I’m doing it slightly differently this week and instead of writing a review of some of my favourite books, I’m going to direct you over to some musings that I recorded for Radio Ulster, (click here to listen) based on books which made a big impact on me.
You will notice that all three have a strong female protagonist- characters who are eccentric and not instantly likeable, but therein lies my fascination.
I’ll just focus on Elizabeth Strout in this post simply because I saw her read from her latest book ‘Olive Again’ in Dublin in November and gosh, but I was taken with her. Calm, measured and wry- I could definitely see a wee bit of Olive in her, although she’s slight and blonde. (Olive is large in both stature and personality). Strout said that she was sitting one afternoon, minding her own business, when she thought : ‘Oh here we go,’ as with a clatter, Olive barged back into her sub-consciousness. Sometimes, when my children are annoying me, I’ll do an impression of Olive, with a flick of my hand above my head. ‘STOP DOING OLIVE,’ they say.
Strout’s novels are more a series of vignettes interconnected by appearances by the main character. Strout says she does this because a whole novel of Olive would be ‘a bit much’ and I get her point. (Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible follow a similar pattern, both of which, incidentally, are marvellous)
She’s never afraid to expose the absurdities of the human condition, but does so with sensitivity and compassion. In short, I wish Strout could just live here, in Belfast instead of the USA and be my friend. I’d ring her every time I felt like a sack of shit and she’d see me right.
Incidentally, last September I did two glorious workshops at the Aspects Festival in Bangor with Patsy Horton (of Blackstaff Press). We looked closely at Lucy Barton by Strout and Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park. If such an event were ever to happen again I’d be there in a jiffy. The aim of the sessions was to see the techniques writers use to draw in the reader. In a way it was demystifying the writing process, but also showed to illuminate that the process only works when they sprinkle in a bit of their magic.
The Mothership always said that instead of teaching I should be a newsreader. Listen in and see if she was on the money. (I’d much rather chat about books than read the news. I’d be unable to suppress my apocalyptical levels of angst if that was my job. No impartiality there.)