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Archive for March, 2009

McEwan article

I am way behind on reading The New Yorker; however, the 2/23/09 issue (ARod on steroids on cover) has a great article about Ian McEwan.  While I think his novels are slightly flawed – the ending in Amsterdam, most of the second half  of Atonement (although the first half was perfect), etc, his writing always rewards, as in this passage in the article from Saturday:

For the past two hours he’s been in a dream of absorption that has dissolved all sense of time, and all awareness of the other parts of his life.  Even his awareness of his own existence has vanished.  He’s been delivered into a pure present, free of the weight of the past or any anxieties about the future.  In retrospect, though never at the time, it feels like profound happiness…..This state of mind brings a contentment he never finds with any passive form of entertainment.  Books, cinema, even music can’t bring him to this…THis benevolent dissociation seems to require difficulty, prolonged demands on concentration and skills, pressure, problems to be solved, even danger.  He feels calm, and spacious, fully qualified to exist.  It’s a feeling of clarified emptiness, of deep, muted joy.

Is this the secret of happiness? Not self indulgence, but sustained effort.  I think this is what I was seeking when I went back to work.

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School for Love

I just read a great, little book, lent me by my sister, School for Love, by Olivia Manning.  I read Manning’s Levant and Balkan trilogies many years ago after seeing The Fortunes of War with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.  I liked those works, but never thought to check if she wrote anything else.  This book is a jewel. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, the enigmatic plotting, the contrast of the exotic setting with the  often banal happenings.  The title comes from a fragment of a poem (by Blake as I later discovered):

Look on the rising sun – there God does live,

And gives his light, and gives His heat away;

And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive

Comfort in the morning, joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”

When the boy, Felix, a naive, orphaned youth asks the meaning of the poem, the answer is that “life is a sort of school for love.”

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