No, I hadn't read it before. Or I had and I'd forgotten it. And I don't know how either of those is possible.
I'd read about Antoine de Saint-Exupery iNo, I hadn't read it before. Or I had and I'd forgotten it. And I don't know how either of those is possible.
I'd read about Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Sven Lindqvist's Exterminate all the Brutes. And I am just reading Bernard Moitessier's The Long Way (about sailing round the world, and keeping going), which seemed to have a little Little Prince in - so, I went to track it down. About forty years too late.
I'm sure most of the comments here are adoring. Deservedly. This is an excrutiatingly loveable book. If you have a child, read it to them. Then re-read it. It will be better the fifth time through.
However, I'm going to say one thing that might be controversial. As a Creative Writing tutor, I'm fairly sure this wouldn't now be published as it is - and that would diminish it. What I mean is, the narrative (such as it is) tumbles out with pure dream logic. The ecology of the Little Prince's world is painful. The episodes on earth towards the end feel rushed, and unillustrated, compared to those in space, earlier on. The bit about the tippler would be cut as inappropriate for young children, and underdeveloped.
Any good Disney or Pixar script doctor would sort this out with reference to The Hero's Journey. And what's wonderful in the book would be normalized into some tedious triumph over adversity. What's the Little Prince's motivation? He wants a drawing of a sheep. No, let's work that some more. How about a lion? And why does his scarf keep changing colour?
This isn't to say that great, eccentric, unlogical children's books aren't being published. (One from not too long ago that's wonderful is Beegu by Alexis Deacon.) It's just to say I fear that we've all - all of us writers - imbibed a good deal of How To Plot Properly and, sometimes, especially, it's would be better to be left with How to Dream Anarchically. This is a genuine dream of a book....more
I am sure I did not find this novel - and the presence in it of Elizabeth Hardwick - as endearing as some readers will do. But I think that's my faultI am sure I did not find this novel - and the presence in it of Elizabeth Hardwick - as endearing as some readers will do. But I think that's my fault. Elizabeth Hardwick is an America Virginia Woolf, concerned with peripheries and with making them near-central. Woolf's diaries are the closest thing I've read to Sleepless Nights. (Particularly Part Nine, which deals with Josette and Ida and Angela, Hardwick's - as far as I can tell - cleaning ladies.) And Woolf's diaries are one of my favourite books to go back to.
Sleepless Nights is an odd construction. Not always, I think, deliberately so. I wouldn't say it's fragmented so much as not assembled. If it's a novel, it doesn't concern itself with a central character's gradual development. It is about a writer looking and writing. She looks well, and she writes even better. She makes of her little more than enough.
'Oh, M., when I think of the people I have buried, North and South. Yet, why is it that we cannot keep the note of irony, the jangle of carelessness at a distance? Sentence in which I have tried for a certain light tone - many of those have to do with events, upheavals, destructions that caused me to weep like a child.'
That's an encapsulation, offered by Hardwick, on the penultimate page. For the tone of the book, nothing could be more accurate than 'the jangle of carelessness at a distance'. And there are many sentences where you stop and think, 'That couldn't be bettered.' Even when they seem not to connect with what goes before or after.
'Everything has come to me and been taken from me because of moving from place to place.'
What flows within the book takes place as set pieces. Some of these are astounding. Part Three, about Billie Holiday is one of the best written portraits I've ever read.
'The sheer enormity of her vices. The outrageousness of them. For the grand destruction one must be worthy. Her ruthless talent and the opulent devastation. Onto the heaviest addiction to heroin, she piled up the rocks of her tomb with a prodigiousness of Scotch and brandy. She was never at any hour of the day or night free of these consumptions, never except when she was asleep.'
This is a companion piece to Frank O'Hara's poem 'The Day Lady Died'.
Often Elizabeth Hardwick writes by compiling list after list of objects or attributes. There was an artwork I once saw, in the reception of Penguin Books. It was a vast sheet of paper, about the proportions of A4, listing every noun in War and Peace. At moments, with adjectives and attitude, Sleepless Nights resembles a Manhattan version of that.
'Skirts and blouses and jackets of satin or flowered cloth, Balkan decorations, old beads, capes, shawls, earrings.'
Probably, you would need to know a lot more about the details of Elizabeth Hardwick's life and influences to know where to place this as a work (published 1979). But I avoided finding out, because I wanted to take this book by itself. It is fascinating and sad, drab and brilliant. I am sure it's better on the fifth reading than the first. But I'm not sure what it's about, apart from watching lives disintegrate, and trying to integrate what one has seen of that into sentences....more
I will declare an interest: Janet Sutherland was one of the other writers at Hawthornden Castle, where was a writing fellow last year. Some of these pI will declare an interest: Janet Sutherland was one of the other writers at Hawthornden Castle, where was a writing fellow last year. Some of these poems were written there, and read out at the end of the day on which they'd been written.
So, I am entirely unobjective - and very fond of some of these poems. But the book as a whole seems strong to me. The title encapsulates it. Janet Sutherland grew up on a farm; what she writes homes upon that. Farms are places of growth and execution. Janet covers both. Cows recur, with more dignity than they're usually accorded.
Janet Sutherland is one of the least showy poets you could imagine. Every word is considered, as it should be with all poetry, but it's also consistently, rigorously driven towards being understated. Which means that when big emotions come blundering along, as they do, they can be devastating. Their tiniest destructions are registered.
This acute, ambitious novel was unexpected. It had been recommended to me only a couple of times, but by people whose opinions I took seriously. I thoThis acute, ambitious novel was unexpected. It had been recommended to me only a couple of times, but by people whose opinions I took seriously. I thought Moon Tiger would be polite, lyrical, easily-put-asideable. Instead, it's a tight, vastly ambitious, tender and troubling (in a good way) book.
Moon Tiger is the fascinatingly fragmented life story of Claudia Hampton, plus the history of the world. It's one of the best books I'd read about war (and I've just finished Michael Herr's Dispatches). It is also a love story, a story about the disorientations of growing old, and a very English family saga.
The point of view shifts between characters. The tense changes. But mostly this is a way of cutting out the boring bits. Repeatedly, an event is mentioned as having happened or as soon to happen, and three lines later you're in the middle of it. There's absolutely no throat clearing. This gives the whole novel an urgency and excitement.
I remember my parents reading it, when it won The Booker Prize. They'd have said 'it's very well written', and it is. But it's much more....more