Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll

It has taken me a long time to read this biography of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). At times I nearly stopped reading it as Cohen makes so many assumptions and speculates seemingly with little evidence to support his interpretation of the facts. His account of Charles Dodgson’™s life is basically chronological, but because he also looks at different aspects of Charles’™s life it is a bit repetitive. As biographies go this is not one of the most straightforward or readable. It’™s extremely detailed and at nearly 600 pages it is not a quick read.

Cohen uses many sources, including the published Diaries and Letters of Lewis Carroll, along with earlier biographies and magazine articles. There is an extensive index and the chapters are extensively annotated. It is also a very well illustrated book, including many photographs taken by Charles Dodgson as well as reproductions of illustrations from his works and facsimile copies of his letters.

I’m reading Hermione Lee’s Body Parts: essays in life-writing and she quotes a passage from Virginia Woolf on the reductive effects of biography, which I think, is very apt. Woolf compares the writing of biography to the examination of species under a microscope and considers that we arrange what we see about a person and read into their sayings all kinds of meaning that they never thought of. Because of the mass of material available this means that Cohen has inevitably had to select what to include and what to omit and there many places in his biography where he has hypothesised and interpreted the events in Charles Dodgson’s life. For me there are too many questions that Cohen asks and suggest answers which he uses to pyschoanalyse Dodgson’s personality. The parts of the book that I liked best are those about the production of the Alice books, Charles’s interest in photography, his beliefs, and love of games, puzzles and inventions.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born on 27 January 1832 at Daresbury in Cheshire and died on January 14 1898 at Guildford. He was tall and slim, had a stammer, was deaf in his right ear, was generous, sociable and had many friends. Charles told one correspondent that he used the name ‘œLewis Carroll’ rather than his own name ‘œin order to avoid all personal publicity. ‘œ Charles attended Rugby School from 1846 to 1849, went to Christ Church Oxford University where he was awarded a BA with First Class Honours in Mathematics in 1854, eventually becoming the Mathematical Lecturer (until 1881). As well as the books he published as Lewis Carroll, Charles also wrote and published many mathematical works.
Cohen recounts the story of how Charles came to write the Alice books. In 1862, he and his friend Duckworth were rowing on the river at Nuneham with the three Liddell sisters, Ina, Alice and Edith. Charles told them the story of Alice down the rabbit hole and Alice liked it so much that she pestered him to write it down for her. It was two and half years later that he completed his manuscript, illustrated with his own drawings. The book was eventually published in 1865, with the well-known illustrations by Tenniel. I was interested to read how Charles went about writing:“Sometimes an idea comes at night, when I have had to get up and strike a light to note it down – sometimes when out on a lonely winter walk, when I have had to stop, and with half-frozen fingers jot down a few words which should keep the new-born idea from perishing … I cannot set invention going like a clock, by any voluntary winding up … Alice and Looking-Glass are made up almost wholly of bits and scraps, single ideas which came out of themselves. Poor they may have been; but at least they were the best I had to offer.”

He was ordained as Deacon in 1862 but never took full orders as a priest. He was deeply religious, but took a moderate and tolerant view of others’™ beliefs. He was not a ‘œHigh Churchman’, was repelled by ritualism, did not believe in eternal punishment, and refused to exclude non-Christians from salvation. Side by side with his religious beliefs Charles was also interested in psychical research and was a charter member of the Society for Psychical Research along with Conan Doyle, Gladstone, A J Balfour, Frederic Leighton, Ruskin and many more. He took a particular interest in ghost stories and ghost pictures, spiritualism, thought transmission and supernatural phenomena. He was also a keen photographer and theatregoer and was acquainted with the Terry family.

Charles had many other interests. He loved games, puzzles and gadgets and was very inventive. He invented amongst other ingenious objects, a chessboard to use when travelling; a Nyctograph for taking notes under the covers at night ‘“ this was in the days before the college rooms at Oxford had electricity; a variety of word games and games of logic, a game of circular billiards, a rule for finding the day of the week for any date; new rules for elimination for tennis tournaments; new systems of parliamentary representation; a device for helping a bedridden invalid to read a book placed sideways; a new sort of postal money order; and many other things. He was an accomplished conjurer and a collector of toys, games and puzzles and mechanical and technological inventions as well as music boxes, fountain pens and pencil sharpeners.

When he heard that Charles Babbage had invented a new calculating machine in 1867 he met Babbage, who showed him over his workshops. Charles then bought a calculating machine and in 1877 an ‘œelectric pen’, recently invented and patented by Edison. In 1888 he bought an early model of the ‘œHammond Type-Writer’ which he used to write letters and entertain his child visitors. In 1890 he went to the London exhibition of ‘œEdison’™s Phonograph’, which he thought was ‘œa marvellous invention’. When he heard the ‘œprivate audience part’, he recorded that’œListening through tubes, with the nozzle to one’™s ear, is far better and more articulate than with the funnel: also the music is much sweeter. It is a pity that we are not fifty years further on in the world’™s history, so as to get this wonderful invention in its perfect form. It is now in its infancy ‘“ the new wonder of the day, just as I remember Photography was about 1850.’

Much of the book is taken up with Charles’™s writings as Lewis Carroll, his relationship with the Liddell family and his friendship with many children, apparently mainly young girls. The relationship between Charles and the Liddells has been the subject of some controversy and there is a mystery surrounding the disagreement that led to a breakdown of the friendship. Cohen analyses and speculates for many pages on this and on the implications of Charles’™s friendship with young girls. I didn’™t like it, nor did I like the chapters on Charles’™s interest in child photography. Morton quotes from a letter Charles wrote to his sister in1893, in reply to her letter about the gossip she had heard:

‘œYou, and your husband have, I think, been very fortunate to know so little by experience ‘¦ of the wicked recklessness with which people repeat things to the disadvantage of others, without a though as to whether they have grounds for asserting what they say. I have met with a good deal of utter misrepresentation of that kind.’

He went on to explain that he applied two tests when having a particular ‘œgirl-friend’ as a guest. These were first his own conscience, whether he felt it to be entirely innocent and right, in the sight of God and secondly, whether he had the full approval of the friend’™s parents for what he did. He continued: ‘œAnybody who is spoken about at all, is sure to be spoken against by somebody: and any action, however innocent in itself, is liable, and not at all unlikely, to be blamed by somebody. If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much!’ Enough said, I think.

Charles Dodgson had enormous energy, worked extremely hard in all he did, was concerned and engaged in many of the topical and political issues of his times, was deeply and sincerely religious and produced the Alice books, that have been widely praised and acclaimed since they were first published. He had a great many friends and his generosity was boundless, both to his family and to others wherever he saw a need. He loved giving presents (unbirthday presents, like Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass), and gave away many copies of his books to children’™s hospitals, mechanics institutes and village reading rooms. He was known and welcomed for his gift for making people laugh. Morton Cohen writes: ‘œHumor and its concomitant laughter are surely minor miracles, overflowings of a mysterious inner force, momentary flourishes like lightning or a rainbow. They come from where we know not where and last but a fleeting second. Charles was one of those rare artists who could create those flashes, and did, to divert and amuse others.’

This book has increased my interest in Charles Dodgson. Other writers have written biographies, giving a different interpretation of his life from Cohen’™s. In particular I would like to read In the Shadow of the Dreamchild by Karoline Leach ‘“ see also the website The Carroll Myth.

Set in Darkness: an Inspector Rebus novel by Ian Rankin

It’s taken me some time to finish writing about the books I read in October. Set in Darkness completes the set. I made no notes as I read, as I did not want to pause and interrupt the flow of reading. I devoured rather than read this book, which is the first ‘Rebus’ book I’ve read. Because I watched the TV series I was familiar with the character of Rebus and the setting in Edinburgh. As I was reading it I vaguely remembered that I’d watched this particular story, but as I often fall asleep watching TV I couldn’t remember the details.

I read an interview with Ian Rankin on line in which he explained that

the title comes partly from the setting: it’s winter in Edinburgh, where it’s dark when you go to work and it’s dark when you head home. It’s also part of a line from an obscure American poem: – Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light.’ I thought the title worked well, because the new Parliament could be leading Scotland into the light after 300 years of being linked to England. And Rebus, you know, has his moments of darkness, but always he seems to finally reach a point of light.’

Set in Darkness takes place in Edinburgh when Queensbury House was being incorporated into the new Scottish Parliament. Rebus is assigned to a group set up to advise on security matters for the Scottish Parliament and whilst being shown round the building a mummified body is discovered bricked up in a fireplace. A tramp jumps off the North Bridge and is found to have a building society passbook showing a balance of over £400,000. Then the body of Roddy Grieve, a Scottish MP is found in a summerhouse in the grounds of Queensbury House. How and why these crimes are linked is revealed as Rebus and his colleagues investigate.

Rebus works with his colleagues, Wylie and Hood, aided against Rebus’ wishes by DI Linford. Linford is the blue-eyed boy, in his late twenties, keen to impress with a result, fast tracked and headed for big things in the police force, in contrast to the hard smoking, hard drinking, independent Rebus, who is out of favour with his superiors. As you would expect there are many twists and coincidences, and a whole host of characters and sub-plots to keep track of. It’s compelling reading, and I read it straight through as it’s not a book to put down and leave for a few days.

As it is the 11th Rebus book there are characters that have obviously been in the earlier books but I didn’t find it difficult to follow who was who and their relationships. Big Ger is one such character. He is a ‘Mr Big‘ in the Edinburgh crime scene and his relationship with Rebus is complex, both hostile and aggressive and yet they work in partnership in Set in Darkness, with Big Ger helping Rebus.

I like Rankin’s writing style. It’s precise and yet vivid, it moves at a fast pace with a distinctive rhythm and lyricism:

‘Darkness could make you forget what was in front of your face. Darkness would swallow the caravan site, the old putting green, and St Rule’s Tower. It would swallow crimes and grieving and remorse. If you gave yourself to darkness, you might start to make out shapes invisible to others, but without being able to define them: the movement behind a curtain, the shadows in an alleyway.’

I’ll be reading more Rankin soon.

Volume – Booking Through Thursday – on Friday

Would you say that you read about the same amount now as when you were younger? More? Less?Why?
Deb was late posting this because she took Monday and Tuesday off for her birthday and then completely lost track of what day it was. I’m late posting too, because yesterday was our wedding anniversary and I had a very self-indulgent day. I had my nails and hair done and we went out for a meal last night.
Anyway, I’ve certainly read a lot more this year than last year and the reason is that I left work in April and can now spend time during the day to read. Before I just had time to squeeze in half an hour at lunch time some days. I always take a book with me when I’m out in case there’s an opportunity to read. When I was at work I had to wait so long for the lift I’d sometimes get out my book and read for a few minutes. So it really is luxurious to be able to sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and have a good long read.
As to when I was younger, I really only have an impression of how many books I read. I did keep a record when I was about 10 but I don’t have the list any more. I just read as many books as I could.It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been more organised in my reading. I started to keep a list of books I’ve read in 2002 but at first I didn’t record everything, sometimes I just wanted to get on to the next book, so my records up to 2006 are a guide really, showing the tip of the iceberg. from January 2006 I’ve noted all the books I’ve read in a little Book Journal.

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

An ordinary day, an ordinary family, ordinary lives, but an extraordinary novel.

I read One Fine Day fresh from reading The Verneys, moving from England in the seventeenth century to England in the twentieth century; from one century dominated by the English Civil War to a century divided in two by the Second World War. I enjoyed the contrast between the books, one non-fiction and the other a novel. I’m also very fond of the cover of my copy of One Fine Day.

One Fine Day is a beautiful, poetic novel about England in 1946 after the Second World War had ended. It was written in 1946 and published in 1947 and although it recalls an England that had disappeared with the war it also looks forward with optimism to the future. It’™s a novel vividly evoking life in the post-war period. I was fascinated and drawn into this book right from the start. Part of my fascination was because it made me think of what life was like for my parents, picking up their lives together after the war and part was because of the wonderful imagery and sense of time and place.

Not a lot happens and yet so much is conveyed of the changes in society as the novel recounts the events of a hot summer’™s day in the lives of Laura and Stephen Marshall, a middle class couple struggling to manage the house and garden without the servants they had before the war.

‘œMeanwhile, here they were awkwardly saddled with a house which all those pleasant years, had really been supported and nourished by squawks over bread-and-cheese elevenses, by the sound of Chandler’™s boots on the paths, by the smell of ironing and toast from the nursery. The support, the nourishment, had been removed. Now on this summer morning, when doors and windows stood open, it was possible to hear the house slowly giving up, loosening its hold, gently accepting shabbiness and defeat. Nature seemed to realize its discomfiture. Birds hopped boldly through the front door, evidently meditating a lodging; Laura’™s dusting hardly discouraged the bold machinations of the spiders. As she sat drinking her tea, a yellow butterfly came in and settled on the faded plum-and-white pattern of the curtains as though it could no longer distinguish between outside and in.’

It’™s not only the house that has changed. Laura feels life is passing her by, that she is getting grey and dull and like an old sofa. She pictures her life ‘œFrom being a measureless room with endless arches stretching away, away, contracting to a span the size of a hearthrug.’ Such a powerful image of the contrast between youth and age.

Life is also changing in other levels of society. The young people are leaving the village, for the cities where there is work. George, who she hopes would take over from their old gardener is off to work in a garage in Coventry and the girls who previously would have be live-in help are also leaving: ‘œEthel and Violet had disappeared squealing into the big bright world where there were no bells to fun your legs off, where you could go to the flicks regular, and where you worked to the sound of dance music pouring out continuously, sweet and thick and insipid as condensed milk dripping through a hole in a tin.’

During the day Laura meets several people when out shopping (food is still in short supply and rationed), talks on the telephone with her mother, still harking back to the days of the British Empire and goes out on her bicycle to look for Stuffy, their bitch who has escaped she thinks to go the gypsy’™s dog on Barrow Down. On her way to look for Stuffy, she meets Edward Cranmer. The Cranmers, whose family have lived in the old manor house for generations are giving up the house, as they can no longer afford its upkeep. Edward’™s mother and aunt will still be living in a flat over the stables wing, whilst the house is going to be used partly as a holiday hostel and partly as an agricultural training centre for boys. Yet, another reflection on the changing times.

Laura continues on her search for Stuffy and finds her with the gypsy on Barrow Down hill. In contrast to the Marshalls and the Cranmers his life is unaffected by change, living in an old railway carriage in a rough field, unencumbered by possessions and property. Laura is envious of him and when she finds the dog instead of going home she spends the rest of the afternoon and evening on the hillside, leaving Stephen and Victoria wondering and worrying where she can be. From Barrow Down she looks out over England. I could quote many passages where Mollie Panter-Downes so beautifully captures the essence of the English countryside, but here is just one quote:

‘œThe country was tumbled out before her like the contents of a lady’™s workbox, spools of green and silver and pale yellow, ribbed squares of brown stuff, a thread of crimson, a stab of silver, a round, polished gleam of mother of pearl. It was all bathed in magic light, the wonderful transforming light in which known things look suddenly new.’

Although there is nostalgia and a tragic sense of all that has been lost, Laura realises how lucky they are, lucky to be alive and all together and what it would have meant if England had lost. She ponders that life will go on: ‘œWe are at peace, we still stand, we will stand when you are dust, sang the humming land in the summer evening.’

A memorable novel about England in the aftermath of war.

Broken – One Resolution and One Pair of Glasses

A few weeks ago I resolved not to buy any more books for a while. My resolve lasted until this weekend when we went shopping. Unfortunately Waterstones sells coffee as well as books, so this was the cause of my downfall when we went in – just for a coffee. The coffee shop is upstairs and although I looked round at the books up there I resisted buying any. But on the way downstairs I decided to clean my glasses and succeeded in breaking them in two. I’m short sighted so I can see close up, but distance is terrible. I was OK in the shop and D left me there whilst he went into the Panasonic shop opposite to look at speakers for the TV.

Big mistake – one of the books that caught my eye in the 3 for 2 was Mary Lawson’s The Other Side of the Bridge and as I loved Crow Lake I thought I’d just have a look. Well, of course I couldn’t leave it there and when I saw Paul Auster’s Travels in the Scriptorium (I loved Oracle Night) I had to look for a third book.

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills looked the ideal book, set in Tuscany (one of my favourite places) and a story of love, revenge and murder separated by 400 years. The Sunday Telegraph quote on the back cover clinched it “An intriguing puzzle, elegantly written … the atmosphere of an Italian summer and of the mysterious garden are beautifully captured.” What could be better for a November read? I’ve never read anything by Mark Mills, but my choice was confirmed when I got home and read Roberta’s post as she recommended it.

Now I have to wait until next Tuesday for my glasses to be repaired and as my old glasses are so different I can’t wear them and only have my computer glasses that are any good at all. They’re great for close work, but the rest of the world is all blurred, out of focus and fuzzy round the edges and I feel a bit woozy and detached from everything – quite nice really.

October’s Feast of Books

The books I have read this last month have been varied in style and subject matter, including a number of short stories, mainly about ghosts; a murder mystery; a Christmas fantasy; and one non-fiction book. They are all very entertaining and as I read one good book after another I began to think my luck could not last and that I was bound to start one I did not like. But no, I enjoyed them all.

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • The Man Who Died by D H Lawrence (short story)
  • Sons and Lovers by D H Lawrence
  • Set in Darkness by Ian Rankin, the11th Rebus novel (and the first that I have read)
  • Christine Kringle by Lynn Brittney
  • The Verneys by Adrian Tinniswood
  • The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
  • One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes
  • Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner

Five short stories from Great Ghost Stories
1. Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe
2. Keeping his Promise by Algernon Blackwood
3. Honolulu by Somerset Maugham
4. The Hostelry by Guy de Maupassant
5. The Murder of the Mandarin by Arnold Bennett
and The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe in Tales of Mystery and

I have already written about Sons and Lovers, Christine Kringle, The Verneys, The Ladies of Grace, Crossing to Safety, the Ghost Stories and The Pit and the Pendulum. Clicking on the titles links to my posts on these books.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Man Who Died by D H Lawrence.

The Alchemist is a short novel, the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who travels from his home in search of treasure. It’s a symbolic book about following our hearts and dreams, and reading the omens we encounter in our lives. Santiago sells his sheep and travels to Tangiers on his journey to the Pyramids following his dream that he will find hidden treasure there. On his travels in the Egyptian desert he meets an Englishman who introduces him to alchemy and together they search for the alchemist.

Eventually Santiago, guided by the alchemist, learns that alchemy is about ‘penetrating to the Soul of the World and discovering the treasure that has been reserved for you.‘ He also learns that

‘Love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World.  It is we who nourish the Soul of the World, and the world we live in will either be better or worse, depending on whether we become better or worse. And that’s where the power of love comes in. Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are.’

I found The Alchemist to be an entertaining tale of how to live our dreams. It appears to be a simplistic tale on the surface but it is a meditation on the question of fate versus free will, love, luck and spiritual enlightenment.

I was surprised by The Man Who Died by D H Lawrence, published in 1929, less than a year before Lawrence’s death and originally called The Escaped Cock. It is the last story in my copy of D H Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and other novels. Wikipedia recounts that Lawrence himself summarized The Escaped Cock in a letter to Brewster (a friend):

I wrote a story of the Resurrection, where Jesus gets up and feels very sick bout everything, and can’t stand the old crowd any more – so cuts out – and as he heals up, he begins to find what an astonishing place the phenomenal world is, far more marvellous than any salvation or heaven – and thanks his stars he needn’t have a mission any more.

It starts with an account of a cock, held captive by a string tied to its leg, breaking free from the cord with a wild strange squawk. At the same time a man, who is not named, awoke from a long sleep, numb and cold. The cock is a symbolic representation of the man who died. His agonising return to life and his remembrance of what happened to him filled him with nausea and pain. Bandages fell off as he moved and seeing his hurt feet he moved painfully out of the carved hole in the rock in which he was entombed and ‘filled with the sickness of disillusion’ he walked away passing the sleeping soldiers, away from the town. ‘He was alone; and having died, was even beyond loneliness.’

In the garden where he had been betrayed and buried he met Madeleine and forbidding her to touch him because he was not yet healed and in touch with men he told her not to be afraid because ‘I am alive. They took me down too soon, so I came back to life’, implying to me that he had not actually died. But, there is ambiguity here as at another time he said: ‘I have not risen from the dead in order to seek death again.’ Whatever the truth is, his mission has changed and he cannot return to his friends, ‘Now I belong to no one and have no connection, and mission or gospel is gone from me.’

He must learn to be alone. The story has clear references to Biblical characters and events but it departs from the Christian version as the man travelled on and found rest in a temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess, Isis. There he fell in love with the temple’s priestess, whose mother, a widow, owned the shrine. He showed the priestess, who believes him to be Osiris, the wounds in his hands, feet and side. She anointed them with oil and he felt he was made whole again. They made love and she conceived. He knew then that the time had come for him to leave:

In the name of property, the widow and her slaves would seek to be revenged on him for the bread he had eaten, and the living touch he had established, the woman he had delighted in.  He went on, alone with his destiny, and laughed to himself: ‘I have sowed the seed of my life and my resurrection, and put my touch for ever upon the choice woman of this day – Tomorrow is another day.

I was surprised because despite its title I didn’t expect it to be about the death and resurrection of Christ. My reaction on realising that it is was mixed and I have wondered whether or not to write about it. I thought it was well written and that the concept was an interesting version of the resurrection. It is just that, a story and it gave me food for thought. There are two more stories in the book – St Mawr, which I have never read before and The Virgin and the Gypsy, which I read a few years ago, but is very vague in my memory. I’m looking forward to reading these and wonder if Lawrence has yet another surprise in store for me.

The other books I finished reading in October are Set in Darkness by Ian Rankin, One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, which I’ll write about in another post.

Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to Safety was Wallace Stegner’™s last novel published when he was 78 years old. It’™s a beautiful, and thought provoking novel and I loved it. Unusually for me I read it straight through, on its own, abandoning the other books I’™m reading to concentrate on just this one book. It was well worth it. I was engrossed in the story and felt as though I was part of it ‘“ such is the power of Stegner’™s writing.
Crossing To Safety is a story about love, marriage, friendship, relationships, ambition, illness and death; in other words it’™s about life and death. I’™ve read a lot of good books recently, but without a doubt this is one of the best books I’™ve read this year. It has so much to say on many different themes that I’™m lost where to start in describing and considering its impact on me.

In essence, the novel recounts the lives of two couples who first met during the Depression in 1930s America and the joys and difficulties they encounter throughout their lives. Larry Morgan is the narrator and the events are seen through his eyes. Both he and Sid Lang have jobs in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin and their lives are intertwined from the moment they meet, when both their wives are pregnant. At the start of the novel we are told that Charity, Sid’™s wife is dying. Sally and Larry have travelled to Battell Pond in Vermont for a reunion with the Langs. Sally is in a wheelchair and from that point Larry looks back over their lives. Whereas in Angle of Repose Stegner depicts the American West, Crossing To Safety is set mainly in the landscape of northern New England, where the wilderness is seen as no less dangerous than in the West, particularly in the camping trip the Langs and the Morgans take. I had to get the atlas out to see where Wisconsin and Vermont are, as I had no idea of the distance between the two, nor the difference in the landscape.

Charity and Larry are the dominant characters. The Morgans’™ lives are changed by Sally’™s illness and at different stages in the book I thought, ‘œthis is what happened to Sally’, but it’™s not clear until about halfway through the book precisely why Sally is paralysed. Charity is the strong, ambitious, self-confident organiser, not only of her own life, but also those of her husband, children’™s and friends’™ lives. She take the direct ‘œcompass’ direction in whatever she does and her confidence is not undermined by others’™ doubts or different ideas. She knows what she wants and imposes her ambitions on Sid. However, she is also generous and wants her friends to share in their success and helps Larry and Sally both financially and socially.

As well as the low points of their lives the novel also recounts the happy and joyful experiences the couples encounter. The novel explores the complexity of human nature and meditates on the drama of everyday experience in quiet ‘œordinary’ situations ‘“ the stuff of life, how to live through the difficulties that life and death throw in all our paths. Most poignant, to me at least, are the descriptions of how the couples deal with ambition, the disappointments of failed ambition, illness and death.

Larry meditates: ‘œAmbition is a path, not a destination, and it is essentially the same path for everybody. No matter what the goal is, the path leads through Pilgrim’™s Progress regions of motivation, hard work, persistence, stubbornness, and resilience under disappointment. Unconsidered, merely indulged, ambition becomes a vice; it can turn a man into a machine that knows nothing but how to run. Considered, it can become something else ‘“ pathway to the stars, maybe.’

Larry also provides some interesting insights into writing itself. He loves writing but also writes to help boost his income, whereas Sid wants to write poetry and is held back and criticised by Charity as she does not think this will help to advance his career. Larry and Sid discuss why writers write. Larry thinks writing “has to be free, it has to flow from the gift, not from outside pressures. The gift is its own justification, and there is no way of telling for sure, short of the appeal to posterity, whether it’s really worth something or whether it’s only the ephemeral expression of a fad or tendency, the articulation of a steroptype.”

The scenes where Charity explores how to approach her death not just for herself, but also for Sid and her family are touchingly realistic and heart-rending. She seemingly pushes Sid away as she prepares for death because she cannot cope with his reaction to her death; she knows she is not only Sid’™s support – she is his life. One of the most difficult questions we face is how we deal with the facts of death and the fear of death. When Sid is faced with the inevitability of Charity’™s death he asks Larry ‘œCould you survive without Sally?’ Whether Sid can survive without Charity is left unanswered. Although Larry hopes he will I’™m not so sure.

My copy is a library book; maybe this is a book I should buy as I would like to read it again sometime.The painful honesty of this book in portraying life’™s happiness, joy, pathos and sorrow is what touched me the most and makes it a book to remember and treasure.