Thursday, 27 April 2017

Prose Gatherer

Have you ever referred to a novel as if it were a common prayer book? I can't say I have. There's not one book that appeals to me to do so, although there's plenty, though read and not re-read, that I cannot rid myself of, not for any sentimental value but because of the story, the prose, the feelings that arose in that first reading.
Words that were so thoroughly enjoyed that though edible they remain a little undigested, yet often it's not even the words themselves that sit in the cave of my stomach but the remembrance of emotion. The feeling of being swept along as if a not unpleasant gusty wind pulled me this way and that, and time, the time I was governed by, slipped away, so that the need to read pushed me ever on, heedless of the ground I walked upon. I wouldn't have realised if my feet had no path to tread, just air.
That lost feeling, as in forgetting oneself, whilst a world that's unlike your own swallows you whole cannot, I think, be divined elsewhere. That is a mark of a truly good novel, an excellent piece of writing.
The one that wields the pen, or in modern days taps the keys, is the channel through which it (the story) flows, and undoubtedly they deserve some credit, but all? Aren't they too tapping in, like you in your reading, to a source that cannot be described. Something of that time that possibly won't be repeated, or none too often. And if they do, are able to somehow keep that door open, then they are fortunate indeed.
No, the writing of some novels cannot be accounted for, even by the authors. Or is it just the looking back that cannot be explained? The urge to write gone, the story as needed to be told written out, and with it the laborious love that went into it, so that later when it's in circulation and people enquire, as people will enquire, the inspiration is harder to define, let alone rationalise to those interested.
Whenever and however such a novel comes into being it's a collaborative act between the writer and I don't know what: a ripeness, an opportune time, something with a fantastical aura about it that has sought and now found the right mind; you might even hear an audible click! when this pairing is made. And that partnership might last or it might fade, be intermittent or even disappear altogether.
The novels that satisfy us as mere readers sometimes fail to satisfy their writers, upon later reflection, because, I think, when the moment has passed a link gets severed. The gift has been given and offered. The public swoons but the writer will have moved on; the deliciousness of the prose there for others to enjoy. The experience of being read very different to being written, for nobody, I believe, can conceive how a voice in your head will be read. The tone in which it was set dependent on the eyes and ears of the reader, so that the novel, now independent of its author, has to find a home, except in this arena there are far more mismatches.
That's why it's so important to know what resonates with you and what does not; to make your own judgements: be open to criticism and yet don't just listen to what others say or tell you. Some novels (or authors) are ripe for a certain window of time, some won't feel right but will revisit you later or turn up when you least expect it. If you know enough of yourself you'll know when that window has arrived. But, initially, there has to be some effort.
And reading, or the enjoyment of it, is not meant to necessarily be easy or involving all the time. Some or most is pretty good going in my book, and if you're flying, well, savour it because the next may be a more turbulent flight of the imagination.
I think what I'm saying is that reading is like a relationship: full of ups and downs, heady days and trial and permanent separations, and not just with reading in general but with each novel, new to you or of old. And like a person-to-person relationship, your feeling towards and your taste in books will change; does this devalue the moments you will have spent engrossed in print? No, not if what you treasure foremost is the prose and secondly, the writer.

Picture credit: The Missal, 1902, John William Waterhouse