I have a flight to Amsterdam and then on to Milan coming up, most of which will be spent chasing night around the world – which means no glorious vistas out of the plane window at 30,000′.
So I will do some writing till the battery on the laptop runs out, sleep, see if there is anything worth looking at on the video – and read. And as I find planes about as comfortable as sleeping in a tent on tree roots after my air mattress springs a leak, I need an extra good book that will make me forget the discomfort.
I have just finished Suite Francaise* by Irene Nemirovsky, otherwise that might have fitted the needs of this imprisoned passenger. One of the most interesting books I’ve read this year, unfinished by the author, alas, but brilliant for all that. Remarkable not least because she planned a five part book, but had no idea how it would end, as she had no idea how the war and the occupation of France was going to play out. She was writing a novel set in the “now” – occupied France of the 1940s.
On the 11th July 1942 she wrote in her note book: The pine trees all around me. I am sitting on my blue cardigan in the middle of an ocean of leaves, wet and rotting from last night’s storm, as if I were on a raft… That same day, she wrote to her editor: My dear friend … think of me sometimes. I have done a lot of writing. I suppose they will be posthumous works, but it helps to pass the time.
Two days later, she disappeared into the maws of the concentration camps of Europe, and within a month she was dead. The notebook with its draft novel was saved by her 14-year-old daughter – who spend the remaining war years fleeing with her little sister one step ahead of the Nazis.
It is incredible that someone in such a situation could write so brilliantly, and so without rancour, of the world falling apart around her, knowing all the while that the chances that she would survive were slim. A cutting humour, yes; devastatingly perceptive definitely, yet always entertaining, a tale peopled with memorable French and German characters interacting against a sketchy backdrop of looming horror – detail in the foreground, the larger canvas or a brutal war always present, yet blurred. That she never finished the book, never polished it, is a tremendous loss to French literature. That she died the way she did is a loss to humanity.
Or I could take Anne Tambour’s novel, The Spotted Lily. I was so taken with her short stories, I am looking forward to having the time to read her novel. But that’s a hardback, not easily stuffed into my belt pouch for airport and plane reading. It will have to wait, like the promise of a delicious dessert when one is just beginning the soup…
I am just finishing Marcus Herniman’s The Siege of Arrandin, so I could take Book 2, The Treason of Dortrean. But no. Herniman’s style has the same effect as Russell Kirkpatrick’s on me – best taken in small doses, its gourmet richness savoured a little at a time, enjoyed, and then put down and thought about before being picked up again to taste some more.
Never mind, I have just the books. Books 2 & 3 of Jennifer Fallon’s The Tide Lords quartet. If anyone can make me forget the discomforts of plane travel, it will be Jenny. After all, she usually manages to make me stay up all night to finish a book anyway, even without a plane.
* sorry, don’t know the html for French accents