I read multiple books at any given time. I’m beginning to examine why the urgency in reading all these books and why I want to read them. Everyone has his or her own list of things to do or places to see before he or she is too old to move. If reading is merely something to do, for pleasure or entertainment, there is no urgency. Perhaps I am hungry for answers but most of all, I simply enjoy reading prolific prose and texts that make you reflect or dream. Reading helps me to internalize and express my thoughts and definitely helps me in my writing as I take much comfort in both reading and writing. Aside from that, in reading fictions, you may find traces of yourself in some of the characters. Sometimes you imagine yourself escaping your fixed self just to become someone more free as you remember how you were in another lifetime. Most of all, reading also helps to connect the dots.
Jan Morris, a journalist and travel writer started keeping a diary of her thoughts when she turned 90 years old. In My Mind’s Eye, A Thought diary was published in 2018.
This is how Morris began under Day 1.
‘ I have never before in my life kept a diary of my thoughts, and here at the start of my tenth decade, having for the moment nothing much else to write, I am having a go at it. Good luck to me. The first thought that strikes me as being worth memorializing entered my mind today as I drove my dear old Honda Civic Type R (an old friend) into Porthmadog, and on the radio somebody was playing a piano concerto.’
She ended the page with this,
‘Nobody to break the spell, I suppose, and perhaps, since my first concentration is upon the driving, the music slides in unaware, like another old friend reminding me of half-forgotten emotions.’
Under Day 44, she wrote this :
‘There is much to be said for nostalgia. It can be debilitating,I know, but it can be agreeable too, especially when one reaches the years of discretion, and I spend much of my time wallowing in it.‘
–In My Mind’s Eye, A Thought Diary, Jan Morris
We are expected to become sensible adults as we reach our years of discretion. What if you could walk through time …. you might just cringe at the thoughts and beliefs that you once had and the things that you actually did in your youth. But then that is the privilege of being young. You can afford to be silly and irresponsible. What I miss about youth is you can no longer be impulsive, indulgent and hopeless as that will not be forgivable. Perhaps what I miss most is that you can no longer be changeable as you are accountable but in reality as I age, things that I thought I knew, I do not actually know.
To quote Olivia Laing from her debut work of fiction :
‘Kathy was worried about ageing, she hadn’t realised youth wasn’t permanent state, that she wouldn’t always be cute and hopeless and forgivable. She wasn’t stupid, she was just greedy : she wanted it always to be the first time.’
– Crudo, Olivia Laing
‘ Weightlessness was another exclusive possession of the very young.Later on you started clanking around like tins tied to a car.’
– Crudo, Olivia Laing
In Crudo, its author Olivia Laing has created a fiction that is partly her story except that the character is fictional. The story is set between May – September 2017. Kathy is a writer in her 40s and she is going to get married to a man twenty-nine years older than herself. She is a New Yorker who has been wild and radically free in her youth and is now a little apprehensive about giving up her solitude and adventures as she embarks on a new life in England.
Laing has started off the narratives using a kind of split persona of Kathy/I.
‘Kathy, by which I mean I, was getting married. Kathy, by which I mean I, had just got off a plane from New York. It was 19:45 on 13 May 2017. She’d been upgraded to business, she was feeling, fancy, she bought two bottles of duty-free champagne in orange boxes, that was the kind of person she was going to be from now on. Kathy was met at the airport by the man she was living with, soon to become the man she was going to marry, soon, presumably, to become the man she had married and so on till death.’
Amidst global warming and changes in political landscape around the world, Kathy is making up her mind to fully commit to her husband to be. It will be her husband’s third marriage.The narratives are interjected with humour, commentaries and insights about real time news between May and September 2017.
Kathy and her husband accidentally find themselves on holiday among the super-rich in Tuscany. They do not pass as rich and they are not trying. She asks him if she has noticed that everyone there has younger wives there. ‘It was like the second-wife club. Personally she was a third wife, so on that level at least she fitted right in.’
‘What Kathy was supposed to be doing was planning her wedding. She did this by looking through pictures on Instagram and making unkind comments. That’s very vulgar, she or her husband would say. Chairs and tables, napkins, that’s very vulgar. At this rate they’d end up getting married in a car park.’
Here are a couple of snippets about Kathy.
‘Was Kathy nice? Unclear. Kathy was interested in her tan, she was interested in Twitter, she was interested in seeing whether any of her friends were having a better holiday than her. ‘
‘Kathy had no parents, which didn’t stop them annoying her. She thought about them a lot. Her mother had committed suicide, her father had vanished before she was even born. She was an orphan, truly Dickensian. Her husband actually called her Pip, sometimes the Pip. He was a very nice man, indisputably nice, everyone liked him. It was impossible not to.’
Kathy’s husband is a poet. She realises that the world is good with him in it and she delights in his presence, the way he is ‘always so amenable ,so keen to please, his handsome mouth, the dear little bristles around his ears‘. Kathy realises that she is learning to love when the world appears to be regressing in that it is ‘becoming increasingly hard to feel real.’
The story is set against changing political landscape, Brexit and global warming. Kathy has a complex persona as she comes across intense, edgy and competitive.
I understand from the reviews that the character, Kathy is inspired by Kathy Acker who was an ‘American novelist whose writing style and subject matter reflect the so-called punk sensibility that emerged in the 1970s‘. – Kathy-Acker
The restlessness in Kathy can be overwhelming. Olivia Laing has created a character who has self-doubts and at the same time greedy and self-centred. Crudo means raw in Italian. I wonder if the title ‘Crudo‘ is referring to the internal world of Kathy against the precarious developments around the world. As we pay attention to the news around the world, it is what it is. Love is what matters. Crudo, it is.