Alexander Crompton

📚 23 - February

Villette, Fishing with our Father, and Tom's Midnight Garden all relate day-to-day anecdotes that accrete into real time passing; there's a poignancy when you catch small hints of the movement of time in scenes that otherwise could have happened in any order. The fishing boats are going out, same as always, but the tuna are getting smaller; Tom and Hattie are still playing in the garden, but Hattie loses interest in the more childish games and begins to take a bit more concern for Tom's safety. Then abruptly the characters are looking back on the events you just read with misty nostalgia. Hier encore... j'avais vingt ans... je gaspillais le temps... en croyant l'arrêter...

Brontë, Charlotte (1853). Villette.

I can't believe the Brontës all died so young! Tragic; and such a loss for the world of letters.

A poor English woman who initially consigns herself to a shut-in servant's life but, through various acts of will and fate, finds herself expatriated to France, where she becomes a governess and then English teacher at a girls' school. Deliciously unreliable narrator, who constantly makes these self-denigrating comments about how undesirable she is compared to everyone around her and is thoroughly bitchy to and about her friends (who seem to love her anyway? Maybe she's not as awful as she makes herself out to be!). Apparently the author herself made comments in letters about finding the protagonist loathsome. I love it!

After finishing the Villette, which is at once canonical and obscure, I asked myself, I wonder what, if anything, people on Twitter are saying about this book. The answer: things like "omg this book is like the novel version of a Spike/Buffy ship." Amazing.

Behn, Aphra (1688). Oroonoko.

One of the contenders for "first ever English-language novel," for those following that discussion. (Disqualified, apparently, for being too short.)

There's a bit of whiplash with this book. Same as in Villette, there's a sense that the author is trying out different writing styles. Initially set in modern-day Ghana, Oroonoko follows a prince—beautiful! noble!—as he gains/loses/regains an equally beautiful wife, gets invited to his grandfather's seraglio, goes into battle, and has a bit of bedroom farce. Nice so far! Then he gets sold into slavery, leads a slave rebellion in Suriname, and is disfigured and murdered in an absolutely brutal scene. I don't say this often as a reader, but I was shocked.

Baldwin, James (1956). Giovanni's Room.

Forgive me, but I didn't like this book very much. As promised, a lot of beautiful sentences and scenes, but they didn't cohere into anything interesting.

Pearce, Philippa (1958). Tom's Midnight Garden.

A boy is sent off to his aunt and uncle's poky little flat because his brother has the measles—how dreadful!

I picked up this book because Philip Pullman has sung the praises of its narrative voice. There's something about English children's literature that is wholly sympathetic to children's flights of rudeness/pettiness/"bad behavior" while also framing this behavior judgmentally. Something like "Tom realized he was being rude to his uncle, but he couldn't stop himself." Very interested in narrators whose engagement to characters is at once (1) openly critical and (2) boundlessly understanding, loving, sympathetic. Would love to see more of this energy in books for adults.

Peemoeller, Gerhard (2012). Fishing with our Father.

Narrative of a first-gen Unificationist very involved in the Ocean Church mission and his years as a fisherman up north. I wish more people would write these types of memoirs; so precious.