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Amaryllis Re-reads

Sometimes, it is a wonder to me that the face I present to the world in the mornings is so constant in its serenity and peace. Because, this completely belies the nightmare couple of hours that I sometimes have to suffer on my journey to work caused by people! Take this morning for example: I arrive at Tower Hill, renown for its number of tourists keen to spend the day queueing to gape at some vulgar jewels in the Tower of London; the ticket office is, of course, closed and the one person on duty is lost in a milling swarm of confused and competing tourists trying to buy tickets. I have a ‘gold’ ticket which is actually a dull beige paper ticket and despite costing nearly £5,000 a year consistently fails to perform as it should do regarding the ticket barriers so I am dependent on someone letting me through. But that person is too busy explaining the difference between a pound coin and a 20p coin and ignores me so I miss my train… I eventually get on a train and the person who takes the seat next to me immediately arouses my suspicions with a loud sniff and sure enough a quick glance registers a crimson nose followed by a hacking cough and no handkerchief in view so after some very pointed looks fail to register I am the one who has to move. Already late, I arrive at Notting Hill, another tourist hot spot and again, no-one to greet my gold ticket with the respect it deserves so I have to go and drag someone out of the office. Despite all this I greet JAM with my usual bonhomie and urbanity…
Our book group met this morning to discuss Leviathan by Paul Auster. At least half of us, myself included, had read it before – long ago in the 1980s – and had absolutely loved it and, indeed, all that he wrote at that time as he garnered quite a cult following. However, apart from R who had chosen the book and D who preferred it this time, we others were less impressed second time round. What had seemed innovative and clever in the 80s now seemed a bit pretentious and a predominance of art over character and story. Many of the literature of the 80s seemed to rely heavily on showing how clever one was, whether through tricksy plots, overdone literary references or playfully subversive texts at the cost of emotional connection and humour. This led me to think about re-reading books generally: I have been disappointed on two memorable occasions: I first read The Magus when a student during a very long coach journey from the south to the north of the country but had not noticed the time nor the discomfort so transfixed was I by the book; I read it again some 20 years later and was appalled by its games and superficiality and couldn’t finish it. The other book was The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch: I read all of Iris Murdoch and adored them, particularly this one but upon re-reading, was irritated beyond belief by the egotistically vain and fussy central character. D pointed out in the meeting today, the book hasn’t changed, only the reader, but perhaps the book needs to encompass more than the reader needs or recognises at any one time. I come back time and again to 18th, 19th and 20th century classics: Austen, the Brontes, Eliot, Dickens, Greene, Taylor, Bowen etc and each time, each decade, they offer something else to the person I now am, a newly discovered word, a previously unnoticed interaction outside the main relationship, a character that has grown upon me with age. Perhaps that is the true classification of a classic: how it works on the individual reader so it becomes a personal classic for one rather than for all.
In the group, we wondered what ten books from our time would be the classics of the future – I will think on this and come back to you…
My sister, Agapanthus, is coming to NH to visit me tomorrow. She currently lives a sort of Heidi existence in the Swiss alps running up and down the Alps with the goats. Here she is known as S, the Swiss having some difficulty with her family name… For some mad reason, she is forsaking the clear, pure, mountainous air to run a marathon in the poisonous London smog but each to her own…

About Amaryllis


Amaryllis is our bookshop blogger.


Her pen name is taken from Alice Thomas Ellis’ Other Side of the Fire, which is unfortunately and scandalously out of print. One of the funniest bits in the book is the bodice-ripper that one of the characters is writing and the female - who slays the men with one toss of her raven locks and one glance from her fiery green eyes as she strides among the glens, faithful wolfhound by her side - is Amaryllis! And the name just seemed to suit so here we are.

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