Some family members are happy for one’s success; others suffer from Schadenfreude.
Recently a relative expressed concern about my starting Thornfield Hall when my old blog, Mirabile Dictu, was booming. Living in X City was a huge drag already, she said, about as exciting as a glass of milk. Where would I be without my blog?
“Milk is kind of a chic thing,” I wrote back. “And we writers like to move on. Think of Colette bored out of her mind writing the Claudine books. She went on to write better books, like The Vagabond and Break of Day.”
And perhaps we don’t like to “boom.”
WHAT I’VE LOVED READING THIS WEEK. Margaret Drabble’s novel, The Waterfall, published in 1969, is a beautifully-written, if challenging short novel. In part that is because Jane, an agoraphobic poet, is not as appealing as the typical Drabble heroine. Separated from her musician husband and pregnant with their second child, Jane lives alone in run-down house in London. Housekeeping is beyond her. She has no energy. When her water breaks, she reluctantly calls her cousin Lucy because there is no one else she can bear to tell.
And so Lucy and her husband James alternate staying the night to care for Jane. And Jane and James are weirdly attracted: the two begin a semi-incestuous affair. Or are they in love?
I’ve never given birth, so I don’t understand the new mommy attraction, but James falls head over heels. And since Jane is Lucy’s double, there’s a perverse logic to it. Both women are literary–Lucy is an editor–and they resemble each other. Lucy, however, was the sexy one at Cambridge. James has little in common with either, but it doesn’t matter. He proves to be excellent with children and can do a gorgeous card trick called the Waterfall. He owns a garage and drives fast cars.
Drabble’s real strength here is in her account of Jane’s state of mind. Jane loathes Jane Austen and loves passionate Jane Eyre, and that in a way defines her. Every encounter is painful for Jane; sometimes the only person she talks to for days is a shop clerk. Finally she decides she needs to make life more normal for her son Laurie.
And in the end she made it. She decided to send Laurie to the local nursery group. She had had his name down for a year, but she had never thought she would get round to sending him. It was not losing him that she feared: it was the confrontation with the other mothers, the daily task of delivering and collecting the child, the daily greetings, the daily partings. Such a trivial decision became to her something momentous, terrifying, impossibly difficult.
The structure of this novel is gorgeously symmetrical and literary. The first-person narrator even brilliantly dissects her own literary third-person narrative.
IT WON’T, OF course, do: as an account, I mean, of what took place. I tried, I tried for so long to reconcile, to find a style that would express it, to find a system that would excuse me, to construct a new meaning, having kicked the old one out, but I couldn’t do it, so here I am, resorting to that old broken medium. Don’t let me deceive myself, I see no virtue in confusion, I see true virtue in clarity, in consistency, in communication, in honesty. Or is that too no longer true? Do I stand judged by that sentence? I cannot judge myself, I cannot condemn myself, so what can I make that will admit me and encompass me? Nothing, it seems, but a broken and fragmented piece: an event seen from angles, where there used to be one event, and one way only of enduring it.
The Waterfall is one of Drabble’s more challenging novels, but well worth reading. A post-modern Jane Eyre?