Friday, 30 March 2012

What to Look For in Winter

A Memoir in Blindness, by Candia McWilliam, a writer of whom I had never heard until she was recommended to me by a reader of this blog.  She mostly dictated this, a memoir, as she began it after she had developed blepharospasm, a condition which makes the eyes clamp shut and thus renders the sufferer blind.  Her life, someone wrote in a review, has been rather like an Iris Murdoch novel, sharing flats with strange creatures with impossible names.  Her mother committed suicide when she was a child.  She grew up in Edinburgh and worked at Vogue and lived mostly in London.  She has two ex-husbands, whose lives remain intertwined with hers in ways I found uncomfortable to read about.  She seems to have been plagued all her life by a crippling misery and sense of being disliked.  But this is not a "misery memoir".  She has a keen sense of the beauty of the world and of its things.  Scots often do.  She describes a carthorse like this: "the horse would stand at a massive mincing halt".  I had never thought of carthorses mincing before, but they do.  She is excellent on the physicality of writing - now that I do it every day, spending another part of the day editing the words of others, I understand how hard writing is physically.  Because she dictated this book, she refers to her others as "books that had come down my arm and not out of my mouth".  I fell more or less in love with her use of words, but also very sad for the sadness she feels.  She says of her books "my... family turn in the main a civilly blind eye to my books, which they perceive as bad manners and showing-off writ rather too large".  Mine do precisely this too.  She became a drunk, a serious one, and started the alcoholics' recovery programme in middle life.  She is about my age. 

I read this book on paper.  There is no picture of her on the cover, presumably her choice.  She quite often refers to her appearance, not favourably.  She is tall, and says she is fat, and thus much too big.  I had to Google her to see what she looked like, and was surprised to find that when young she was quite beautiful, and that she still is, and is not really fat at all.  She does not write very much about her drunk years, and I believe this is because she cannot remember them.  She is alone, and lives in other people's houses.  But oh, Candia (what a lovely name) why not leave your husbands alone  and taste the joy you can write about so well, from the slap of mackerel on the Colonsay water to the Edinburgh shop fronts to the blossom in an Oxford garden?  A seductive read, but oh, Candia, I so wanted you to be happy.     

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