Oh dear, I really am failing miserably in my promise to blog once a month. Anyway…
The other day I was at a literary event, all warm white wine and surprisingly good canapés; thus is the life of a writer. I was talking to a fellow novelist and we got on to the subject of Andre Gide’s novel Les Fauxmonnayeur (The Counterfeiters). The person I was chatting with had recently finished it. I went through a Gide phase in my early twenties and read most of his work. We began discussing the novel and it soon became clear to me that I had barely any recollection of it. When I got home I pulled my copy off the shelf and had a flick through it. It was full of marginalia, and I had a few glimmers of recognition, but mostly it remained a blank.
On a similar note, I recently read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (partly as research for the project I’m presently working on). In another phase of reading everything by a writer, I devoured Orwell in my late teens. At the back of my edition of Catalonia is a list all Orwell’s other books and glancing through them I had another lapse of memory. In the space of a couple of months in 1992 I read Coming up for Air, The Clergyman’s Daughter and Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Yet as with the Gide, I have almost zero recollection of the first two books.
Which leads me to a question: can you truly say you’ve read a book if you don’t remember it? What do you think?
Despite not remembering much of Coming up for Air and The Clergyman’s Daughter, Aspidistra is still fresh in my mind. Given they were read during the same period why has one title remained while the others haven’t? I wonder if it’s to do with visual imagery: I vividly recall the aspidistra that Gordon (the main character) keeps, and even more so the grotty, sordid life he leads. We live in a visually orientated culture, so perhaps our visual memories are stronger than other parts of our recollection. If that’s true then maybe there’s a lesson for writers: keep it visual.