Monday 25 October 2010

Finishing the pudding with the serving spoon

So of course I had to pick up The Pursuit of Love as soon as I'd finished Love in a Cold Climate. What joy! I have a Reprint Society copy: thick, rough paper on which the ink hasn't really taken well enough, so many of the letters, when you look carefully, have white patches, empty of ink. The cover is plain, that kind of brownish grey they called 'taupe' for a while (though I always thought moles were black). It was printed way-back-when, 1947, when even cheap reprints had properly sewn pages, and strongly bound covers. Books built to last. I have heaps of these Reprint Society books, they used to be sold for peanuts in the secondhand bookshops, charity shops and markets I used to buy from (that was back when I had bookshelves that needed filling). I do love a hardback. It's so satisfying the way the pages stay open on the table in front of you without you having to hold it, and the way you can place it open, face down without breaking the spine.

I don't know how many times I've read The Pursuit of Love. Since the first time I read it, maybe 30 years ago, it's been one of those books that I pick up in between other books, when I can't quite decide what I want to read next, or if I'm ill or tired or fed up. It's a book to be read in great wolfing chunks, like finishing the pudding with the serving spoon, because there really (no, really!) isn't enough left to share around at another meal. In fact, what's really extraordinary about The Pursuit of Love is how it manages to encompass so much in something so very short. So much happens in these 200-odd pages. Take the bit about Jassy running away to Hollywood. The whole episode takes just four and a half pages but seems perfectly complete. Even Linda's great love affair, which feels like the focus of the whole book, does not even begin until two thirds of the way through.

I'm intrigued also by the narrator. I'm struggling to think what her name is, and when I look it up I discover that it isn't even said until the fifth page. What a clever trick! Somehow, this narrator manages to be part of the proccedings and yet vanish into the background. Mostly, she is telling the story straight, just giving her own impressions, or other people's as they have been told to her, but then when we get to the episode of Linda's great love, the focus narrows to Linda's own impressions, which Fanny, the narrator, explains that she knows because Linda has told this to her in great detail when they were together at Alconleigh. Explained like this, it seems so artificial, but it doesn't at all when reading. Somehow though, using just the same technique in Love in a Cold Climate doesn't seem to work at all to me.

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