mjj (flemmings) wrote,
mjj
flemmings

Finished Jonathan Strange last night at 1:30. (One reason I haven't finished JS&MN before- these days I can't stay up till 1:30 in the full charge of a good read. Reading like writing is something I do better from 11 to 3 am but employment doesn't allow of such luxuries.)

It's true, it's not a read but an experience. If you're susceptible to that kind of thing it swallows you for a period-- a very fantoddy period. The fantods for me come only partly from the horrifying but exquisitely distanced fairy events. Mostly it has to do with place.

I wonder how the book reads to someone who hasn't been in England or Europe? Can American odd localities and umm distanced landscapes stand in for the old world ones? There's so much /history/ in JS- that sense of the past piled up and pressing on the present that stifles me when I'm in England and that still manages to crowd me in Europe. Does that have an American equivalent? (Yes, nojojojo, there's New Orleans and Boston. ^_^ But what about everyone else?)

All *I* know is that JS is 'about' places I was in before I was really able to remember them, the way The Rebel Angels has always been 'about' Toronto even though the TO presented there is never much described. It feels like Toronto, all through it, and a very particular Toronto as to time and place: the prior-to-the-late-60s one still under the shadow of the very British 50's (I believe it's set later, but Brit TO was the one Davies knew) and the Annex Toronto around the university (which is where I lived) even though the domestic settings are all in Rosedale. Which is very like the Annex but a lot narrower in its views: the 'foreign' heroine obviously belongs to the more intellectual and less caste bound Annex. My memories of the time and place are limited. But what I gathered of the Annex as a child is what peers from the background of The Rebel Angels.

Similarly, JS feels like England and Europe from a long way back, when I was 5 and 9. Not the one I remember consciously, but the atmosphere I picked up in 400 year old houses where my cousins lived and London parks my parents took us to. The colours are different there- paler and bleached out, by NAmerican standards. The weather is different: thunderstorms announce themselves as an inability to breathe and a sense of the horrors all morning, to be broken by half an hour's violence in the afternoon. The cities are dark grey and black and washed in rain, the countryside is the colour of pale sand. There's something all around you, unseen but dimly sensed, that doesn't exist at home. It might as well be magic, not the magic you know from kids' books here but something paler and different and beyond your ability to put a name to.

(I'll say here that one thing about Japan is that its past keeps a very distinct distance. There if you want it but not nudging your elbow every minute. Of course, so is its reality distanced, as though applicable only when you're in it: it doesn't feel real by home standards. It's like you don't cast a shadow there. Elizabeth Hardwicke, I think, said 'The first thing you discover when you travel is that you don't exist' which is as true as it needs to be. But Japan takes it to extremes.)
Tags: reading_06
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