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Letting The Grass Grow

with 4 comments

Don’t ask me where I get these titles.  More than half the time, I don’t know.  Sometimes I think the most difficult thing about writing this blog is figuring out what to call posts.  And that’s especially true in the morning.

I am actually feeling a little better this morning, although I’m at that stage where I’m so tired I could just go back to bed.  That’s too bad, in a way, because tomorrow I’m due to speak at a writer’s conference.   I’ve been looking forward to it for some time.  Now I’m worried I’m going to sound fuzzy and flat.

And I never sound fuzzy and flat.  I make a point of it.

And I’m almost finished with the P.D. James novel–The Private Patient–that I started about the time this whole cold thing started.  And I’m not too sure what to say about it.

On the one hand, it’s beautifully written and constructed.  Everything James does is beautifully written and constructed.  I hope I can do half as well when I reach nearly ninety.

I hope I reach nearly ninety.

On the other hand, the book has brought back to me something I often feel about James’s work, and something that is to an extent true of Ruth Rendell’s work, too, or at least her work as Barbara Vine.

All the people in James’s work are isolated in a way and to an extent that I find highly unusual in real life.

I don’t mean that the books sound unrealistic, because they don’t.  They sound very realistic indeed.

I just mean that most people I have known, myself included, are not so irretrievably locked into the bubble of their aloneness as virtually everybody is in a novel by P.D. James.

This includes her detectives as well as her subjects.  No matter whose point of view the story is being told from at any moment, that person is emotionally isolated from everything and everybody around her.  Or him.

And nobody is happy.  Every once in a while you’ll find somebody who expresses “contentment,” but that person will be content precisely in being shut off from other people.  They’ll take pleasure in art or books or work, but mostly what they’ll take pleasure in is their own solitude.

I am sure that there are people like this in the world.  I’m even sure I’ve met a few.  What I don’t think is that most people are like this in the world.

I even wonder if P.D. James is this sort of person in the world.  I’ve been introduced to her a few times over the years, at conferences and awards dinners and that kind of thing, and she’s always seemed to me to be a rather happy and outgoing person.

In other words, not like somebody living in an emotional bubble.

Of course, I’ve never actually known her, never mind known her well, so I may be missing something.

But the fact is that I find myself oddly put off, this time, but so many isolated people.  Dalgleish is about to get married, and even in the descriptions of his relationship with Emma, both he and she seem very isolated indeed.

Okay, Emma a little less so, although you don’t get anything from her point of view in this book, and I don’t remember the sections from her point of view in the earlier book. 

But then, Emma comes off as a little weak and overemotional and childish.  It’s a relationship in which AD is the grown up, and his work is off limits as a topic of conversation, never mind confidence.

Ack.  It’s one of those days, if you know what I mean.  Even the tea isn’t helping.

But it comes down to this:  I’ve never felt that way about my life, not even when I was much younger and had a harder time connecting with people, or finding people to connect with.

I certainly don’t feel that way about my life now. 

And I find I’m getting slightly impatient with people who do feel that way about their lives–with characters who feel that way, I should say, because it’s like I said before.

Although I’ve known people who are like this, I haven’t known all that many.

There is something too easy about a life lived in such splendid solitude–and I feel that way even about characters who are suffering in their experience of it.

I’d better go do something sensible before I run out of steam on this day.   My guess is that wouldn’t be too hard to do the way I feel know.

But in this book I’m working on, nobody lives in emotional isolation, splendid or otherwise.

Murder seems a lot more likely to me among people who are far too connected to each other, rather than too little.

Written by janeh

October 15th, 2010 at 5:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Letting The Grass Grow'

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  1. Nearly 90? Good luck. My goal is retirement plus 10 years, and I’d really like to avoid the epitaph “I thought he died years ago.”

    Isolation. Generally, I agree: it’s the overly entangled and not the isolated who participate in the homicide. There are a whole string of “true crime” murder cases in which I wonder why someone didn’t move/get a different job/walk out of the family long before it got down to choosing a modus operandi. Generally, the option doesn’t seem to have occured to anyone.

    Of course, Adam Dalgliesh is neither victim nor perpetrator, and his choice of career probably encourages a certain amount of living apart. His hours are irregular, and there are things he ought not to share about his work.

    He may also be, to some degree, a literary artifact. I was noticing lately in romance the number of characters who seem to have no family and a single confidante instead of the usual rabble of in-laws, shirt-tail cousins and the neighbor in the next building you talk to every day but whose name you can’t remember. But I may just be criticizing the books for being 200-300 pages long and not GONE WITH THE WIND. Presenting the appearance of normal human complexity without getting sidetracked in detail is serious art. Even the most “realistic” literature is a major oversimplification, and emotionally isolating a character may be one of the ways PD James keeps down the page count.

    No opinion at all on contentment vs happiness.


    15 Oct 10 at 4:02 pm

  2. I dunno — to me, isolation is the “normal” way to exist. I can’t walk much these days, except with a walking frame. I live on 40 acres in the boonies (by choice), my mathematician husband of 52 years has never been a conversationalist, and in fact he gets rather annoyed when I talk to him, because he judges that I am just making irrelevant comments about trivia. And he judges most of LIFE to be trivial.

    Our closest relative is 200 miles away, so thank goodness for email which keeps me in contact with family. Oh yes, and the general store just re-opened after being closed for 9 years. So now I drive there once a week and stock up and chat a little with actual live human beings!

    But isolation, when it is isolation with a gorgeous view of the Northern Catskill Mountains, and with lots of books available from Amazon, has its compensations. (Of course I have to drive to the general store to pick most of those books up, because the post office is crammed into one corner of the general store! We are REALLY in the boonies.)

    At least the 4 Maine Coon Cats are always happy to chat and snuggle, and do not usually dismiss my chatter as “trivia”.

    I do so enjoy your blog — it is one remedy for the isolation. Thanks!


    15 Oct 10 at 7:39 pm

  3. When I read a book with isolated characters I assume that this is a reflection of the author’s life. I mean specifically the actual act of writing which requires a lot of isolation. I think the aloneness seeps into the story if the writer is not careful.

    Have you ever read Henning Mankell’s Wallander series? I find the character Wallander isolated. In one book Wallander keeps saying he needs to go visit his ailing father but he makes up excuses not to do so. I wanted to scream! I find Wallander’s ambivalence towards his family and coworkers frustrating, but I love the books!

    PS I love your books too, of course.


    16 Oct 10 at 9:25 am

  4. In some ways, my life is isolated – not nearly so much as dotc! – and I make an effort to keep up connections, since I could see myself, if I ever retire, having very few connections at all. I think some people are simply less gregarious than others. And a surprising lot are extremely isolated – in my own neighbourhood, someone was recently found dead after not having been missed for some time. It happens more often than we might like to think; particularly those of us who live alone.

    I agree entirely with Robert about the crimes in which
    people DON’T walk away. They could – or, well, I think they could; perhaps they can’t. I feel this especially with the young family-killers. I’d have walked long before I hit that stage, especially because as a youth I didn’t know what living on the street was like, and thought I could handle everything. It’s baffling. But I think it supports the idea that it’s people with lots of people around them who kill or are killed.

    As the local medical examiner said at a conference yesterday, you’re most likely to be murdered by someone you know well and love. And also that he thinks there are two serial killers currently active in our very peaceful province, one in prison now, but eventually due for release.


    16 Oct 10 at 10:11 am

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