Category Archives: Books & Language

Alters when it alteration finds

Oh sorrow! Oh woe!!┬áT’ have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

Talk what you please of future spring
And sun-warm’d sweet to-morrow:–
Stripp’d bare of hope and everything,
No more to laugh, no more to sing,
I sit alone with sorrow.

I like to imagine dogs howling mournfully at this point, and big black thunderclouds with lashings of rain.

Strikes my soul with wild alarm

I saw the original of this once in London at a Millais exhibition, it absolutely took my breath away. It’s one of the most beautiful and detailed things I’ve ever seen, it glows so much it feels realler than real, if you know what I mean. I occasionally think about it and always thought it was the Lady of Shalott, even though she was looking out the window. I just looked it up and it’s actually supposed to be Mariana, from Tennyson’s poem. Which actually, I love, so that’s quite a revelation. It’s so cool how you can look at a painting like this, or read a poem, and … and… It’s like the most amazing music sweeping you up and carrying you away in its strong manly muscly sexy arms, it’s like:

Sweet sounds, oh, beautiful music, do not cease!
Reject me not into the world again.
With you alone is excellence and peace,
Mankind made plausible, his purpose plain.
Enchanted in your air benign and shrewd,
With limbs a-sprawl and empty faces pale,
The spiteful and the stingy and the rude
Sleep like the scullions in the fairy-tale.
This moment is the best the world can give:
The tranquil blossom on the tortured stem.
Reject me not, sweet sounds; oh, let me live,
Till Doom espy my towers and scatter them,
A city spell-bound under the aging sun.
Music my rampart, and my only one.

Diana Wynne Jones

One of my most favourite writers ever passed away over the weekend. I grew up reading her books and there’s never been a point in my life when I’ve not enjoyed them. I don’t feel up to saying anything more other than she was fantastic, and she will be missed, I feel very saddened by the news.

The House at Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively

Reading anything by Penelope Lively is like meditating. If you’re feeling anxious or worried about living or dying, or time and how it passes, she somehow manages to leave you serene and peaceful. I can understand why people might not like her books; her main characters usually have a degree of thoughtfulness which makes them seem almost like they are a vacuum sucking up their surroundings and reflecting them and (with their introspection) amplifying them back. It would not suit the more pragmatic and practically minded individual. If you read the books and try and cling to feeling down to earth it’s just not going to work. You have to give yourself up to it, like floating with a current and being swept away.

I also like the way not that much happens in her books. There is no epic story behind it. The supernatural element present in the House at Norham Gardens may be real or may be imagined. There’s a new tenant coming to live with the heroine, there’s a small accident, and that’s it. Yet somehow I was completely caught up and couldn’t stop reading.

Sometimes, after years of living in a big city, I feel a little alarmed to look out of my window and see the horizon with nothing blocking it. No houses, no hills, just the sea stretching out and out. It’s a jarring sort of emptiness and in my head I sometimes fill it with large buildings which clash and jangle to fill it up. And anyway, this is a bit of a strange way of describing it, but Penelope’s books make me happy that it’s just the ocean there, if you see what I mean.

The Europeans

You guys! I have a new author I can add to my list of ‘Authors I really like’! I read the Europeans by Henry James over the weekend and I really loved the multi-layered character sketches he gave for his heroine and hero, the brother and sister.


So, if an Englishman said to an American “We have regular trains here”, would the American think they meant they were standard/average trains? Let’s ignore context giving him cues and prompts as to the real meaning as well.


Oh wow, I love this book so much. I’ve pretty much read it cover to cover with no breaks, just carried away by the amazing language. It made me laugh, at the end, Nabokov lamenting his “second-rate” brand of English (he’s Russian of course, I seem to have a weakness for these Russian writers).

If only 3D didn’t exist and I had, well, more money than I do now – I could buy all of his books and just indulge in them forever. So now I’ve been inside the head of a paedophile and inside the head of a murderer. I keep wanting to try and put down in this post a few of my favourite phrases that he uses, but as I go through a few randomly opened pages I’m just noting everything down which is of course no good at all. The imagery is so evocative, and of course I love him as well for in his notes (“On a book entitled Lolita”) asserting that Lolita has no moral in tow (yay! take that english teachers who make us pick at books ’till they fall apart at the seams). Nabokov says Lolita exists for the purpose of creating “aesthetic bliss” and oh it really really delivers.

Well anyway, random bit :

“She was all rose and honey, dressed in her brightest gingham with a pattern of little red apples, and her arms and legs were of a deep golden brown, with scratches like tiny dotted lines of coagulated rubies, and the rubbed cuffs of her white socks were turned down at the remembered level…”

Edit: Although I’m never going to be able to read about Annabel Lee and her kingdom by the sea again without thinking of Humbert and paedophilia and Poe having a 13 year old wife…