Book alert: I've been rereading Andrey Kurkov's Grey Bees and liking it even more the second time around. Today my copy of his Diary of an Invasion arrived and already I have learned that by January 3, 2022, workers from the eastern part of Ukraine who might once have gone to Russia had begun going to Western Europe instead, a fact that he thought might be worrying Putin. So much we don't understand about that war, no matter how many daily headlines are given to it! And how splendid, if heartbreaking, to learn about it from such a gifted observer and novelist!
Picturing a World
Diary of an Invasion
My latest reading from the books I gave myself at Christmas is the new YA fantasy, Tyger by S. F. Said. It is set at Midwinter in the harsh London of an alternative universe, where Muslims must live in a Ghetto and aristocrats own slaves. It is anti-colonial, for sure, and demonstrates the harm done by in prejudice and injustice. Yet unlike R. F. Kuang's Babel (see previous post), it is full of love, courage, and loyalty.
I wanted to like it
R. F. Kuang's Babel has scope and ambition. Its plot moves with many melodramatic surprises. I wanted to like it. Too soon, however, it became apparent that it was driven primarily by anger at the all-too-obvious injustices of colonialism. To be fair, such concerns suit the taste of readers who value politics over other aspects of art. I don't.
When I first saw this image, I thought the central figure was a woman. In fact, it is the male sculptor, Pygmalion, from Burne-Jones's series on the topic of Pygmalion and Galatea. But no matter: Inspiration can result from mistaken perception, and I like the idea of a woman artist seriously musing on the Three Graces, unaware that she herself is being watched. In my story, she would be on brink of some major departure. The story would somehow incorporate those ghostly reflections beneath the table. Yours?
Today, while a thin dusting of snow lies over the hills outside my window, a used copy of Boxwood (1960 edition) arrived in the mail. The book was a collaboration between the woodcut engraver, Reynolds Stone, and poet Sylvia Townsend Warner, who illustrated a set his landscapes. For more about the project, including four examples, see 'Possibilities in a Collaboration': Boxwood in Context.
Babel by R. F. Kuang is another of my presents-to-myself. I've only read a few pages; but so far, it's a yes, even though reviews (like this one) make clear that the story is very dark. Well, black-and-white art is obviously appropriate for a noirish novel; and what I want to call attention to today is the jacket illustration by Nico Delort, shown here in two versions.
Maggie O'Farrell for young readers
My copy of The Boy Who Lost His Spark by Maggie O'Farrell arrived today from Blackwell's (an excellent non-Amazon source of books from Britain). It has illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini on nearly every page, the sort of thing I have loved since childhood. Looks like a good bedtime story now that the holidays are over—and, yes, I do have a stack of presents-to-myself books to carry me through January. Happy reading, one and all!
Dark and light
Blog post alert: For those of you who follow a traditional calendar, this is the ninth day of Christmas. You'll be pleased by a few last glimpses of a delicious interior from Amy Merrick at Dennis Severs' House. And for those of you who think about writing historical fiction, Lucinda Douglas Menzies' photographs of the house are lovely help to visualizing the chiaroscuro of a pre-20th C winter. No wonder ghost stories are a part of the season!
New Year's Eve, 2022
I can't resist reverting to vicarious glamour for New Year's Eve. Nope, not going to a party myself, but isn't this one just too, too? Wherever you are and whatever you're up to tonight, Happy New Year!
Image via Antique Print & Map Room
Yesterday, I listened to the beautiful Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College. The order of service included a deeply moving sonnet, Refugee by Malcolm Guite. To be truly meaningful, the Christmas season must acknowledge the dark as well as the light. In this year when Putin's war is an extension of the slaughter of the innocents and immigrants are freezing on our borders, let us be reminded by images of the Holy Family on the road that we are one family and need to look after each other. After reading about immigrants being taken in by Detroit shelters for this year's Christmas storm, I have made a special gift to Forgotten Harvest. Even a kindly smile can be like a candle lit in the dark. Have a joyous and loving Christmas.
Image via National Gallery of Ireland