Thursday, 11 August 2011

houses and books

The houses in Brussels were interesting to look at. We did my favourite thing and just walked along side streets. This really changed my view of Brussels to the better and now I can't wait to go back. Yes, really.

Today I spent a lovely hour reading Alan Hollinghurst's new novel "The Stranger's Child" on a church square close to my house just as the light turned yellow and the air got cooler. What I saw when I looked up from my book: Old trams crossing the square very slowly, people playing badminton, little children on tiny bikes, three men having a conversation in a language I couldn't understand, a guy drinking water from the fountain, the owner of the local inn (I presume) talking on the phone ("Ah you know Vienna is a very small town really!"), flowers.

I'm extremely happy to be reading this novel. So happy, in fact, that I rolled around on a bed last weekend, exclaiming, "This book! This book! Aaaah!" (To which my friend Max replied, "I wish I could say that about my book, but it's about the slave trade.") It's the first novel I've read in a long, long time and it's by one of my favourite authors. (I found it hard to read novels again after sticking to academia for half a year, wasn't used to things like a plot or fictional characters anymore, so I've been reading autobiographies for the past month or so.)

Here's something strange though: This is another novel that reminds me of "The Go-Between" by L.P. Hartley, at least for now. Is it just because of the setting - an English country house? No, it's also that sense of innocence versus semi-hidden private activities. It's a good topos, obviously, and Hollinghurst's version works much better than Ian McEwan's who pretty much copied "The Go-Between" when he wrote the first part of "Atonement" which in turn spoiled that book for me. Sometimes I get uncomfortable when authors are inspired by very famous works of fiction, even though I know perfectly well that it's a postmodern thing to do. It's really quite irrational, but it almost ruined Zadie Smith's "On Beauty" for me. Maybe if it hadn't been a novel I really like, but "Howard's End"? Really?

Let's stop here before it all gets too much. Just one more thing: Michelle (who is writing one of my favourite, favourite blogs, M Dash) has asked me to make a post for her "My Favourite Dress" series and you can see the result here. Thank you for having me! I feel quite honoured.


  1. Shamefully, I have to admit that I have never read anything byAlan Hollinghurst before. But, inspired by your post, I went to a second hand bookshop in my lunch break and got 'The Line of Beauty". Am already looking forward to reading it!

  2. Oh, excellent! You know, when I was reading "The Line of Beauty" I said to my friend, "I'm so sad that I'll never be reading this book again for the first time." I love it. If you read his debut novel right after that you get an interesting comparison of his two versions of 80s Britain.