Thursday, 7 June 2012

kellogg: dialogue between rose solari and frank (of 2001)













Spent a very enjoyable hour or so at Kellogg College, listening to Rose Solari's seminar.

A fascinating talk containing memorable phrases--some of which are recorded below (though I haven't done full justice to the talk in my brief notes, I realise, but nevertheless I hope they will be of interest).

I had only read one of the four novels Rose discussed, The Leto Bundle by Marina Warner. As a supplement to Rose's talk, I reproduce after my notes my review of this novel, which was published in the FT on the weekend of May 19/May 20 2001.

--

Rose Solari, Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing, Trinity Term Seminar: Navigating Time: Narrative Structure and Believability in the Contemporary Multiple Time-Frame Novel

Rose's new novel--A Secret Woman

Novel with multiple timelines and narrators.

This kind of novel challenges reader's expectations of how narrative will progess. Also demands multiple narrative voices.

Vivid continuous dream--John Gardner (ref?). Novel has to do this, despite dotting about. Rose rates Gardner [as have other writers I admire].

The Photograph by Penelope Lively:

Discovery of revelatory object. Followed by journey of exploration. Re-evaluation of relationships. 3rd person omniscient.

Underworld by Don DeLillo:

Revelatory object, multiple timeframes. Two narrators. Lively looks at small community; DeLillo looks at US society over last 50 years. Switch between 50s and 90s.

The Leto Bundle by Marina Warner (see FT review below):

Multiple narrators. Magical object--bundle of papyri.

Stone Virgin by Barry Unsworth:

Character's encounter with statue changes him. All above books involve a quest.

A Secret Woman by Rose: 12th century mystic--story told by Louise, whose Mum was fascinated by the mystic. Louise finds object through which she can relate to her mother, and which her mother valued. Quest. Louise comes up against resistance--in herself and others. Leads to Louise herself having visions, in London, where her mum came to live (Louise US, practical modern woman).

Each book contains one significant death NB. Death opens doors in time--when we are grieving. Louise's search for her mum. When we grieve we become porous, and we become more receptive to the holes between time periods. Exploring these ideas was part of the reason Rose wrote the novel.

Questions

Atonement by Ian McEwan--attempts to rearrange the past.

Continual fascination with parents, regardless of how we got on with them. Death, though, often reveals how little we knew them.

Clare--narrative structure and dream/believability: influence on this of bereavement; Rose--leads to vividness of perception; Clare--exploration of this by the writer is part of the cross-threading of the of the narrative timeframes.

Ref Adrienne Rich's article, 'Jane Eyre: The Temptations of a Motherless Woman.' Jane Eyre / Charlotte Bronte. New York : Norton & Co., 2001.

Reference to Rose having to write 100 lines of poetry to get the first line. Similar process to finding the music of Louise's voice--her time signature.

Rose's novel contains nothing that Louise couldn't see, apart from two interludes. Rose avoids moments when the author seems to be winking at the reader behind the character's back.

Rather a wonderful anecdote from the novel about Louise realising how wrong she got her mother, having read a document written by her mother.

--

Mother of all myths

THE LETO BUNDLE
by Marina Warner
Chatto £16.99, 408 pages

It is almost 10 years since Marina Warner's last novel, Indigo, was published. However, time has not dimmed the sparkle of her imaginative engagement with potentially "difficult" areas such as mythology, the child's emotional quest for a lost parent, the plight of society's dispossessed, and the notion that the past is "prologue" to the present.

These stimulating themes are interwoven with a vivid portrait of 1990s Albion, which is in part a satirical version of Britain. It is also a place about which Warner is surprisingly optimistic.

The novel begins with a protest at Albion's National Museum. According to the police the protesters are a gaggle of "women who're just lost for something to believe in", "failed economic migrants" and "urban flotsam". For Warner it is precisely these groups which have something vital to say about our current spiritual malaise: the state of "permanent internal exile".

Their spokesperson is Kim McQuy, a primary school teacher in a run-down quarter of Enoch, the nation's capital. Born in the 1970s in Tirzah, a kind of time-displaced Sarajevo, he was given up by his mother to a civil servant and his wife who had gone there to rescue an orphan. Although he is close to his adoptive parents, his early background has conspired with his temperament to drive him first into political activism and then to near-obsession with the Greek goddess Leto, whose mummified remains are held in the museum.

With the help of one of the curators, he starts researching the Victorian translations of papyri and other documents which make up the Leto Bundle. It is through these fragments, which alternate with Kim's narrative, that Warner draws us into the magical story of Leto, a Titaness, and a fascinating debate about the nature of mythology.

When we first encounter Leto she has just been expelled from Olympus by Zeus's jealous consort, Hera - after he has pursued Leto in the guise of a swan and impregnated her with twins, Phoebe and Phoebus. Her initial delight at their hatching with human forms (albeit without navels) soon gives way to concern for their safety in their barren surroundings, until a wise she-wolf teaches her the art of survival.

Back in the present, Kim discovers a medieval text which appears to show that Leto was reborn in Syria at the time of the crusades. With his website about her beginning to attract interest, including that of "agitprop edge" folk singer Gramercy Poule, he next comes across a sailor's deposition describing Leto's appearance on board a Victorian ship. To the reader's astonishment, Leto's penultimate incarnation is in 1970s Tirzah, where she is forced to make a painful moral choice about her son's fate.

There is a sense of Warner debating with Christian mythology throughout. She has expressed the view elsewhere that while she is drawn to traditional representations of the Virgin Mary, she finds them deeply unsatisfactory. To an extent her portrayal of Leto suggests an alternative Marian mythology. It seems significant that at the outset of the book Leto rejects the fable of the pelican. Following the birth of her twins she remembers her wet nurse telling her how the bird pecks its breast and feeds its young with its blood - but Leto decides that a weakened or dead mother is "no good to anyone".

Marina Warner's Leto is presented not as a goddess or saint but as a diminutive human being, who has been stripped of everything but the most fundamental instincts. She is a survivor with strong maternal feelings, and when she resorts to prostitution to earn money for her children we are asked to sympathise with her: she is more Mary Magdalene than Virgin.

For Kim, Hortense and Gramercy the conundrum of the Leto myth is how they might use history to liberate themselves from the past. Warner explores this in relation to various issues: Britain's Imperialist heritage, multicultural Britain under New Labour and the value of eclectic New Age ideas when compared with rationalism. While Kim's unexpected fate emphasises some of the worst aspects of modern life, the book's overall tone suggests that Warner is hopeful that new ways of seeing can be found and that we shall create a better, and more feminine, society.

Frank Egerton

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