I know I’m absent minded, but I really try hard with dates and times, and writing the set theme for writing group and reading the chosen book for book club. I still sometimes leave things up to the last minute, but if it means staying up late to get something done, I ruefully do so, wondering yet again why I I do leave things so late.
It was book club tonight and the chosen book was by Elena Ferrante. I’d not read anything by her, but read plenty about her, an Italian writer who published her novels anonymously to much acclaim. I have to confess that I’d not read any of her novels because they did not appeal to me, and the more I read about them, much as they were revered, I thought they would not be my cup of tea – or glass of Chianti! However, too often I find myself criticising the books chosen by my friends and decided that I would read the chosen book, try to be positive, look for aspects that I liked and think of sincere reasons if I didn’t enjoy some parts.
My friends, knowing the sort of (maybe too fussy) reader I am, assured me that the chosen book was fairly short, had an intriguing aspect to it, and certainly would be something different from the recent books we’ve read. This made me more determined to be open-minded, concentrate on things I liked, put to one side those I didn’t, and maybe I would find I really enjoyed it! I must confess, that knowing it was a short book and knowing I’m a quick reader and will stay up late to finish a book, I was a little later buying it than I intended.
Feeling optimistic, and having finished Dave Grohl’s autobiography, and the very excellent Borderlands by Brian McGilloway, I settled to read the short Ferrante book. Before I started it I knew it was set in Naples, and there were aspects that were autobiographical, and the main character was a girl growing up in a poor area. It was very densely written, describing every aspect of the child Lelù’s early years as written by her as an older woman. She’s trying to remember every aspect of her friendship with Lila from the first time they met, as she – in her adult life, seems to have disappeared. An intriguing premise! However, I began to suspect that it wasn’t going to be as quick a read as I’d expected, it was so intensely written and I began to become confused with the people she mentioned, other children, neighbours, local characters, and I’m afraid to say that before long I was in a bit of a muddle. What was worse, the days were ticking by, counting down to book club night.
I read it late into the night, I read it early in the morning, and it just became more and more confusing with the variety of characters – I had to keep flipping back to remind myself who they were, how they were related, what the attitude of Lelù was to them. I somehow missed a crucial part and had to go back, and in the end, I know I would have to confess to my reading chums that once again I hadn’t finished. To be honest, I was actually bored with it, but tried to think positively about the descriptions of the sounds, sights, smells of the places Lelù went. I was confused by all the names of all the people and how they were related.
I arrived, welcomed, and given a glass of wine, a great start to what would be an enjoyable evening. I made some all purpose remark about what a magnificent writing achieving it was, and the wealth of vivid description, but that I had found the number of characters very confusing. Number of characters? There were only four main ones! my friends exclaimed. I began to have that sinking feeling. They talked about the beach and the stolen doll and then it all became clear. Despite my best efforts I had read the wrong book. It should have been ‘The Lost Doll, not My Brilliant Friend’!