Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Remembering Rebecca

We're tucked in by the fire in Mendocino today, waiting for the sunset over the Pacific and trying to pretend we do not have easy electronic access to the Cliff, to Newtown, to Syria and to all the other anvils we all carry these days.  But you'll know I've been peeking when I direct you to Katie Roiphe's appreciation of Rebecca West--though I would add a couple of fillips of my own. One, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon really is a wonderful book, and though it is a loose, baggy monster, the beauty part is that it doesn't need to be swallowed whole.   I'd recommend the early pages on her trip south, especially the hilarious bits about being holed up in a railway compartment with a bunch of poorly housebroken Germans--helps you to understand why the Greeks are so crabby.

And two, a "novel," (loosely autobiographical), The Fountain Overflows, now happily available in an NYRB Classics reprint.  The title is unusually apt: the book itself overflows with raw energy and harrowing black comedy.  It's the kind of book which on every page seems to leave you exhausted and gasping as the author says "but wait, there's more...."  Almost to the end, there always is more and you are sorry to see it go.

Roiphe does seem to focus a lot of her attention on one of the odder aspects of West's character: her near-obsession, out of place for a professed feminist, with H. G. Wells.  Surprisingly she does neglect to mention the story (which I am too lazy to track down) of West addressing another of Wells' castoffs at the funeral of Wells' (wife? number one mistress?--I forget).  Anyway, West is said to have asked whether they as runners-up now got to move up a notch in the rankings (I believe the response is not recorded).

I now turn my attention to Bach's Actus Tragicus on Mrs. B's Ipod, conveniently speakered up beside the window.   Good ocean-watching music if ever there was any.

Aftethought:  Face it, Katie, Virginia Woolf really was an insufferable snob.

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