Deathbed

Every so often I’m asked if I love movies as much as Harriet in Garbo Laughs. I say that I do, then admit that I don’t watch movies much anymore: I can’t figure out the three remote controls. The last time I gave this answer, I actually received a round of sympathetic applause. We were all of an age in that room.

Now that I am squarely in late middle age, I’m close enough to the end to realize that when I’m on my death bed I won’t be regretting the movies I didn’t see, I’ll be regretting the books I didn’t read (and the music I didn’t hear).

I’ve read only a children’s version of The Iliad and The Odyssey. I haven’t read Dante. I haven’t read Measure for Measure or The Idiot. Was it Edna O’Brien who said some years ago when interviewed that she was determined to read two classics a year? And was it only two?

Weeks ago I read Diana Athill’s excellent Stet. Now, thanks to her chapter on Molly Keane, whom she edited, I’ve read Keane’s terrific novel Good Behaviour, uncannily unlike anything else, and so trenchant and precise about a daughter’s place in the family – what it actually is, and what she thinks it is.

I’ve also in the last week or so read John McGahern for the first time, Irish like Keane. His tremendous memoir All Will Be Well makes novels seem quite unnecessary.

But they aren’t. See above on Good Behaviour.

I wonder how many of the new technologies will expire before I do. It’s truly interesting to be living through the death of the telephone. It hardly ever rings anymore. Not having a cell phone means that my pocket is also free of distress. The silence in the house is like peace descending in a forest.

Only at dusk do the demons come out – the telemarketers; the NDP (bless their civic-minded hearts, but if I had a broadsword, I would use it).

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