Saturday, 26 June 2010

Books to read when your heart is heavy

Books to read when your heart (for whatever reason) feels heavy, or scalded, or broken are very different from reading books that are about that.  Those, I find anyway, are not helpful.  When you are tottering on the verge of weeping into your pillow at night, every night, I want a book that absorbs me to the point that I simply cannot think of anything else.  Distraction is the key.  Not too heavy, not too sad, not too many plots to follow. I don't want too much brash honesty and truths, what I'm after is a shifting canvas. Lawrence Durrell and The Alexandrian Quartet is about as perfect as it gets. Consistently voted as one of the best novels of all times, by people, I assume, who KNOW about such literary things, it is a masterpeice of deceptions and shifting ground.  Justine, Balthazar, Clea and Mountolive make up the four books. I first read these when I was an angst ridden teenager (skipping bits, I'm sure) then I forgot about them.  They found a home on the top shelf and stayed there for years.  Later, in my thirties, my heart was broken (a man) and I took myself off for a solitary weekend by the sea in France.  For some reason (directed I suspect from my guiding reading angel) I slung two of these in a bag. They absorbed me so that I didn't think of the man for a full half hour of the time.  (And anyone who has been through that particular heartache will appreciate just how long thirty minutes can be...) They are set in Egypt and centre around Justine.  What was she? A spy? A thwarted woman in love? A sex crazed frustrated wife? All of those things and maybe none of them. The book presents one story told by four different perspectives . Lost in a world of intrigue and sand, wealth and poverty, the all pervading palm print that is put on walls to evade the evil eye -  hidden truths and lies come alive. Smallpox, gout, amputation, terrible uncured sexual diseases, heat, love and lust are played out against the backdrop of Alexandria.  Nothing is as it seems. Once you have tasted that world, you can drink deeply and settle down to losing yourself completely to it. 
I was intriuged to discover that they play bibliomancy in the books, and I have done so ever since.  Just as accurate as the I Ching and a lot more fun. I am heartbroken this weekend (not a man, but a beloved dog) and so, I made some mint tea and started to read again...

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