Larkin, ‘The Life with a Hole in it’

February 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

My personal essay has led me to read a number of poems in an attempt to find one that fits the words. I came across Philip Larkin’s ‘The Life with a Hole in it’; its final stanza is rather wonderful. The image of the ‘unbeatable slow machine’ reminds me of my mum’s description of working life and the ‘real world’ – once you’re on the treadmill, you can’t get off:

Life is an immobile, locked,
Three-handed struggle between
Your wants, the world’s for you, and (worse)
The unbeatable slow machine
That brings what you’ll get. Blocked,
They strain round a hollow stasis
Of havings-to, fear, faces.
Days sift down it constantly. Years.




February 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Recently I have been reading contemporary fiction. Perhaps this isn’t such a ‘big deal’; but, for me, it is quite a change, especially after last term’s sojourns in Bronte land and Woolf country. Reading such works as ‘What a Carve Up!’ by Jonathan Coe and Pat Barker’s ‘Regeneration’ has placed me firmly in the (near-)present which I am relishing. It means that I can justify reading all 150 pages of Julian Barnes’ ‘The Sense of an Ending’ for leisure. I finished it last night and spent two minutes a little shocked and confused. I was expecting this grand ending, something catastrophic such as Adrian was alive all along, or that Veronica had murdered him or something. But, no. I won’t give it away but the language of the final few pages is suitably ambiguous (to my mind, anyway), particularly with the inclusion of Adrian’s accumulation integers. I finally solved the puzzle but my eventual understanding did not bring me any closure or finality. If anything, I felt perplexed. It did not feel as though that ending was meant to be the ending (perhaps the clue is in the title – the sense of an ending, not quite but almost tangible).

A lot of the novel (or novella?) dealt with memory and time, a pertinent theme that keeps reappearing in my set texts:

“We live in time, it bounds us and defines us, and time is supposed to measure history, isn’t it? But if we can’t understand time, can’t grasp its mysteries of pace and progress, what chance do we have with history – even our own small, personal, largely undocumented piece of it?” (p.60)

This idea of our own ‘average’ lives being largely ‘undocumented’ ties in with Adrian’s diary and its significance to the entire plot. Tony’s desire for and legal right to the diary pushes the narrative along, giving him a purpose to keep pursuing Veronica, to keep searching for the truth of their shared past. There is also the notion of life as a mathematical problem that could be solved, perhaps, such as the moment when Tony considers his life in terms of adding or increasing:

“Had my life increased, or merely added to itself? … There had been addition – and subtraction – in my life, but how much multiplication? And this gave me a sense of unease, of unrest.” (p.88)

Notably the novel ends with ‘There is great unrest’, unrest within life, within people, within morals and within maths (presumably). Adrian’s vision of life was quite clinical in its philosophy – I think that Tony’s mum was on to something when she said he was too clever, considering the numerous ‘geniuses’/exceptionally perceptive and intelligent individuals who have committed suicide, Woolf and Plath for instance. So, I can’t really relate to Adrian’s deductions and sums, weighing up whether life was worth continuing based on an equation. But it does offer an enlightening point about the meaning of life. The fact of Tony’s peaceableness was reiterated throughout, until he had wandered into the realm of passivity and convinced himself that this was peacefulness. The novel, to me, is about mistakes made when young that shape and alter lives, our own lives. Seemingly small decisions, such as the angry, bitter letter that Tony sent to Adrian and Veronica, return to haunt us. It reminds me of the butterfly effect – one beat of a wing changes things. Everything counts.


February 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

It is 9.31pm on a cold February night. It snowed today and I am trying to write. I am trying to write a personal essay in the least flowery, verbose way possible. For me, this is rather tricky. Even the way that I speak is verbose; I am a wordy person. I like to talk, at length, and often struggle to formulate my thoughts and to express them concisely. Yet this is exactly what I must achieve in my personal essay.

I can foresee the Creative Writing II module being the most difficult module I have taken. Not only am I putting my thoughts, my words, my self out there, vulnerable and bare; I am asking two authors to mark it. They gave us the ‘terror talk’ and I told myself I could do this, that I am capable. But there are moments, as everyone, everyone, knows, when this kind of thing is terrifying. I find myself wondering whether this was a good idea. To use a cliché (something I should really be avoiding), I am out of my comfort zone.

Today my tutor told our workshop group that if there was something we did not want to write, something we thought we could not write, then we should write it. There is something that I would like to write but it feels so muddled. I am not even sure what is memory, what is real, what is imagined. It feels like there are numerous gaps that I may have simply filled in, plastered over. So then, when I write these things down, I am no longer writing a personal essay but an essay on how I want something to be, or how I imagine it would have been.

I said in class that I was finding it difficult to fit the personal with the universal, of finding that hook that draws the reader in and makes them care. Otherwise, what is the point? It is just self-indulgent fluff that no one wants to read. Apparently this is because I am worried about trust – nail on head (oops, another cliché – language is riddled with them!) So I am going to take Natalie Goldberg’s advice, fill one notebook this month, write about my parents, about my old house, write about things that I thought I never could and trust in myself and hope to goodness that the reader sees something, anything.

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