Monday, March 23, 2009

Wonky Weekend

Failed to show at my brother's for a Mother's Day lunch yesterday owing to a house of illness. But on Saturday I cooked myself haunch of hare braised with puy lentils and white beetroot, with quince jelly. It was delicious, but I can report for those who are wondering that white beetroot is nothing to write home about ('nothing to blog about') - an anaemic version of the imperial variety.

Picked up a copy of Jeremy Hooker's Master of the Leaping Figures for £3 at Oxfam. I'm looking forward to it. They also had a copy of Tom Paulin's The Strange Museum for £6, but much as I like Paulin's work, that's too steep for me in the week before payday. Flicking through it, I was reminded how much Paulin's early work makes use of abstractions - an unusual trait, particularly in a poet so concerned with politics and history (where you might expect more focus on evidence, as it were). Can't really pursue this line of thought as, having not bought the book (or sneakily memorised them), I haven't got the poems in front of me.

Meanwhile I'm tumbling through Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. It's surprising to see what a macho, Hemingwayesque figure Steinbeck paints himself as - not what I'd expect from what I've read of his fiction. The writing itself is so unmacho - clean, elegant, reticent. Purged, even. It would be easy to read it half-asleep and wonder what the fuss is about ('a Nobel Prize?!'). But his style is so central to twentieth-century prose that we don't notice that it is a style – Steinbeck is a large part of the background to good modern writing. I can't really find anything to quote to back up this claim, but that's part of the point: rather than striving to write quotable sentences, he just writes. It's plain and almost facile. Still, the following is cheering:

When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another.


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