Sunday, July 10, 2005

Audrey Niffenegger's view of marriage

In today's blog :
Niffenegger's view of marriage
Chris Cleave and his novel Incendiary
Public library pleasures and discoveries
Washington, Wellington and Dr U

Niffenegger's view of marriage

Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife [traveler spelt with one l even on the UK edition] is a most enjoyable novel, although it would have been better cut by at least a quarter.

Having read the last page [519!] and the long list of acknowledgments, I then went in search of the author's site which, to my dismay, has white or coloured text on a black background.

In an interview with Book Slut, Audrey Niffenegger says

For me the really interesting part that required a lot of imagination was what it would be like to be married. I think people who really are married -- I've never been married -- I think there's an ordinariness and a day-to-day-ness and I think the shiny newness wears off and after ten years or twenty years you grow accustomed to each other and it doesn't seem all that special that you have that person. And I thought, well, what if that person was always going away and you were always losing them? That might be a little different. You would be forced to really live in the moment, which a lot of people talk about, but I don't think really do it.

This is a widely held but completely skewed view of love.

Love – when it's the real thing - makes both parties long to be as committed to each other as proudly and permanently as possible. If they've had the luck to meet the right person – and there is a lot of luck but also some common sense involved – the shiny newness will evolve into something even better, like the patina on fine old furniture made by a craftsman and cherished by many generations of owners. Unfortunately people don't last as long as furniture and being together for sixty years is about the longest time most happily married couples can hope for.

Which, as all happily married couples will agree, isn't nearly long enough.

In an exchange of emails with Audrey Niffenegger, I wrote
After reading and enjoying The Time Traveler's Wife, I went to look at your website and was dismayed to find white or coloured text on a black background. This is much harder to read than black on white. The only way people with sight problems can read white on black comfortably is to "select" it, as for copying and pasting. I'm surprised your site designer didn't advise you about this. Rather a lot of the site is still under construction which is also
frustrating for visitors.

To which she replied
I specifically asked my designer for many of the features that appear on my site, so no blame to her. I wasn't thinking about legibility, mainly the asthetics of it all. The site is incomplete because both Brandy Agerbeck and I have been very very busy. She's waiting for me to scan a bunch of slides so we can put up all the visuals at once. It's hard to scan slides when you are never home; I've been traveling and have no time to write or make art, much less scan slides. A friend is now doing it for me. I periodically get e-mails from people chastising me for the skimpy content of my site. Shall I take it down completely whilst it is underway?

To which I replied
No, no, definitely not. A partial site is better than none. I was once an art student and understand your point about aesthetics but, on the web, readability is of prime importance.


On 31 March The Bookseller published a piece by Benedicte Page which began
Chris Cleave, whose début novel Incendiary (Chatto, 7th July, tpb, £12.99, 0701179058) has been sold to 15 foreign publishers and is to be made into a film with Channel 4 backing, is no stranger to trying to make the world a better place. An Oxford graduate (he got a First in Experimental Psychology), he spent the mid-1990s travelling around Europe with a rave sound system giving free parties…

The piece ended
The narrator's anguish at the loss of her small son is particularly affecting. Cleave says it was fuelled by his own emotions as a new father. "When you love someone you expose yourself to losing them, and what happens to the narrator is what can happen to any of us. I couldn't have written this book if it hadn't been for my son being born. I just couldn't believe this barbarous and terrifying world we were bringing him into. He's so sweet and gentle--he gives tea parties for his teddy bears. You feel this amazing need to protect them and an absolute horror of what could happen to them."

My heart was touched by Cleave's comment. But then, with a hundred other things to think about, I forgot about him and his book until on July 2 the Telegraph magazine published an interview with and photograph of him.

I didn't read the interview until Tuesday morning when I was going through an accumulation of newspapers to extract bits I wanted to keep before putting the rest in the waste paper box which, when it's full, gets taken to one of the island's collection points.

Like me, Cleave is an expat. He lives in Paris with his French wife. In the photograph of him by Stephen Gill, Cleave, sitting on a handsome cast-iron bench, bears a striking resemblance to one of my heroes, Auberon Waugh, as a young man. It will be interesting to see if the events in London on 7/7 affect the sales of his book which "was born out of Cleave's mounting despair at the atrocities that followed 9/11."

The narrator in Cleave's novel sees, on television, the Arsenal football ground blown up by 11 suicide bombers. The victims of this atrocity include her husband and son.

Recently The Bookseller has introduced a feature in which a bookseller writes about a book "I'm loving" and another "I'm not loving". In this week's issue, Glenn Collins, who has been working at Blackwell's in London's Charing Cross Road for a year, and other bookshops before that, selects Incendiary for the second category. He writes

I really could not get on with this book. Random House seems to be quite excited about it, but I found its portrayal of a working-class mothers who loses her husband and son in a terrorist bomb attack desperately unconvincing. I mean who, in their right mind would break off watching a live Arsenal v Chelsea game to have sex with a man who works for the Daily Telegraph? It just wouldn't happen.

I can't imagine anyone in their right mind watching football. As far as the book is concerned, I shall read it and report back here.

Public library pleasures and discoveries

On Monday I went early to the Guille-Allès, taking back The Sole Survivor and Sapphire's Grave [mentioned on June 17, see A day in the life of a library addict in the right hand sidebar].

I borrowed Ghosting by Jennie Erdal, the hardback edition published by Canongate last year. It was first taken out on June 14. I am the second borrower. The endpapers are egg-yolk yellow and – hurrah! - the book lies open without having to be held flat.

I also spent half an hour reading the library's copy of The Spectator.

There was a good article by Ruth Dudley Edwards headed "Dirty rotten journalists". But, unfortunately, you can't read the whole piece at the magazine's website unless you are a paying subscriber. I had hoped the article would be readable at RDE's website, but it isn't, or not yet, but there are a lot of other articles to read there, including a bravely outspoken piece about Gerry Adams.

RDE and another crime writer, Tim Heald, are involved in Scorpion Net. If you have broadband, or a few minutes to spare, after the photograph on the homepage had downloaded, click on the Auto Spin button and watch the picture move through 360 degrees. I assume the place is Fowey in Cornwall, where Tim Heald lives, but why isn't there an explanatory caption?

The Heald site has a great deal of interesting stuff on it, including a diary of his crowded life as a crime writer, biographer and public speaker. However, for me, although perhaps not for other visitors, it has an irritating defect. When online, I like to keep the History column open on the left hand side of the screen, and this means that the right hand edge of the Heald site is out of view unless I close the History column.

Another piece I read in The Spectator was James Delingpole's review of a book described as "witty, clever and well argued campaign for manners", The Done Thing by Simon Fanshawe.

Jame Delingpole doesn't seem to have his own website, nor could I track down his email address to ask him why he doesn't.

Washington, Wellington and Dr Urbanovsky

On Tuesday my eye was caught by this
Independence book takes British side
By Harry Mount in New York
(Filed: 05/07/2005)
A pro-British account of America's War of Independence topped the United States' bestseller lists yesterday, the day it celebrated its freedom from rule by London. More than one million copies of David McCullough's 1776 are in print already.
The book, which concentrates on the country's year of birth, has been acclaimed by critics.
McCullough praises George III and Westminster MPs but attacks George Washington as a poor tactician and a snob. The author highlights the American general's condescending attitude to his soldiers and his dismissal of them as "dirty and nasty, and afflicted by an unaccountable kind of stupidity". He attacks Washington for prejudice against the presence of free blacks in his army.
The historian, who has twice won a Pulitzer prize, depicts George III as a magnificent figure who voiced concern over his "unhappy people" in America.

I wonder if, reading "The author highlights the American general's condescending attitude to his soldiers", you immediately thought, as I did, of Wellington's famous "scum" remark?

Curious to see what Google would produce if I typed in Wellington + scum, I came upon the interesting website of Dr.Claudia Urbanovsky where I read
This part of my website will introduce you to The Men who Fought with Wellington. Before entering the links, forget about this famous "They are but the scum of the Earth.............". They were not, or not more or less then soldiery of this age usually was. Sure indeed, job prospects in the Army were not so nice and therefore mostly desperate, poor and socially excluded fellows followed the drums, but we should stick to the end of the famous 'Scum-of-the-Earth'-citation :" is quite amazing what fine fellows we can make of them!"

Dr Urbanovsky also writes
Myself, I was once supposed to become a lawyer but then turned wrong and made a professional career in the French and German Defence Industry ( which brought me 9 years of deportation to Russia, where the first two Wellington Novels were born on long cold winter evenings with a superbe view on the Kremlin and the icecovered river Moskwa!). Today, I am working on the International Staff at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, just a short way from Waterloo and all this enthraling history that is making my free time so much fun. It takes me about one year to write a novel, historic research included. This means 'Die Ehre eines Soldaten' should be ready by the end of 2001 ( At least, my agent Michel Goerden hopes so, but apart hacking on my keyboard and spoiling precious time with this WebSite I still have a job, a partner, the horses and a good deal of other creatures large and small, which claim my attention)

Coming next Sunday

A moral dilemma for library users has had to be postponed because the librarian I was hoping would give me a comment is on holiday.

Thoughts about blogging is also held over because I've already overrun my word limit.

I suspect that most blog readers find Comment buttons off-putting. Even ace blogger Grumpy Old Bookman doesn't get as many comments as one would expect. At M J Rose's Buzz, Balls & Hope blog she has a link to a form.

Many of us don't like forms. I disliked filling in the forms at Ruth Dudley Edwards's and Tim Heald's websites. Like most web enthusiasts, I prefer to hit a contact link which brings up an OE new message I can store in my drafts folder until I'm ready to use it.

Perhaps I'll get more feedback if you email me direct.

If you do email, please make it clear whether your comments are private or for sharing.