Home from my short stint in Oxford and Bampton, and I was in bed before 8pm last night. I can’t believe I used to get up at 5.30 or 6.00am and drive two or three hours each way to work and back. What utter madness. I had a lovely day of shopping and lunching with my sister, she got most of what she was after and I got a stack of books. Although not much Greek going second-hand, so I ended up with a couple of new Loebs: the Oresteia in one volume, Trojan Women, Iphigenia among the Taurians and Ion in the other.
But that was the best part of 24 hours in company and now I need silence until Monday. I’ve got a ticket to see Black Widow at the drive-in on Friday night, like I was ever going to do two things in one week. I don’t know what I was thinking but that’s a bucket of not happening. I’ve prodded the idea of getting in the car, driving to Newark, showing my ticket, parking up and sitting amongst a load of other cars for a couple of hours, and nope. Nopety-nope nope nope.
Today has been a chain-reading day, which I very much needed.
I started The Left-Handed Booksellers of London when I got home last night, so finished that this morning. It was a nice jumble of bookishness and folklore elements, infused with genuine love of London and awareness of the physical and mental solace of books. I liked the reference to a cricket bag with the monogram PDBW, and at one point one of the characters got some bad news and ‘went and built a sort of pyramid of Dickens and Trollope second or later editions – he didn’t disturb the firsts – climbed in, and has refused to talk or come out…’ Who hasn’t wanted to climb inside a book pyramid? What could feel more reassuring?
Then I read Summerwater by Sarah Moss, which clocked in at under 200 pages and packed a punch longer books could only wish for. One of my favourite narrative techniques is the episodic, multi-person perspective giving the reader a kaleidoscope view of the same scenes. This was various people staying at some chalets near a loch during a week of non-stop rain. Families, couples, all dealing with their own depths and demons, beautifully charted and with a shocking ending.
Finally Hamnet to round off the day. Brilliant in a different way, strong and evocative, with bereavement and grief at the heart of it. Not a plague novel, not a theatre novel, not anything you expect about Shakespeare, because it’s the women who have centre stage and drive this story. It’s a great piece of historical fiction. Maggie O’Farrell’s notes at the end say that the plague is not mentioned at all in Shakespeare’s plays, which does seem an omission. Then again, it doesn’t seem likely that theatre goers would want to see that level of reality.