Friday, 19 October 2012

On discovering Nantucket and the Angel

I found it in the public library.  Let's hear it for Britain's embattled public libraries!  I opened the book by the shelves and was gripped from the first lines of Gillian Allnutt's prologue:
'the saints set off without their woolly vests
the little saints set off into the snow
they leave behind their hagiographies
but humbly take their shoes'

Her words plunged me instantly into another space, the long ago of other kinds of purpose.  She reflects on age, other generations, spiritual life and the way it catches on objects and places.  There is humour too, in incongruity and a keen, wry, sense of the ridiculous.

This now out-of-print collection from Bloodaxe, published in 1997, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot.  Allnutt's preoccupations of secular and sacred thread the work, many poems step one from another with a linking word or thought.  The poems are close-ups, often invocations.
'Half lovely is the little morning light
in patches.
I have brought Harriet's sleeve to gather
in running stitches.'
(My heart unsettled)

The half-rhymes are characteristic, and fantastically crafted -
'There is the big yellow bucket of weed and wedding.
There on the hill are the wet stars wading.
There is Rembrandt's mother reading.'

Or from the gorgeous, intoning poem 'On hesitating to depict my grandmother' -
'Her stone's among the stones
of gentlemen within the wall, the toll
of bell, bird-chortle.
But she's flown.'

Bloodaxe do help you in a bit.  This is the 'spiritual biography of Allnutt's imagined 90 year-old 'elder ego' Nantucket, and her impact on a too-long-lingering angel Gabriel as he falls under her mad spell'.
(There's a poem where the angel takes himself off the cathedral and rolls himself a fag, and lights a candle for Nantucket's soul).

I've renewed it once already.  I'll have to find a copy.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A Move with The Crow Road

Caught in the mayhem of moving house, heartstrings still twanging for Scotland, and because I found it when finding anything in a couple of hundred brown boxes was a small marvel, I've been reading (well, re-reading - but it was a long time ago) 'The Crow Road' by the very fine Iain Banks.

The one that starts 'It was the day my grandmother exploded.'

What an extraordinary canter through a coming-of-age experience - a family so gothically packed with eccentrics, missing people, wife-beaters, runaways, atheists, poets and as it turns out, murderers.  Satisfying, of course, that it's a member of the posh end of the family who eventually turns out to have gone so thoroughly to the bad.  On the way you can't help noticing the phenomenal amount of alcohol - and more - that accompanies the revelations and (frequently) catastrophic decisions taken by our youthful protagonist.  But you have to love him, and all the many and various voices of this novel.

Still a great read, and a truly helpful distraction from the personal chaos inflicted on my family by British Telecom.  Two months and still no phone...