Friday, October 05, 2007

"Make Me A Willow Cabin At Your Gate"

"Make Me A Willow Cabin At Your Gate"

There were a few observations that sprung up as I stepped into the hotel:

1. I was reasonably glad that I had already eaten, suspecting that the prices of afternoon tea here might have stretched beyond 'I work in theatre' prices.

2. I was equally pleased to realise that I knew one of the Front of House staff. We are like the Mafia. But without the weapons.

3. Possibly most pressingly, that there was a good four decades between me and everyone else who had purchased tickets. And I realised in that moment, that me, in my black denier tights, silky grey dress and ballet pumps was to be the voice of youth. It is not a mantel which I take lightly. I wondered if I should have prepared more.

To maybe explain how I ended up here I shall continue the list format. I'd booked to see Libby Purves at the Ilkley Literature Festival for twofold reasons:

1. She too is a Stanner. They inject you with such notions of loyalty the moment you step over the gravel in the lodge. Plus she is on the list* as one of the female writers who came out of the college I affectionately say resembles a car park.

2. I had just finished reading Love Songs and Lies in a frenzied burst of excitement, terror and knowing realisation. I'd taken the book to my heart and I, in that geeky not so secret part of me who makes imaginary friends with authors on the basis of their writing, wanted to hear what this woman had to say.

I should probably talk a little more about Love Songs and Lies since I am here. The title is not great and the blurb on the back is worse. I don't quite think it manages the leap of covering 35 years of the main characters lives, its weak point being without a doubt the final section of the novel which rattles through twenty years in the blink of an eye. There are continuity mistakes that even I, blinded by my connection to the story, noticed. The Spectator said the narrator was the most annoying woman in literature since Miss Havisham, and - at times - they may well have a point. I could have hit her around the head on more than one occasion. And the ending (or at least how they get to the ending) is all too self-helpy, caring and sharing for my liking.

But - and it is a huge but - two thirds of the novel are so well placed that you can smell them. There are a couple of characters who fly off the page and into your head. One of these characters, so flawed, so wonderful, made me sob, rattling gigantic sobs as if the world would never quite be the same. There is a darkness to the novel that even the preppy cover and blurb cannot deny, a darkness which is never quite put right. And though it is followed through to an extreme extent, at the heart of this novel which is ultimately about unrequited love, is something so truthful that I would challenge any girl not to shudder slightly. If you are a girl who sees the world through the eyes of Shakespeare and Shelley and Epic Romance and favours well spoken boys with floppy hair then it might be wise to look away altogether.

Which is probably the rather long prelude to why I found myself in this room. There is an irony now, one that I did not foresee when I was gulping down Love Songs and hastily booked my ticket, for I did not know then what would happen in the weeks in between. But it serves only to make my sense of the novel even more acute.

Libby - for I feel I may call her my her Christian name as we are almost friends - has, as anyone who has heard her on the radio will know, a lovely calming voice. It is a voice you wish to listen to. And because she is used to this speaking malarkey she's actually good at being interviewed, she has anecdotes, seems wonderfully indiscreet and knows how to use a well placed expletive (which, surprisingly, seemed to go down well with the 60+ Ilkley brigade). She lost me slightly when she insulted Nick Hornby (for there is a lot of love in the Nick Hornby room as far as I am concerned) but pulled it back when she talked about climbing over the back wall at St Anne's. You've got to love a girl who can do that.

As for the novel itself, she said she had pondered whether the type of love at its heart still happened to the younger generation - did everyone move on too quickly now, had attitudes both to sex and how women view themselves mean that this has been consigned to the past. Would Sally still fall hopelessly in love with her Max Bellinger? And the thing that suggested to her that she might? The whole train of literature from Chaucer through Shakespeare and the Romantics and on to Yeats and Auden and the pop songs that Sally pens the lyrics for (ah, the love songs of the title). How much do people change really, Libby asked.

Afterwards because I am a Geek but not so in awe of Libby that I couldn't queue myself (cf. Alan Bennett) I joined those waiting to get their books signed. And because this is me and I have stepped up to the role of 'Voice of the Youth' (possibly for my first and only time) I talk.

"You're right" I say. "It does still happen"

I pause briefly and realise that I can't stop there. Compulsive author-reader sharing. It is probably a good thing that Byron and I shall never meet.

"I read English at Oxford" [as, it is probably important to point out, Sally does because I have not had enough alcohol yet for this to be an ego thing] "and I very much had a Max in my life".

I do not say that when Libby's Max stepped on to the page it was as if she had taken a photo of mine. I also step over the slight un-truth of the sentence, the tense and timing which is not quite accurate.

Libby stops signing my book and looks up at me.

"I hope he's not there any more".

I do not say anything. There is nothing I can say.

"Get rid of the bastard!" And then, jokingly as the woman behind me in the queue starts to laugh "He'll ruin your life!"

I laugh too as I thank her and take my book. For I may have a Max, but I am not Sally.

I am still giggling as I step outside into the rain and make my way down the hill, the awaiting warmth of the pub pulling me onwards.

And when I am caught smirking I deny all knowledge of a secret joke. For there are, I suspect, some things which should remain unspoken.

*Obviously that list is not just of the writers, but it should give you an idea. You might also want to note the amount of Conservatives on that list, though I suppose Polly Toynbee is doing her best to outweigh them.

1 comment:

Julia Buckley said...

Nice post Corinne - you've got a lovely writing style there.