Wednesday, 29 August 2018
One new, one old
I’d almost forgotten this blog exists. The output this year has been pathetic. But now that fewer people (I think) follow these creaky old things, I’ll put more effort into it. The excuse to get going again is publication of CBe’s second book of the year, City Works Dept. by Philip Hancock. Ken Loach: ‘Phil Hancock’s insights are precise and authentic – he is part of the great tradition of writers who capture the true spirit of working-class life.’ More information – and a ‘buy now’ button – here.
Meanwhile, since downscaling CBe a couple of years ago I’ve had more time to read, and most of the books I’ve been reading have not been the ones you can buy in bookshops, either because they are out of print or because bookshops don’t have the space to stock them (even the new ones tend to vanish after a few months, to be replaced by the even newer). So I’ve been using online shops. This is what they are for: getting hold of books that even the very lovely local independent bookshop doesn’t have in stock, the shop which itself is often going to have difficulty ordering in if the book is not in stock with either of the two major wholesalers (which most CBe books are not: another story). Online booksellers are, for my purposes, necessary and wonderful.
I’ve also been re-reading from my shelves. This one, for example, by Natalia Ginzburg:
A man leaves Italy to go to live with his older brother in the US. He’s a man with bony legs and cold hands and the reasons why he goes to the US are unclear even to himself: ‘I’m someone who doesn’t know what to be and who stares at everything indecisively.’ The City and the House consists of letters written to the man by members of the close group of friends he was a part of before he left, and his own letters to them, and letters between the friends. Over the course of two and a half years people fall in and out of love, marry and separate, worry about money and old age, work and cook meals and make mistakes and die (of illness but also guns and knives). A soap opera? Yes, in a way, but all the events happen off-stage and any melodrama is filtered through the medium – letters – in which the events are recounted by one character to another, retrospectively. A step back. Taking another step back, an unnecessary step, I could say it’s a novel about how people explain (or fail to) their lives to themselves, which sounds like a private activity but can’t be because we are social beings. It’s very subtle, very moving. It was written, I think, in the early 1980s (it was first published in Italy in 1985, and by Carcanet in Dick Davis’s English translation in 1986) – probably the last years in which a contemporary epistolary novel was possible, before letters largely gave way to email, so it’s a book you read historically but it hasn’t dated.
Natalia Ginzburg’s The Little Virtues has recently been re-issued by Daunt Books; her Family Lexicon will follow in September. Good. And good, too that Penguin have recently re-issued novels by Alfred Hayes, who I’ve written about before. (Who decides which books get published and which not? God, obviously. And who decides which books get translated from one language into another, and which out-of-print books get re-issued? Same person. He/she works in mysterious ways.)