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Cheryl's books

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The Collected Stories
John McGahern
Middlemarch
George Eliot
Omensetter's Luck
William H. Gass
Swann's Way
Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis
A Naked Singularity (Paper)
Sergio De La Pava
The Master and Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky
Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews
Geoff Dyer
Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace
Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
Claire Tomalin
Maps and Legends
Michael Chabon
A Heart So White (Penguin Modern Classics) - Javier Marías, Jonathan Coe “I did not want to know but I have since come to know that one of the girls, when she wasn’t a girl any more and hadn’t long been back from her honeymoon, went into the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror, unbuttoned her blouse, took off her bra and aimed her own father’s gun at her heart, her father at the time was in the living room with other members of the family and three guests.”

And so with the first sentence we dive into unknown depths.

The title of the book is from Macbeth, in the scene in which Macbeth returns to his wife, after killing Duncan (‘the deed is done’). This is the kernel of the book, the wellspring. “Listening is the most dangerous thing of all, listening means knowing, finding out about something and knowing what’s going on, our ears don’t have lids that can instinctively close against the words uttered, they can’t hide from what they sense they’re about to hear, it’s always too late. It isn’t just that Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth, it’s above all that she’s aware that he’s committed a murder from the moment he has done so, she’s heard from her husband’s own lips, on his return: “I have done the deed.” … she returned having smeared the faces of the servants with the blood of the dead man ("If he do bleed ...") to make them seem the guilty parties: "My hands are of your colour," she says to Macbeth, "but I shame to wear a heart so white," as if she wished to infect him with her own nonchalance in exchange for infecting herself with the bloodshed by Duncan, unless "white" here means "pale and fearful" or "cowardly"."

I compare reading Marias to floating in the water. To fall back on the water, to feel it pressing on the back, on the shoulders, like a hand on the shoulder, it supports us, it holds us up and calms us. To concentrate on not concentrating, so that the immersion carries you along at the same level, unvarying, familiar and new, blindly but inexorably toward knowing, yet knowing that if you stop concentrating you will shift focus and then lose your way so then you have to concentrate again on concentrating to regain your position, to feel it again pressing on your back, supporting you, calming you, like a hand on the shoulder.

On this, my second Marias novel, I was prepared to be immersed, to search for the right plane, and to listen for the reverberations. “It's always the chest of the other person we lean back against for support, we only really feel supported or backed up when, as the latter verb itself indicates, there's someone behind us, someone we perhaps cannot even see and who covers our back with their chest, so close it almost brushes our back and in the end always does, and at times, that someone places a hand on our shoulder, a hand to calm us and also to hold us.” This was a common repetition, a variation, that appeared throughout the novel in similar but slightly different ways each time. The “hand on the shoulder” became the defining image, always with the same significance of reassurance, of calming, of support. But the narrator’s father Ranz (the husband of the suicidal woman in the opening paragraph) never feels that hand on his shoulder. Instead, there are a few times where he puts his coat on his shoulder, never putting his arms in the sleeves, the narrator takes pains to explain this is how he usually wears the coat. He must cover his own shoulder, from the back, he is alone, no one is covering his back. The “hand on the shoulder”… it recurs extensively throughout the story, provoking recognition and heightened alertness each time I came across the action.

The rhythm of the reading differs from conventional novels in that it is mostly told tightly in two planes. One is a brief narrative descriptive type, still usually formed by looping, tumbling sequences, and then the other is the longer reflective echoing musings, which repeat throughout the book, varying slightly in their telling, but cross referencing backward and forward, and these become gradually longer and more insistent until they merge with and become the dominant narrative. It is about listening, secrets, obligations, suspicions, telling stories, concealing stories. Stay in the plane, just at that plane, retain your focus, and it is like being showered in puzzle pieces that somehow fall into place all around you.