Monthly Archives: May 2017

When you rip out the roots

pot-bound-and-dead

Gardeners know that when dividing a plant they have to be careful and quick. They must either gently tease out the roots or administer a quick chop with a sharp blade before immediately re-potting the two halves in a nurturing environment to avoid transplant shock.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante deals with a division that is neither quick nor gentle. It is a quick read, thank goodness, because the subject matter is disturbing, none of the characters is likeable, and the density of the prose often cloying; but it is not a pleasant nor enjoyable read.

The main character, Olga, suffers a breakdown after her husband leaves her for a younger woman – not an unusual premise; however, her suffering escalates until she can no longer manage her life nor her children’s lives. She is a plant in shock, descending into a toxic hell of self-abasement, obscenity, vicious anger, and overwhelming dysfunction in all areas of her life, roots exposed and withering. No plant can possibly survive in such conditions.

This in itself is difficult to observe without eventually wanting to reach in and at least remove her children from her harmful behavior, but the minute self-observances of her deteriorating abilities, both physical and mental, are truly disturbing and give an insight into how desperate and fragile a person can become when a partner leaves.

At one point, Olga questions how much her husband took of her when he left; all those years of support and love and selflessness in order to help him in his life – another question surely asked by many separated persons – and wonders if this is why she is unable to orient herself to her new situation; that she is an incomplete person because of what he has taken with him as he ripped his roots from hers.

Everything is intertwined down there in their root-ball, everything shared, and when he decides to uproot himself, he not only uproots himself from the ground holding everything stable, but also forcibly rips his roots away from hers. Unless the weaker plant is quickly replanted and nurtured, it will shrivel up and eventually die.

And this is what we suffer through while reading this novel in all its nakedness and obscenity: a plant left with its roots exposed, desperately trying to replant itself before shriveling up and dying. Finding that new pot can be a long process.

But this is not a new story. After all, Edith Wharton has covered this scenario – in a less confrontational manner, to be sure – but with the same message: partners should not rely entirely upon each other, they must develop their own growing plots separately. The plots can be close to each other and over time some roots may become intertwined, but not all. They must be able to support themselves, they must consider carefully just how much they are willing to give up in the name of marital harmony, and they must develop a strong sense of self.

Only then can one plant be uprooted and divided without destroying the other.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book review, General Thoughts, learning through literature, Life as we know it, Life lessons, marriage, Reflections, relationships

Trollope and the creepy POV

 

 

scary_good_books_sales_2I don’t like 2nd person POV – you know the one; the one where the author keeps on breaking through the third wall addressing you where you sit, whether it be in your bedroom or kitchen or on the beach, and actually discusses things with you.

It’s creepy. I especially don’t like a long-dead author talking to me.

Much less do I want to enter into a debate about sundry opinions on life decisions, or why he’s going to leave a certain character where they are for the moment. I’m reading a novel, for Pete’s sake, I don’t want to have to think or suddenly sit upright and be on my best behavior because the author has popped in for a chat. I just want to be told a story in private, thank you very much.

I’ve read many Trollope novels so, logically, it can’t be annoying me as much as I claim – right?

Wrong. Every time he does it I cringe, I feel cornered, and just want him to take himself off behind the curtain and get on with telling the story. I have even flipped pages to get to that point; sad but true. Why do I need this?:

‘What communication there may have been between Sir Henry and his servant John is, oh my reader, a matter too low for you and me.’ ‘We cannot stay long at Suez, nor should I carry my reader there, even for a day, seeing how triste and dull the place is.”Methinks it is almost unnecessary to write this last chapter. The story, as I have had to tell it, is all told.’

It’s almost as if Trollope, whilst writing, feels the need to explain his decisions, and those of his characters, as he goes. Not necessary, believe me. Just present your characters and their actions without any disclaimers or explanations and let me, the reader, do the rest without you, the author, breathing down my neck.

Of course he’s not the only one; Dickens likes to impose himself between the page and his readers, too. Michael Faber does it, particularly at the beginning of The Crimson Petal and the White, so much so it almost caused me to cast the novel aside which would have deprived me of an excellent read. Even if he’s still alive, it’s creepy. In this opening you are greeted with:

“You have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you’ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and another place altogether.”

Thank you. I am well aware I am not a Victorian living in that era of paradoxes. I am reading a novel about it. I don’t need to be told.

Happily, most authors leave their characters to do the talking and play out their lives in front of me without intruding upon my imagination or thoughts, and that’s the way I like to read: uninterrupted and unassaulted.

 

Leave a comment

May 7, 2017 · 8:35 am