“A good novel begins with a small question and ends with a bigger one.”
― Paula Fox
Ok, so I’m off working on my Reading Plan. On the fiction, novel side the first one up was Desperate Characters by Paula Fox.
It sometimes takes me as much as a month to dig through a big, tough novel. There are all the Zolas – plus with my Difficult Reading Book club there has been Gravity’s Rainbow, 1Q84, Brothers Karamazov… and others – all long, difficult (but worthwhile) slogs.
I read Desperate Characters in two days. Reading the book blind, I didn’t realize it was written in 1970 – assuming it was newer than that. It is set in upper-crust New York (the protagonist is a literary translator – her husband a successful attorney) during the time when New York was being overtaken by crime, racism, and filth (like it might be again – that’s why it felt so contemporary).
Sophie, the translator, opens her terrace to feed a stray cat and the feline attacks and bites her. During the bulk of the story Sophie struggles with the thought she might have rabies.
The novel is set in a small, walled-in world – with walled-in characters. The title comes from Thoreau’s Walden quote “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I have been coming across that quote a lot lately… which is unfortunately not surprising.
One thing I want to do while I go through this reading plan is to hand write into my planner passages that resonate with me for one reason or another. I have always used my Kindle to highlight passages, store them digitally, but sitting down with a fountain pen and my precious dwindling supply of Tomoe River paper… gives them more meaning and imprints them on my fading gray matter.
I wrote down two quotes, one long one short. I’ll type them up here:
Desperate Characters, page 54
In this last year she had discovered that its discomforts, once interpreted, always meant the curtailment, or end of some pleasure. She could not eat and drink the way she once had. Inexorably, she was being invaded by elements that were both gross and risible. She had only recently realized that one was old for a long time
There, she found two messages; one, written in chalk said: Kiss me someone‘ and the other, scratched with a key or a knife, said: Fuck everyone except Linda.