Thursday 2 January 2020

Addictive Reading

Too often disappointing, sometimes one's reading truly works, in the way it worked in childhood. How often as an adult does one experience that? When I first read Hotel du Lac, at seventeen, one summer. When I read The Small House at Allington, another summer, in Rome. When I read Anthony Powell, tears smarting in my eyes in an Amsterdam hotel breakfast-room as I learned, via a throwaway remark, of poor Stringham's death.

Rereading almost never matches up. Or else one identifies with new things. In Great Expectations I am cold now to the story of Pip's love for Estella. But I break down when Pip tells Magwitch, at the last, that his lost child lives and is now a lady. Or when old Pip returns to the forge to find Jo and Biddy and their own little son - and Pip sees himself: 'sitting on my own little stool looking at the fire, was - I again!'

Guilty reading can be compulsive too. I'm halfway through May at 10, Anthony Seldon's almost day-by-day account of the Theresa May premiership. It's a horror story. I wince on every page. Why would anyone with so few of the required skills put herself through the hell of being Prime Minister? It's the human details that shine through: a shattered Mrs May falling asleep during a meeting; May's too rare moments of largesse - wine and crisps from Waitrose; her unlucky encounter with a rowdy stag-party of Englishmen at a tourist spot in Estonia. Her security team feared the worst, but the revellers were delighted to meet her, and all wanted selfies.

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