Sunday, February 17, 2013

That Sort of Thing

After reading a novel that was very well crafted and ultimately satisfying but not quite as page-turning as I'd hoped, I picked up one by another admired author, Life Class by Pat Barker. 

Having liked Barker's spare but powerful and beautifully rendered Regeneration trilogy, about World War I soldiers and survivors, I was shocked at how pedestrian, clichéd, and almost completely lacking in verisimilitude her more recent Life Class—also a WWI story—was. Honestly, the self-absorbed-artists-in-love first half could be a Lifetime movie set in the mid-1990s with very few alterations. 

                    "For what it's worth, I think he's still very much in love with you."

                        "Then he's got a bloody funny way of showing it."

That sort of thing.

I tried to stick with it once the plot moved to the war front, where the book admittedly improved in just about every way, but the first part had wasted so much of my time—which could have been used making me care about the characters—that I just couldn't muster the interest. Anyway, the Regeneration books covered the exact same territory so much better. Why bother?

What a delicious, chocolaty pleasure to now to turn to an Alan Hollinghurst novel. I've been reading him out of order, most recently his first, The Swimming-Pool Library (which I never blogged about; let's say for the time being that it was clearly the first novel of a great author who hadn't yet come into his own, which isn't to say I didn't like it). I've just started his third, The Spell, which is my fifth and last Hollinghurst until his next one comes out.

Here one of the characters, Alex, visits an ex, who is lying out in the sun wearing a thong:

Alex loitered beside him for a minute, unable not to look, hot-faced and haggard above the sprawl of what he had lost. . . . His eyes took in the blond down on the calves darkened with sun-oil, and the slumbrous weight of the buttocks with the tongue of lycra buried between them, and the arms pointing backwards like flippers . . . . 

Then there's the "hurrying greeny-black surface of the stream." Later, Alex "felt needlessly shy, as if warned at the beginning of a party of some worrying game to be played after tea."

That sort of thing. Each word a joy.


D. and I have simultaneously started watching the BBC adaptation of Holinghurst's The Line of Beauty, starring none other than Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey. What's left of an Alan Hollinghurst novel without Hollinghurst's incredible language and observation? A story, some characters, relationships. Perhaps more—we've only watched the first of the three episodes. Kudos to the BBC for tackling such forthrightly gay material, even if Stevens's smiley take on what in the book is a seriously horny sex-in-the-park scene is a little too "jolly good."

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

"I'd Love To!"

I liked this post from the Kitchn (sibling of the equally fun and inspirational Apartment Therapy), "Go With the Flow: Simple Ways to Relax and Enjoy Hosting." (The comments are good, too.) This sentence alone is a worthwhile reminder: "Your friends aren't judging you for perfection; they already enjoy you for who and how you are, and they're just interested in hanging out."

For every reason I can think of to have guests over, I can usually think of five not to. 

1. My place is so small. In Manhattan it would be considered enviable in both size and amenities, but in Washington it's just . . . small. Nevertheless I love it and find it utterly charming and cozy, and most everyone who sees it says the same thing. So where's the problem?

2. I'm vegan. Even though becoming vegan three years ago was one of the best—and most fun—things I've ever done for myself, I imagine that people I invite wouldn't be satisfied with what I serve or would consider it weird, no matter how delicious it is to me or how good a cook I am (which is pretty good).

3. I have a dog (half of the time). If it's one of my alternate weeks with her (or if I'm not planning to have her but a change in the custody schedule means that I do), what if a guest doesn't like dogs or is allergic, or what if she's underfoot the whole time? That hasn't happened yet.

4. I can't decide who to invite or how many or whether to mix friends. Some of the best, most relaxed times I've had as a host have been when I've had just one person over. So maybe that's my sweet spot and I should stick with it. Why the self-imposed pressure that I should be having larger groups over?

5. It takes so much time to plan and prepare. Yes. And meanwhile the calendar pages continue to turn. Isn't that time, too?

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