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I see women everywhere seeking a love that changes
but never grows less.

Linda Gregg
“The Foreign Language of the Heart”




Friends of Archipelago suggest some worthwhile books:

Nikki Gemmell (CLEAVE Picador, U.K. 1999/2000, also called ALICE SPRINGS Viking Penguin U.S., 1999; SHIVER Picador U.K., 1997; LOVESONG, to appear in 2001):

“How to describe this book? A collection of ideas, questions, suppositions, wonderings about the cruelty and beauty of human nature, birth and death, exploration and spirituality. Annie Dillard always surprises. FOR THE TIME BEING is like reading Bruce Chatwin – you are constantly stimulated by the author's questing mind. A rich and wonderful read, and one I dip into again and again and always find fresh nuggets. FOR THE TIME BEING opens with a quote: ‘Should I mark more than shining hours?’ and I have spent many shining hours reading it.” Annie Dillard, FOR THE TIME BEING (Knopf, 1999, Vintage (p.b), 2000)

“An old favourite that I've carried with me on most of my travels over the past decade: an early novel of Ondaatje's, a recreation of the life of the cornet player Buddy Bolden, a legendary jazz player in New Orleans a century ago. The book is written in a series of short, cinematic vignettes, and the inventiveness, energy and playfulness of the prose is dazzling. There's a muscular musicality and daring to the writing – I keep COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER close as a reminder to always aim high and take risks with my own work.” Michael Ondaatje, COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER (Norton 1977; Vintage 1996 (p.b.))

Richard Jones (“Reforming the Lords,” this issue):

“This summer I spent hours trying to read Henry James’s late novel THE GOLDEN BOWL. My eyes passed over page after page of ectoplasmic prose without ever sighting an incident or a situation which made an impact. Nothing happened; people had names but no substance. Their world was airless, out of time, out of habitable space. About a third of the way through the bulky work I gave up. OK. I’m a bubblehead. I sad as much to a friend who told me to read Edith Wharton’s memoirs A BACKWARD GLANCE. I did so and read how Mrs. Wharton, one of James’s oldest friends and admirers, one day asked the great man why his late novels were so lacking in atmosphere and were ‘more and more severed from that thick nourishing human air in which we all live and move.’ Even though she had assumed James had done this deliberately and carefully, she still wondered why the four main characters of THE GOLDEN BOWL were suspended in the void. ‘What sort of life did they lead when they were not watching each other and fencing with each other? Why have you stripped them of all the human fringes we necessarily trail after us through life?’ James looked at her in pained surprise and she wished she had not asked the question. He thought a while and then, plainly disturbed, said, ‘My dear, I didn’t know I had.’” Henry James, THE GOLDEN BOWL (Penguin Classics). Edith Wharton, A BACKWARD GLANCE, An Autobiography (Introduction by Louis Auchincloss. Touchstone Books (U.S., p.b.); Everyman Library (U. K., p.b.))


Katherine McNamara (is the editor of Archipelago. Her non-fiction book, NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH, a narrative of Alaska, is due out in January):

“Some time ago, thanks to a recommendation by the novelist Fae Myenne Ng, I read Hannah Green’s ‘perfect novel,’ THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE. It was an almost ethereal work whose surface tension shimmered, trembled, but never broke. Now, LITTLE SAINT, the luminous evocation of her encounter with a small French village and its resident saint, has come out, posthumously, alas, under the careful editorial hand of the great Sam Vaughan. No matter her subject; it is her very sentences that give light.”


Père André comes into the room with a small group of tourists to show them the glories of the Treasure. His large wan face is kindly and tired. The Germans took him prisoner in the war and broke his health….

“Hannah!” Père André says when he sees me. He sounds the initial H in a special learned way. At first when he began to know me better he called me Madame Hannah, but now he says Hannah, often repeating the H and saying my name over—“H . . . annah,” and Jack, whom everyone else in Conques calls Jacques or Monsieur Jacques, he calls John-Jack, carefully repeating his two names in English and beaming with pleasure at Jack’s presence (rarer here than mine). “Monsieur Rousseau,” he says ever since Jack jokingly linked Père André’s John-Jack to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, surprising Père André, who did not think an American would know the name, not to mention the work, of Rousseau. “Monsieur Rousseau,” Père André says, his hands crossed over his comfortable stomach, looking up at Jack and laughing in low ripples. Not knowing Henri Rousseau, Le Douanier, who is in his art revered kin to Jack, Père André does not know the extra pleasure his little joke brings us. When he is happy there is no one with such largesse as Père André. Everything about him seems to be large—his heart, his nature, his ample white monk’s robe, his face, as noted, with its large, rounded jaw and big cheekbones, his high wide forehead with deep creases, his blue eyes behind his thick-lensed glasses, his voice, above all his voice, which is as warm as he is, and rich and deep. When he lifts it in song to chant the mass, his voice seems to come from God.

He has a perfect musical ear, and I have seen him—on the famous (to us) day when we went with him to Rodez to visit the Musée Fenaille, though he was hurrying us through, afraid of returning late to Conques—I saw him stop, bend over an illuminated manuscript, an antiphonary of the late fourteenth century, and slowly begin to sing the written notes. Raising his hands as the priest does at certain points in the mass, he sang, going on so his wonderful voice filled the old dark-beamed room and touched the sweet face of the Virgin of the Annunciation in the next room and the stilled, tranced grief of the Virgin of the Pietà, and drifted out into the lovely glass-covered court and down in praise of the Christ in marble relief from the altar of Deus dedit, fashioned for the cathedral about the year 1000; his voice reached even, I liked to imagine, the whiskered-faced menhir (standing stone), which comes from St. Sernin on the Rance and stands now in the Musée Fenaille on the ground floor off the court, with several other graven menhirs, all cut from the rougier, the reddish sandstone of the Camares in the southwest of the Rouergue, the modern Department of Aveyron.

Hannah Green, LITTLE SAINT (Random House, 2000); THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE (Turtle Point Books/Books & Co., p.b.)


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