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Book review

Monthly Review: August 2022 (Out of Sheer Rage; Circe; Coral Glynn)

What I Read:

Out of Sheer Rage: In the Shadow of DH Lawrence (Geoff Dyer, 1997): The narrator is trying to write a book about DH Lawrence, but keeps getting sidetracked: by trips to Greek islands where everything is dull but the traffic, the unpredictable unavailability of cornetti at his favourite café in Rome, his numerous ailments, reading everything except what he needs to, & the writer’s nemesis, procrastination. A fun, meandering book, where passages of biographical analysis of DHL flow into personal memoir, then into biographical analysis of Rilke (another master procrastinator) or Bernard. After following the narrator around from Paris to Italy to Britain, you find that he has suddenly begun his book, & is plodding along through it somehow. An ode to procrastination & perfectionism, where love of life, general irritability, & conflicted feelings about the writer’s profession form three strands of the braid. The ending is sublime. Having discussed one of his occasional bouts of depression, the narrator remembers the main reason for work:

“And there you have it. One way or another we all have to write our studies of D. H. Lawrence. Even if they will never be published, even if we will never complete them, even if all we are left with after years and years of effort is an unfinished, unfinishable record of how we failed to live up to our own earlier ambitions, still we all have to try to make some progress with our books about D. H. Lawrence. The world over, from Taos to Taormina, from the places we have visited to countries we will never set foot in, the best we can do is to try to make some progress with our studies of D. H. Lawrence.”

Circe (Anita Saran, 2009): The protagonist of this episodic, Pickwickian novel is Circe: beautiful, immortal, and both promiscuous and picky. Circe blends humorous reinvention of myths with Circe’s modern-day adventures: “Athene is obsessively chaste. Hep[haistos] once tried to make love to her in his smithy. She tore herself away in disgust and he came all over her pristine knee. She wiped it off with a handful of wool she always carries along for just such an emergency, and threw it away with a curse. It fell near Athens, accidentally fertilising Gaia—Mother Earth—who was doing her exercises, legs up in the air.”

In the end, Circe finds enlightenment via a Buddhist monk, and reconsiders her life’s philosophy: “Mad as I was at Head-Hung-Low for daring to improve upon my appearance, I realised that beauty is relative—a concept I had fought all my life. After all, there had to be a universal concept of beauty. Wasn’t truth beauty and beauty, truth? I had believed in the absolute truth of my beauty. But what is truth? The Maya believed suicides were sacred. Christians don’t even allow suicides into their graveyards. Whose truth is truer?”

Coral Glynn (Peter Cameron, 2010): In post-WW2 Britain, a young nurse begins a new job in the countryside. Coral Glynn is a curious character, who the reader soon realises is suffering a secret trauma. Her employer, who has his own secrets, pursues her with romantic interest. Coral gets herself entangled in a murder mystery. Narrated in spare, beautifully-paced prose, Coral Glynn is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. I found Peter Cameron via an excerpt from another novel on Electric Literature, & will be reading more of him soon.

Began reading Godel, Escher, Bach: this tome on cognitive science, logic, & philosophy will take a while to get through. A bracing read, the concepts challenging but the style lucid.

What I Wrote:

Outlined & drafted & first-round-edited “The Mistake” from a story/plot some weeks ago. Got some crits; reread it myself; began re-outlining.

Outlined “The Virgin” from a story/plot some weeks ago.

Conceptualised, outlined, drafted, & got some crits for “The Toy Soldier” (7k). This came out of an exercise from A Swim in A Pond in the Rain, & I’m pleased: it’s in a magic realist mode that I seldom explore these days, & plan to explore more going forward.

Edited “Retreat” (now 2,500 words).

Reread “The Hours” (1k); decided on a full rewrite; began working on an outline.

Worked on outlining Evening, which is now a novel. The outline of the second and third chapters (out of three chapters) needs more work; I began drafting the first chapter & will continue working on the outline as I go.

“The Mistake,” “The Hours,” & “Retreat” will be in my short story collection, & from now till year-end I will be working almost exclusively on finishing my short story collection, & if possible a first draft of my novel. I want to finish at least one of these books this year, ready to start sending out to agents & publishers, so I need to suspend spending time writing new stuff. Writing new stuff is fun, & revising is hard, so this will need discipline.

What I Published:

“Mothers & Sons” (formerly “Forgive”) is out in issue #52 of The Bombay Lit Mag.

By Amita Basu

I'm a writer based in Bangalore, India.

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