Nerves

You finish writing a book and relax for a bit. I finished His Whole Life in March and now it’s the end of June. The book will come out in August.

That’s soon. And what always happens is happening again. I imagine having to talk about the novel at readings and interviews and the like, and a sort of amnesia sets in. My mind goes blank. I don’t believe I have anything at all to say and it unnerves me.

A few days ago, a friend mentioned the Cambridge novels of C. P. Snow. Now that’s a name I haven’t heard for a long time, although he was certainly big enough fifty years ago. Since my son is living in Cambridge, my friend thought he would enjoy Snow’s novels, which he remembered in impressive detail. Then yesterday I found one of them in my mailbox with a note: “Not one of the Cambridge ones but it will give you a taste. No need to return.”

The Conscience of the Rich. 1958. I started to read it and on the first page found described my own problem. The narrator is writing a final examination and can’t make sense of the words on the question-paper. “At the beginning of each examination I was possessed in this way: as though by a magnified version of one of those amnesias in which a single word – for example TAKE – looks as though we have never seen it before, and in which we have to reassure ourselves, staring at the word, that it occurs in the language and that we have used it, spelt exactly in that fashion, every day of our lives.”

Then suddenly his amnesia vanishes and he is “reading, deciding, watching myself begin to write,” absorbed in the job at hand. “This I could do; I was immersed in a craftman’s pleasure.”

To answer as a craftsman or woman, that’s all that’s required. How did I go about making His Whole Life? I can talk about that when I’m asked about my book.

In my mailbox this morning was another of Snow’s novels, The Affair, and another note. “Liz: This is one of the Cambridge novels – a double from the cottage – no need to return. Don’t feel an obligation to read it.”

And I’m utterly charmed. What another lovely gift – an orange Penguin like the first one, a reprint from 1968. Price in Canada $0.95.

Other books and other readers (and the conversation that arises) always manage to take me into wider waters.

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