus upon completion.

Dorothy Parker is another author who is interviewed in this collection. I have long been a fan of her writing, but found I couldn't read this interview all at once. Her self-deprecation comes through so clearly that it becomes rather heavy to bear. It is quite a similar experince to watching Madmen: utterly addictive but completely wince-worthy at the same time. It's like eating something delicious yet very sharp and sour; even though it is enjoyable it is also impossible to go for too long without a breather.

While it is difficult to read all these interviews in sequence, they are probably all going to be fascinating pieces. I must confess that even in the middle of McCarthy's interview which I adored reading, I put it off for several days to read a crime novel - something completely out of my normal sphere. It distracted me so thoroughly that I had to finish it before returning to the interview. I will venture to read more of the interviews one at a time in the coming months.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Browning Pages

This week I am reading two quite old books interchangeably; The Group by Mary McCarthy and Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer. The Group was originally publishing in 1962 and I am reading a yellowing, spine-cracked 1966 edition. My edition of Sprig Muslin (1958) is from 1968. Both books have that lovely soft, floppy feel, and a page colour that is the book equivalent of lamplight to a new book’s florescent bulb.

I began the week stridently obsessed with reading The Group, billed in it’s 2010 reissue as a mid century precursor to Sex and the City. McCarthy’s language is bitingly sharp; she is ruthlessly perceptive and the novel is hilarious both for the snappy character sketches and for the now ludicrously archaic sticky social situations with which the characters must grapple. I became totally absorbed in each character’s problems which are so realistically heart-wrenching that I had to set the book aside for a rest.

My chosen antidote was, of course, one of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. All her books in this genre are full of floaty dresses, calling cards, bafflingly complicated social conventions and young scallywags who by the book’s end have been tamed into marriageable material. It’s completely absurd which is why I love it. Even though a sporadic dose of Heyer can soothe and relax me as nothing else, I can’t take too much all at once. I am thoroughly enjoying Sprig Muslin, but I am already looking forward to something with a little more intellectual meat.