Monthly Archive for September, 2007

Read Me

I was trying to think of the first book that ever made an impact upon me. I came to reading late so the Enid Blyton phase passed me by (mercifully), but the first book I remember in detail – and it continues to haunt me – is Alice in Wonderland. That feisty little girl who tries doggedly to get to the garden but, because of her curiosity, gets distracted into eating bits of cake and slivers of mushroom which makes her expand and contract so she can never quite get through the door to the garden beyond. I knew the story intimately because I once played Alice in a school play and have memories of my arch enemy, Davie Wallace, dressed up as the sinister Cheshire Cat and grinning at me with his huge, yellowing teeth. I still have the photograph of me looking perplexed dressed in a costume my Nana ran up on her old Singer. Behind me are a weird assortment of small, grinning children dressed as dormice, hares, cats, gryphons and walruses. It is like a scene from a childhood nightmare.

The next book that I really remember was one stolen from my elder sister who in turn had nicked it from her school library. It’s called The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer, the first wife of the author John Mortimer, and features a distinctly siren photograph of the actress Anne Bancroft on the cover. It was the cover that attracted me. She raises her dark eyes to meet the camera in a challenging stare, and that look said to my 13-year-old self: ‘Sex’. Sadly it wasn’t as steamy as I wanted it to be. It is instead a complex tale about sexual fidelity and even though there weren’t any Lady Chatterley-style descriptions that I so longed for – one of the side-effects of a Catholic upbringing is that you become obsessed by the one thing you are forbidden ever to mention. I knew that I was onto something bigger.

My third book, which someone gave to me during a long winter when I was trying to shake off a persistent sadness, was by the late film-maker Derek Jarman and charts the evolution of his extraordinary garden on the beach at Dungeness, in the full glare of the lights from the neighbouring nuclear power station. It was written in the final years of Jarman’s life when he was dying of AIDS. It sounds the most unlikely book for cheering someone’s melancholy but my shrewd friend had sussed that this is a book not about endings, but beginnings. Jarman’s garden had a redemptive quality for him. ‘Paradise haunts gardens,’ he wrote, ‘and so it haunts mine’ – and the book pulled me through a dark winter and made me overturn all my thoughts about what a garden is, or can be.

If you feel like bringing any important books with you to the next reading group, then please do, and I’ll see you all on the 2nd October.