Sunday, 7 January 2018

Learning to swim in Lahore; Muriel Spark and Kjersti Skomsvold

I recently reviewed Isambard Wilkinson's Travels in a Dervish Cloak, this passage stays in my mind:

Pakistani novelists of  a certain vintage remember a golden era in Pakistan's first decades when Anglo-Indians danced at Karachi's Metropole, hippies spun vinyl at discotheques, Pakistan was advertised as an exotic holiday location and Dizzy Gillespie beguiled a Sindhi snake charmer's serpent with his trumpet. That innocent age, if it ever existed, was dead.

It makes me nostalgic for a Karachi I barely know. We visited in 1974, two years after my father had died. I find myself scraping those memories up, trying to build a narrative (I have a letter that a visiting British doctor staying at Hotel Metropole left for my father who was then working at Jinnah Hospital in mid-1950s). I recall that we stayed in Lahore for a few days in the Intercontinental and that was where I learned to swim without arm bands. A far cry from the swimming lessons at primary school back home, where you would shiver as you were checked in line for verrucas. There was also an earthquake when we were in Lahore and all the dishes shook on the hotel breakfast table.


Many of us have been giving  Muriel Spark for Christmas because of the centenary of her birth. I've just re-read The Driver's Seat. I read it when I was about sixteen and didn't understand it, I am not sure I understand it any better but I much more appreciate the elegance and construction of this slim,  disturbing novel. And the humour is marvellous.

I just got a copy of Norwegian writer Kjersti Skomvold's MonsterHuman, which is now available in English. I blogged about her a few years ago and read her debut novel, which she started writing on post-it notes when she was very ill with ME. I'm obviously very interested in autobiographical, fictionalised accounts of ME and look forward to MonsterHuman. I see on Wikipedia that Skomvold also studied French at L'Université de Caen, which is a great coincidence as I was studying there in 1982/3 when I first became ill with Coxsackie virus, which later evolved monstrously into ME. We got ill at a similar age though I am a good decade older.

I love the start of new year, a whole new pile of to be read books on the bedside table:

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