Monday, 20 June 2011


There are cherries, small ones, on the wild cherry tree in front of the terraced house where I live. (I say wild because because it wasn’t planted, it just came and rooted; as did the fig tree next to it, and there are figs too. Not edible yet.) On Saturday, courtesy of a near-neighbour who had booked tickets and then couldn’t use them, I saw The Cherry Orchard at the National, and oh, I could drown in Chekhov, and it barely matters which play: the talking at cross purposes, the not listening to what’s being said, the yearnings, the truth-telling (but there are as many truths as characters), the students with their absolute beliefs in a wonderful future, the opportunities there for the taking and wilfully passed by, the vodka and the samovar and the vastness of the land. Deep, serious, tear-inducing comedy. Ranyevskaya is centre stage, a fond and foolish woman. As Lear was a fond and foolish old man: in callous youth, sixth form, striking a pose, I once wrote an essay (‘King Lear, Kid Lear’) in which I argued that this sentimental, complacent, over-privileged old man deserved all he got. As if life was a thing of measurable cause and effect and just rewards. And then somewhere, in one of the lit crit books I was mugging up for A-level (G. Wilson Knight, Dover Wilson, Bonamy Dobree, EMW Tillyard, all those names; and the Polish man, Jan Kott, Shakespeare our Contemporary, who is dead now), I read that Lear isn’t like life, it is life. That set me back a bit.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that there’s a short but good piece by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian in which he suggests that the tendency of the big prizes (he writes about art, but it applies to the books world too) ‘is to perpetuate the establishment taste of the day’.

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