Friday, August 12, 2022

the last book I ever read (David Plante's Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three, excerpt five)

from Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three (New York Review Books Classics) by David Plante:

Sometimes we talked about writers, and she admitted, with no sign of great regret, that she hadn’t read Balzac, Proust, Fielding, Trollope, George Eliot, James, Conrad, Joyce. She couldn’t read Austen, she had tried. She had read a lot of Dickens. She had read, and remembered in great patches, the English Romantic poets, and Shakespeare. Her favourite writer, she said, was Robert Hichens, who wrote turn-of-the-century melodramas; she said his books took her away, especially The Garden of Allah. But when friends brought her his novels from second-hand book shops she left them in a pile. She read, instead, thrillers, and in her late life she read almost nothing else but. In Chelsea, she read, over and over, a novel called The Other Side of Midnight, and she said, “It’s trash, perfect trash, but it takes you away,” and made a sign as of going away, far off, with her hand. She said it was very important for a writer to have read a great deal at some time in his life. I presumed this was when she was a girl in Dominica, when she read books from her father’s library and from the public library, where she sat on a veranda to read, with a view of the sea. While she was on tour in music hall the girls read The Forest Lovers, and Jean read it too. It was about a couple in the Middle Ages who ran away into the forest because everyone disapproved of their love, but they always slept with a sword between them. The sword, Jean said, was an endless topic of conversation. (“ What a soppy idea. What’d they do that for? I wouldn’t care about an old sword, would you?”) The Forest Lovers was the only book Jean read for years. She must have read when she started to write, though I am not sure what. She spoke very highly of Hemingway, and she knew many modern writers at least well enough to comment on them. About Beckett, she said, “I read a book by him. It seemed to me too set up, too studied.”

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