I know that some people read one book at a time whereas others, like me, have more on the go at once. Currently I’m reading two books, which is unusual for me. The two I’m reading are both long and detailed, one fiction, the other non-fiction, and I thought it would be better if I didn’t get distracted by reading other books.
The non-fiction is A N Wilson’s After the Victorians, which I can just pick up and read without losing the thread. But the novel demands more concentrated reading. It is Remember Me by Melvyn Bragg, a fourth book about Joe Richardson. I read the earlier books a few years ago and waited with anticipation to read this one. Remember Me is fiction, but is based on Melvyn Bragg’s own life. I have to keep reminding myself it is fiction – the disclaimer at the front says that the characters are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. And Joe, recounting the story of his dead wife’s life to his daughter says
But fiction can be dangerous, especially when read as fact. (page 378)
It is a powerful novel, telling such a sad story, reflecting on Joe and Natasha’s lives together, their joys and despair, their depression and dashed hopes but I do wonder how much is fiction and how much is autobiographical. Memory and the limitations of memory are highlighted in the novel. Joe tells his daughter
There is no possibility and no point in trying to remember “everything” about Natasha; nor is strictly remembering the way of it for me. It is too fragmented, too unreliable, unshaped, a landscape without definition of final meaning, undermined by shames, veiled by guilt. Your mother has to be fiction and yet she has to be attached to some of my recollections which rise up from the sea bed like monsters, or erupt into an unready mind like volcanoes or are frustratingly near yet ungraspable as they are today in Paris, in this cafe, with spring aching to be born, but the leaves still furled, hidden in the bough. (page 262)
Memory changes all the time and is dependent not so much on past certainties stored securely but on present challenges: memory fortifies the day, it regroups continuously to accommodate the moment. So my memories of your mother change as I write. (page 415)
Is this therapeutic? Joe thinks not and so does Melvyn Bragg, as reported in this interview in the Sunday Times last year. I’ll write more about the book when I’ve finished it and have let it settle more in my mind, it’s so full of anguish and longing.
As I near the end of the book, I’m wondering what to read next. Maybe it’s time for some Jane Austen – I’ve been meaning to re-read Pride and Prejudice for a while now or it may be Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon. On the other hand I have the first three of Ian Rankin’s Rebus books, a compilation volume (borrowed from my son) to read, or an Agatha Christie mystery and the choices from my To-Be-Read piles are seemingly endless! It’s almost as pleasurable choosing as it is reading.