The Sunday Salon – Settling In For Summer

 The Sunday Salon.com

Summer has definitely arrived here in southeastern Michigan.  Sitting on my back porch this morning is akin to taking a Swedish sauna, without the benefit of snow and ice to thrash about in afterward.   And so, bitterly disappointed,  I’ve taken my bookstack inside for the day, and encamped on the sofa with coffee, laptops, and dogs.  Welcome to The Sunday Salon.

I have such fond memories of reading outdoors.  As a youngster, I spent many a summer afternoon lounging in my lawn chair with a stack of books nestled in the grass beside me, while the other children in the neighborhood splashed in pools or rode their bikes in endless loops around the subdivision.  I’m sure they thought me quite strange, but they were always kind and never teased.  For a few summers, my friend Raine joined me in my summer reading quests, appearing on my doorstep each day with a paper grocery sack carrying her reading material.  She introduced me to Agatha Christie mysteries and Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time.  At age 12, Raine had taken the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Course, and she would devour three or four books in one afternoon, while I read furiously in a futile effort to keep up.

The weather has allowed some outside reading this week, and in one afternoon I completed The Finishing School, a novella (for the Novella Challege) by Muriel Spark.  It was quite satisfying to be able to take in an entire novel in one sitting…as Ian McEwan remarked about On Chesil Beach(in his interview recorded on the audiobook) a novella allows the reader to have a complete experience all at once, rather like seeing a play film.

The Finishing School, which turned out be Spark’s final novel, is set at College Sunrise, a rather vague institution administered quite loosely by Rowland and Nina Mahler, a young couple in their late 20’s who have established the school as a means of supporting themselves while Rowland writes a novel.  Chris Wiley, a 17 year old literary prodigy, has enrolled in Rowland’s creative writing class, his own novel-in-progress having already caught the attention of not a few publishers and agents.  Rowland becomes consumed with jealousy, crazed with it actually, and the more jealous he becomes of Chris’ progress, the more stunted he becomes in his own, not only in his novel, but also in terms of dealing with his life.

If only, thought Rowland, I could know what Chris is composing, there alone in his room from which he emerges with that sly and cheerful smile.  People would read that book if it ever came to light, imbecile as it might be…Chris might, might certainly, might almost surely, succeed in some way.  Rowland had an urge to tip a bucket of green pain over Chris’s red hair.  Green paint, and it all running over his face, and obliterating his book.  Or perhaps to wreck the computer with the whole work in it.  Switch it off, wreck, terminate it.

Nina now perceived that Rowland’s jealousy was an obsession.  It was a real sickness, and Rowland would be paralyzed as a writer and perhaps as a teacher unless he could get over it.

 Spark’s trademark wit is clearly in play throughout this novel, which is populated by a cast of odd and quirky characters.  The rather omniscient voice of Spark herself is also heard, at one point delineating the entire theme in one brief pronouncement.  Jealously, she tells us, ”unlike some sins of the flesh, gives no one any pleasure. It is a miserable emotion for the jealous one with equally miserable effects on others.”

All in all, an amusing afternoon’s entertainment, whether read indoors or out.

And I see that afternoon is creeping upon me.  The rest of my reading today will take me further and deeper into Iris Murdoch’s The Nice and The Good, my first Murdoch novel since college (why ever have I waited so long?)  This is a complex and fascinating tale which starts out with the apparent suicide of a government official, but leads us into the murky waters of several human relationships, odd “magic” rituals, as well as blackmail and possibly murder.   TJ, a new blog friend and lover of all things Iris, has piqued my interest in this novelist, and I’m quickly catching on to her appeal.  This novel, published in 1968, has a certain je ne sais quoi – something about the writing style of that time which I can’t describe, but which seems part and parcel of that era, a feeling of smoking cigarettes and drinking gin and tonic.  If any of you more learned literary scholars know what I mean, perhaps you can define it for me.

At any rate, good stuff, and I’m anxious to get back to it (minus the cigarettes and GT’s…)

 

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14 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon – Settling In For Summer

  1. That’s an interesting thought about reading a novella – a complete experience. Sometimes I loose the thread of a long novel and have to keep reminding myself who is who. There’s no problem like that with reading On Chesil Beach.

    I like both Muriel Spark and Iris Murdoch, but haven’t read either of the books you mention – they’re going on my list of books to be read.

  2. I will definitely let you know how On Chesil Beach goes for me. I will warn you though — I’m somewhat of a McEwan fangirl, so I can’t promise an unbiased opinion!

  3. I wish I could say that I have fond memories of reading outside, but growing up in Texas was not conducive to outside reading (at least during summer). North Carolina is proving to be equally problematic as it’s 105 outside today. It sucks! I usually get lots of reading time in when Daisy is playing in the yard. I’ll kick out on the porch with a book and gobble them down, but it looks like that luxury is over for a while!

    Enjoy your day, even if you are trapped inside.

  4. I sometimes think I should take a speed reading course – but then I like to savour my books and get lost in the story and the language – and I think if you speed read you must miss stuff! Surely that’s meant for academic reading rather than enjoyment…

  5. I’m just coming back to reading outside, having enough time these days for it not to matter if my eye gets attracted to things going on in the garden. Today has been the first day for weeks when it’s been warm enough to even think about it and I’m hoping it will be the first of many.

    I have to shamefully admit that I’ve not read Muriel Sparks, although I do know the film of Miss Jean Brodie. I know too that i have a collection of her work somewhere in the pile. Maybe I should drag it out for summer reading.

  6. Your memories of reading outside make me think of the lovely passage in Proust where he recalls his book-reading adolescence at Combray. Mmm-hmmm, so evocative! I love Muriel Spark but haven’t read the one you mention, and I must get around to another Iris Murdoch. I want to; it’s finding the slot that seems to be tricky! 🙂

  7. I like Muriel Spark she’s great with irony. I haven’t read this one yet though. I used to love reading outdoors. I spent time as a kid in a lawn chair just like you did. I don’t have much shade in my current yard though so it gets rather hot, not to mention the giant mosquitos.

  8. I still do love to read outside — especially up at the cottage, whether it’s on the beach or under a tree. Speaking of trees, I hope you didn’t have any damage at your house — seemed like you were in a bit of the path for this past weekend’s weather. After three days of rain and wind — well, visit the Gypsy (speaking of trees……….)

  9. I love reading outside, especially when on holidays but also whenever the English weather allows over a weekend! I am now pondering what to press into my suitcase for my holidays as there is nothing better than sitting outside on a balcony overlooking the sea or even on a sandy beach with a good book… I’m definitely a fan of Iris Murdoch and am having second thoughts about what to take, another Iris Murdoch as well??? (I read all of them as a student, ages ago).

  10. I love to read outside, too. I have read a few of Spark’s novels (my favorite: Loitering With Intent) but not that one. One of these days I will get to it.

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