Didn’t we all get excited over the past couple of days? Mum and I have very much enjoyed the debates we’ve been having – your comments have been hilarious. Some of you I’ll never look at in quite the same light again.
Anyway, on with the show – and another trip down memory lane for Five From The Archive. This week…
Five… Books About Death
A quick note. I am definitely not intending to be glib about death or grief – but I think it is fascinating to see the many and varied ways in which death is treated in fiction and non-fiction. Obviously ‘death’ is a huge topic, but it’s thought-provoking to see how it has influenced such different books – some treating death with reverence and mourning; some as a matter of historical interest; some as merely a plot point.
I had the delight of seeing Karen/Cornflower on Sunday, and she laughed nervously when I asked her whether or not she thought it would be a good idea… but I’m going to go ahead, trusting that you know I wouldn’t intend to be flippant about grief. Ok? Ok.
In short: Todd uses the suicide of little-known Fanny Wollstonecraft as the starting point for exploring the strange and fascinating, intertwining lives of the Shelleys, Wollstonecrafts, and Godwins.
From the review: “According to Hogg (and also quoted by Todd), Shelley was ‘altogether incapable of rendering an account of any transaction whatsoever, according to the strict and precise truth, and the bare naked realities of actual life’. It is to Todd’s great credit that the reverse is true for her – what could have become sensationalised or hand-wringing is, in fact, told with a caring honesty. Death and the Maidens does not fall into the other trap, which much literary biography does, of dryness and dullness – though the research is doubtless impeccable, Todd does not write this work in an overly-scholarly manner.”
In short: A young woman comes to terms with the sudden death of her husband.
From the review: “Some of my favourite writers are those who can weave an involving narrative without huge set pieces or plot turns. The biggest event having happened in the first few pages, this novel is more a study of grief than a rollercoaster of events. From the immediate aftermath; the funeral; Ruth’s difficult relations with Ben’s family; closer kinship with Ben’s younger brother; dealing with Ben’s possessions; moving onwards to the future without him – each stage is subtly and intimately shown – never too much introspection, and always writing of so high a standard that it doesn’t feel like cliché.”
In short: Easily the most moving book on this list. Stephenson’s brother was killed in the new year tsunami, and this beautiful book traces past and future – a biography, autobiography, travelogue, and even a philosophy.
From the review: “It is often said that first-time authors put everything into their book – with novels, this is meant is a criticism. Every idea is thrown in, to the detriment of the structure and unity required of fiction. With non-fiction, with Let Not The Waves of the Sea, putting everything in is what makes Stephenson’s book so special. […] This book is as full and varied and complex as the life it commemorates, and I consider it a privilege to have been able to read it.”
In short: My third Spark, and the one which made me love her – we learn early on that eccentric tourist Lise has been killed, and this short novel traces the curious events leading up to her death.
From the review: “The novel [is] some sort of waiting game, the reader never being quite sure where they stand. Spark’s prose is deliberately – and deliciously – disorientating. We move in and out of Lise’s thoughts, never quite grasping hold of her perspective, nor yet letting it slip entirely out of reach.”
In short: You know the score with Agatha Christie… it’s interesting how death has become emotionless for the reader in murder mysteries, isn’t it? All the usual red herrings and impossibilities in typical Christie fare.
From the review: “What I wasn’t expecting, what I had somehow either forgotten or never noticed, was how funny Christie is. The problems the vicar and his wife have with their servant are written so amusingly, I laughed out loud a few times. She also has the drifting ‘oh gosh how we simply shrieked’ type down pat too.”
This is probably the vastest topic yet in Five From the Archive, but which great books (fiction or non-fiction) would you recommend under the theme of death? Over to you! Hope you’re enjoying this series – I’m really loving a trawl back through the archives – and it’s fun to be thinking up sketches again.