When I was at VIVAMAYR I met a wonderful woman called Carla. We bonded over breakfast, bowels and barren nights of zero sleep. Look, I'm sorry about all this alliteration which is plaguing my posts of plate - I just can't seem to help myself. Anyhow, it turned out we also shared a love of Latin, catholic tastes in literature and the capacity to read very fast. We squabbled (politely) over Snowdrops
and she passed on Dear Thief. Now, she didn't like it but, while I wouldn't say it's the kind of book I would press urgently into everyone's life, there were moments at which I found myself pausing and, if not nodding, then at least furrowing my brow slightly.
I have stopped marking books these days. In the past I would underline and circle; I would scribble notes and thrust exclamation or questions marks in margins. That was when I kept books. Nowadays I pass them on and it seems rude, verging on callous, to force my mind on future readers. So now I just tuck over the tiniest of corners at pages which make me pause. Come the end of the book, I look back to see what caught my mind. Often I find it hard to remember why I found the passage so telling at the time; sometimes I can't even remember which sentences even flirted with me. And then again, frequently in the re-reading, what once felt so 'aha!' now strikes me as banal. Anyhow, my overturnings for Dear Thief? Just four.
'Life is short. Life shoots you a lethal dose of time. Time is a drug that wears off. You seem to stare at me from under that crooked fringe as if to say, You brought this up. Or worse, as if to say: Put your pen down, my friend, forget it; I will never be sorry. I was trying to save myself; I failed, but at least I had the dignity to want to be saved. More fool you, if you don't want to save yourself too.'
'The greatest tyranny of all is men's possession of women and women's possession of men. We want to own one another so that the other cannot outgrow us. You know how Chinese women bind their feet until the feet are deformed? This is what we do to one another's hearts.'
'It was a betrayal to share space, to blunder into the other's space; if we really knew one another, loved and understood one another, we would not. It is only when I think of it now that I can see the peculiar premise of that game, that intimacy is a form of distance, that you become sharply aware of the other's existence only in order to avoid it.'
'Do you remember? A stranger came up and declared his love for you, and you kindly corrected his grammar. You saw his embarrassment and you took his hand so that you could draw him down to the grass, with the care of someone handling an animal that is dependent on them - and you gave him an impromptu lesson on the definite article and abstract nouns.'
Will I remember this book in a year, a month, a week? Probably not. I opened my Kindle this morning to read something I had downloaded a while back. There was something familiar about the opening paragraph but I carried on. Then, a page in, I realised...I'd read it before.
I used to read books that had so profound an effect that I remembered them for decades. Was it just that my younger mind was emptier, more fertile ground for others' thoughts? Then I read to learn, to expand, to explore - now I read for distraction.
I was looking for images for this post and came across a post that said that Dear Thief is on the longlist for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Literature. I scrolled down and realised I'd read two of the other contenders, The Beesand Station Eleven
I seem to recall they were good reads, if a tad bleak.
So I have found a new pile of distractions.