Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Reminiscence & Melancholia

I confess, I quite like rereading. It’s like visiting an old friend. It can help you see how you’ve changed since you last read a particular novel.

Most often, however, it's merely an enjoyable experience of revisiting a place which brings you feelings of contentment, happiness, or even a pleasant sense of melancholy.

It’s not always a good idea: sometimes a book’s initial impact is so profound that returning removes its power. Worse is when you find that you’ve changed so much since your initial reading, that you realise it wasn’t that great after all. You’ve outgrown the old friend.

An obvious example would be books one has read as a child that may seem ridiculous now (although, Dr Seuss really only makes more sense).

When I was really young I loved The Enchanted Forest (Faraway Tree, Moonface, slippery-dip, and those strange magical thingies they ate… what were they?).

At around eight and nine my favourites were James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Harriet the Spy (she had stationery! Mmmm); I think at seven I liked Ramona the Pest, Peanuts, and Betty and Veronica comics (the latter had to be a bad influence… And yes, Betty had the bigger bosom, but Veronica was better looking, so end of argument).

I consider returning to my childhood favourites sometimes - to reconnect with my inner child, reminisce – but what if I find they’re awful? My happy memories might be ruined.*


Anyhoo, I’m currently rereading Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. Don’t know why. It just stuck in my head for a while. (I own many hundreds of books so can easily pick up a tome at random – not so easy is when I have to move house. Bloody heavy.)

The introductory paragraph rather suits me today, so I shall share (this is a blog after all)**:

A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness. In the past the idea of sadness always appealed to me, now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I had known boredom, regret, and at times remorse, but never sadness. To-day something envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, which isolates me.

I like the simplicity of this novella. She was only eighteen when she wrote it so it has a sweet naivety to it (although not as much naivety as my writing at eighteen had, goddammit).


A happier rereading of late is from Katherine Mansfield’s short story Bliss (which you can read in full here):

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly by a feeling of bliss - absolute bliss! - as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe? ...
Oh, is there no way you can express it without being "drunk and disorderly"? How idiotic civilisation is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?

And then this afternoon, out of the misty-grey-blue, came the ringing chimes of The Sundays. Talk about reminiscing. Fitted the moment for me perfectly – happy melancholia. I love it when that happens.


* Well, I’ve looked back on the Archie comics, and they were mostly pretty awful. But, I knew that at the time and would try to weed out the wittier tales (yes, there were some). I must say that I’ll be fucked if I know what they saw in Archie though. Why didn’t that clever Veronica just let Betty have him? (Probably cause she was like most girls in high school and only did whatever would cause greatest pain to her girlfriends. No. No issues!! Nothing to see here!) Maybe I related to the characters, as most of them were only children like me. Mind you, I really don’t think I need to look into it too much (I wonder if anyone’s done a PhD on the long-term effects of reading Archie comics in one’s formative years… There’s one about how bananas go black when you put them in the fridge, so… nuff said).

** Re today’s mood of melancholy: I will be kind enough not to reproduce Keats’ Ode on Melancholy for your bored perusal bemusement amusement. (No, no! go not to Lethe… PLEEEASE!!!) I know it by heart and often recite it to myself during times of stress… or insomnia. After such boasting I will also explain that I am only able to recite one other poem from memory (and it's shorter). Worse: I cannot recall a single dirty limerick.