Tuesday, May 29

things that aren't

on Mark Helprin's website he displays an actual page of the rough draft of the prologue to his novel Freddy and Fredericka. there is also a little exchange about the use of dentistry in the book. all this is fascinating, but not more so than the book itself.

i finished it yesterday. it was full of insightful comments about life and privilege. it was full of and almost impossible to believe humor.

i spent nine months in England. there are a great many specific things i miss. the adverts at bus stops. the yellow curtains in my bedroom. the hedges and the pavement and the beach. i carry with me a large sackful of memories. playing pool in plymouth. walking down the hill from class in my red coat. watching cricket. having my accent picked out from among all the lovely british ones. enjoying hot chocolate in the depths of a great green sofa.

Helprin's book and other people's books also --and films and photographs--remind me about England. they present to me english turns of phrase and english ways of doing things, naming things, pronouncing things. the remind me what i miss most about england, and that is its strangeness.

nine months in england is perhaps not enough to truly appreciate what a different sort of place it is. but while i was there i found it so enchanting to be confronted with the fact that i was not english and never could be english and no matter how much i absorbed the vocabulary and the atmosphere, i would always be an american. i confront the same fact every time i read books like this. i will never know what it is to revere a thing so old and venerable as a monarchy. i will never have the ancientness of that countryside stamped onto me, given to me as anything like home. i will never seem to have always known the names and shapes of railway stations and towns and how they all sit together on a map. i will never be able to sit upon all that island's great history.

i suppose i have my own great history to sit upon. Helprin celebrates both of these countries in the novel. but this isn't the point. the point is, i long for that sense of displacement. of being somewhere i will never quite belong.

behind all fiction and dreaming i think there is the same separation. a very basic one, between self and other perhaps.

to be taken into a place where everything is new and everything is guarded with an expectation that must be fought, defeated so that the reality can truly speak; to imagine things and then to re-imagine them inside yourself, adding things of your own; to climb out of where you are, where you have been, into an impossible place...

but of course i romanticize england because it always has been a dream to me. dickens and conan doyle and austen and hardy, they all sold this dream to me. and why not?

it a strange thought, to miss things that you cannot possibly miss because they will never be and have never been yours. that is the great pathos of the question what if.


Chris said...

I knew it! I knew it was because you found us quaint!

'i will never know what it is to revere a thing so old and venerable as a monarchy.'

This is an odd one that I was thinking about just yesterday. I don't think I know of a single person here who still 'reveres' the Queen, but you're right; even with the weird and confused sort of government that we now have (with the monarchy seemingly almost dead weight), and as much as royal scandals make their way into the tabloids every week, I can't see us ever getting rid of the monarchy. It's become one of our defining points, I guess. One of those things that people are proud of because it's 'our' history and heritage and stuff, whether it really makes sense or not.

I was reading this. It seems so shockingly radical to my quaint British eyes. But most of it makes sense.

I wonder if tea makes sense. Probably not.

amelia c said...

you should read the book. i wonder how you might interpret it differently, being on the other side. and besides that, it's very funny.

it was cool, how it put the whole royal burden thing in perspective, sort of. it ties into some more universal principles. sacrifice and comfort and advantages... and stuff...

maybe i'll read it again...