Thursday 19 March 2009

Retirement 1

It surprised me so perhaps it will surprise you, too: to-day is the first day I have actually felt retired. Although I stopped work just before Christmas, so much has been going on that I have managed to avoid the feel, the essence, of the reality. What happened was that I found myself thinking about a book I first read when I was thirteen or fourteen, "Frenchman's Creek" by Daphne du Maurier. I know that it was my 'best book' for a long time and I have, I confess, read it again, several times, but not for what my Mother would have called 'donkey's ears'. (Cockney rhyming slang for lots of years - get it? No: she was Welsh). Anyway, there I was thinking about "Frenchman's Creek" when I suddenly realised that, now, there was nothing to stop me reading it yet again. For one thing, there was no longer a menacing queue of professional publications which I knew, from decades of experience, I would not get round to reading. Of course, the energy I had to find to ward off the guilt that I was not doing the required reading could have been better spent in picking the damn publications up and getting on with it, but such is human nature, as you will have noticed, yourselves, that truculence, defiance and laziness always won and the pile grew until it was clear, retirement aside, I was not even going to live long enough to get through it. The result was that I read neither the educative stuff nor, because of the guilt, anything else of any consequence. Nor, come to that, anything of no consequence, neither, because, as those of you whose middle name is also Guilt will know, that would have been out of the question, totally disallowed until one had done one's duty. Thank Goodness for hairdressers; at least one could read a magazine out of sight of the pile and out of mind of the guilt.

There is another problem. Since I retired people close to me, all of them erudite, worthy, intelligent people, have been giving me books saying "now you've retired, you'll have time to read this. I didn't give it to you before because I realised you wouldn't have time to read it". Unfortunately, the books are all erudite, worthy and intelligent, too, and to-day, it came to me that they were stamped with the same caveat as the professional stuff: read me or you risk being labelled as unerudite, unworthy ,unintelligent and not up even to a standard dinner-table discussion. I have had a go at a few of them. One is "The Lay of the Land" by Richard Ford. There is a dichotomy here; the outside of the book annoys me because I want it to be called "The LIE of the Land" and the inside, a fifth of the way in, seems to me so obscure, that I still don't really know what it is trying to draw me into. I trust the judgement of he-who-gave-it-to- me and, more,as you have guessed, would be ashamed to admit it was beyond me, so I shall persevere eventually, but you can, surely, understand how I have succombed to the cry of the user-friendlier, well-written, lovely, lovely other-era romance that is "Frenchman's Creek" and b.....r the 'literature' piling up where the professional works used to be.

Looking back, it is clear that that book had a great influence on me. (In case it is not on your shelves, briefly, it concerns a well-born, well-married 18th century lady who is tired of the louche life she has been leading in London's top echelon, behaving, out-of-century, like one of the lads, crossing boundaries and playing with fire, who flees to the country with her small children, to escape that self. Of course, she meets a man who has made a similar escape, a Frenchman, also well-born, who has taken to piracy as an escape. Not unlike the character in "The Thomas Crown Affair" which may be more familiar to you. Each becomes the love of the other's life, but, as you would expect, the call of her children and the impossibilty of them being together without creating more children and, thus, inevitable separation, intervenes and they part. Hurray for birth control you may say. I would find that a touch cynical.) Anyway, I do see that I was in love with the Frenchman, who had the confidence to wear his own hair and not the usual curly wig, and I wanted to be the Lady Dona, not only for the Frenchman but for her awareness of the disparity between her inner and her outer lives and her search for her real self. I'm having a wonderful time reading it and not even a squidgen of guilt. I'm retired. I can read what I like. So there, another dark secret in the life of Liz. I wonder if re-reading "Frenchman's Creek" qualifies as decadent. What do you think? Comment?

1 comment:

Bianca said...

Decadent, no, not at all. As a professional reader of the kind of worthy and erudite literature you have been trying to avoid, Liz, I have to admit that rereading my favourite books is one of the greatest pleasures of life. Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, Balzac, Flaubert, again and again, oh, and Tolstoy, of course. Yes, I'm sorry. But also John Le Carré, Batya Gur and, dare I say it, Georges Simenon - wonderful stuff. There is nothing as satisfactory as meeting old friends again, unchanged. As recognising the clever turns of the plot and sinking into the delightful prose one knows so well. And rediscovering the sharp edges of thought. So, if this is decadence, I'm all for it. But of course, I'm also for leaping into new books and finding new friends. As I get older I am discovering whole new countries on God's earth - through novels. (My mother used to turn up her nose and say, "Oh, you're reading a novel!" with a disdainful emphasis on the first syllable. Little did she understand). At the moment I am reading "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, a poignant,beautifully written novel about Nigeria and the founding of Biafra which I realise I knew absolutely nothing about. How insular I am. But through my novels I can expand my knowledge. Here's to reading and rereading!
PS I couldn't get on with "The Lay of the Land", either!