Once upon a time I was a lapsed reader but with the kindness and encouragement of a few good women I was brought back from the brink and felt able to participate all year round and not just on high days and holidays. I was welcomed into a caring group and was shown the way. I was tempted with old familiar themes and stories, words I knew and charming dwelling-places of the word. My old appreciation of virago-green and genteel paintings was rekindled and I could hold my head high and call myself a reader again. I carried the word with me in my bag and in quiet moments I sought solace with lovingly-crafted phrases. I read in public and felt no shame. I was proud to be a reader.
I will never be one of those who will sit in the front row. I am the reading equivalent of one who slinks into the back row of a service and leaves before the priest appears at the door to shake the hand of the worshippers. I have progressed from merely attending at Easter & Christmas and weddings and funerals but my practice is humble. Some days it is only a few words but if the train is delayed and I meet no friends on board I have been known to read more than a chapter a day.
I have just finished “Private Papers” by Margaret Forster which features the alternate voices of a mother and daughter. Rosemary, the daughter is reading what her mother calls her “private papers” which gives the book its title. Her view of events varies considerably from that of her mother ably demonstrating that there is no one version of any story. That is all too common in families. In my own my baby sis’s infamous tantrum in Mevagissey is legendary. Middle sis and I could not understand what set baby sis off. We laid out our reasons for considering her behaviour to be unnacceptable and smugly put her exhibition down to being spoilt. Years, even decades later, baby sis was articulate enough to put her side of events and at long last we had to admit that she had a point. Private papers doesn’t reach any such admissions. Orphaned mother Penelope’s lifelong yearning for a “real family” is never satisfied. Thinking her marriage will bring her wish, Penelope is sorely disappointed as soon after the birth of her third child she is left a young war widow with a disapproving yet demanding mother-in-law. The one daughter who gives her what she most approves of in theory is also the one who disappoints her the most.
Each episode of family life is seen in turns from the viewpoint of the mother and then the daughter. This puts me in mind of the extracts of my baby sis’s novel in progress. She also alternates between mother and daughter though her narrative differs in that mother’s voice tells of the past and daughter’s is more or less in real time. We learn from the daughters account what has become of the young girl in the mother’s account. There is much more to this oeuvre than an alternating voice but as it is very much a work in progress each version I receive via email has shifted to become something slightly different. I can’t wait to read the final version and maybe if you pop over to my baby sis’s blog she will drop the odd hint about this exciting project.
Oh, and if you want to find out what this lapsed yet born-again-reader is consuming now then you will have to look out for my next post. Watch this space.