31 August 2006

Not a book review (mighty long though)

I’ve taken the risky step of re-reading a book I loved when I was young and innocent and had hopes for my future. Always a very dangerous thing to do. What would happen if I didn’t like it? Would that mean that all the other books liked then are also rubbish? Would it mean that my taste is a fickle, fickle thing and not to be trusted? Or that when I was a teenager I was a complete muppet? The very thought.

I warmed up for this epic endeavour with a re-read of Sarah Waters’ Affinity which I didn’t like too much the first time round because the end is like being smacked very very hard in the face with a gravel encrusted shovel. And not in a nice way, like the twist halfway through Fingersmith, either. Affinity is a little less painful the second time round, but then most things are.

I’m supposed to be struggling through The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh and I’m not enjoying it so much that I’m prepared to fully commit to it, but I’m not hating so much that I can dump it and walk away feigning indifference and swearing never to return its calls. So, I’ve put it to one side for a bit...

..And picked up the book in question: Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden. I had to go and buy myself another copy because I lent my careworn original to someone and can’t remember who. I do remember being almost violent in my recommendation of it so they probably took it away from me for my own good.

I first read it when I was about 17. Mainly (by this I mean solely) because it had the words ‘…a young husband and wife who both fall in love with the same woman…’ and when you’re 17 and live in a small village outside a claustrophobic, hicky little town people pass at speed on the M1 those words are rarely found on the back of a book in WHSmiths and therefore to be pounced upon.

So, the other evening I sat myself down, on the floor, in a semi darkened room and tentatively read the first couple of pages. Then I had a glass of wine. I read on. It’s still good.

The relief.

Hemingway worked on it whenever the mood took him (I know that feeling) between 1946 and 1961. I’m sure he would have liked to have worked on it more but he died. Nice excuse Ernesto. So, it’s not finished which lends it a kind of ambiguity that really suits the book. There’s also some controversy about the extent to which is it actually a Hemingway novel, given that the original manuscript was over 1,500 pages long and the book in my hands only has 247 pages, all of them soiled by the publisher’s blue pen. Again, this really works for me. It’s very rough and very lean. It was finally published in 1986, provoking a frenzy of sorts.

There's also a funny story about him appearing with his hair dyed red whilst he was writing it. Just for a couple of days, you understand. He tried it. He didn't like it. Fair enough.

I like to think I am ambivalent about Hemingway, him being so macho and abusive and all, and then I think about what he wrote and find myself going ‘yeah, I like that’ and ‘oh, yes, that’s good too.’ Also, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises has the most fantastic paragraph in it:

‘The fiesta was really started. It kept up day and night for seven days. The dancing kept up, the drinking kept up, the noise went on. The things that happened could only have happened during the fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta. All during the fiesta you had the feeling, even when it was quiet, that you had to shout any remark to make it heard. It was the same feeling for any action. It was the fiesta and it was on for seven days.’

I’m also a little in love with Lady Brett Ashley. A little. Who am I kidding?

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