I’ve just finished re-reading The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson for my book group, and thus it will be filling my 1982 slot in A Century of Books, but I didn’t want to repeat myself by re-reviewing it since, like Mr. Darcy, my affections and wishes are unchanged – so, if you would like to, go and see why I thought The True Deceiver was so wonderful back in 2009. In short – the novel is fascinating for giving an insight into Jansson’s feelings about writing for children, the relationship between two very different women is slightly sinister but also poignant, and the writing is (as ever with Jansson) beautiful and sparse. If you’ve not read Jansson before, go grab this, it’s wonderful.
But I wanted to talk about re-reading instead – and how that changes the way we feel about the books around us.
I’m always fascinated by how a bookcase (or ten) of books is not a neutral entity to their owner. To anybody looking into my bedroom, they are simply bookcases of books. To me, each spine is either unknown territory – exciting, but mysterious and vague – or a place I have already wandered. Isn’t it funny how a (say) off-white spine can go from being something about which we know almost nothing, maybe just the lead character’s name and the genre, and (after having read it) the sight of it is a trigger for all sorts of memories and emotions.
Amongst those tried-and-known books on my shelves, there are a select few which don’t just hold memories but which hold definite promise. That’s different (of course) from the promise suggested by a recommendation, or even by an unread by a much-loved author. They are, instead, the books that I know I can return to time and again, and know precisely what emotions they will conjure; how wonderful and stimulating the writing will be; how happy (or moved, or admiring, or amused) the words will make me.
Tove Jansson’s beautiful books are among that number. So is The Diary of a Provincial Lady, the novels of Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf… basically anything in my 50 Books list. They are not so much books to be re-read, but experiences to be re-captured – and to be built upon.
Which brings me to my question. This is all well and good in theory – and certainly worked with The True Deceiver, about which I felt exactly the same both times around – but there are some books which disappoint when re-read. There are others which get much better – but, since I rarely re-read a book I was lukewarm about the first time around, I seldom discover these.
Over to you for this bit – which book was the most disappointing re-read? And which the most surprisingly rewarding?
My answers, respectively, as Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey and One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes. The first went from being a book I loved abundantly to one I liked a lot, but felt oddly unexcited about; the latter (as you can see in my review) took the exact opposite trajectory. Since I still rather like Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, you can see that I’ve never had a hugely disappointing re-reading experience… those promising spines have kept their promise. You?