Friday, November 06, 2009

No Time to Stand and Stare?

There's a real problem these days. It's called Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Skype, mobile phones and email. All these are fine and fun and useful in their way but they take up time from actually living life. You see apparently demented people walking along a city street jabbering and gesticulating as if to themselves. They don't look around to see that it's a beautiful sunny day, skies are actually blue for once, the breeze is blowing autumn leaves along the pavement, the birds are singing in the trees that shed said leaves . . . they don't observe with interest and amusement the sight and sound of the many faces and interesting characters they pass on their way around the busy shopping malls, or take time to wander thoughtfully along the riverside of some fine old town like Worcester. Basically they don't even notice they're alive half the time. Talk-talk. That's their life. And the talk is all nonsense most of the time. Sad.

I'm just as guilty as everyone of indulging in all this displacement activity though.

In an Oxfam shop the other day I came across a 1930's blue hardcover reprint of Wilkie Collins masterpiece 'Woman in White' and a mere snip at £3.00. I took it to the girl at the counter who waxed lyrical for ages. 'It's a wonderful book, ' she said,' I couldn't put it down, read it right through from start to finish and no time to eat or anything. You'll love it, it's well worth the money, a lovely book.'

I paid for it and agreed with her that it was in great condition and said that though I had read 'Moonstone' I'd never read 'Woman in White.'

'Oh, my goodness. You won't regret it. It's a lovely book, ' she said,' I couldn't put it down . . . I really couldn't put it down.' . . . I escaped while she was still rhapsodizing.

However, I had to agree with her. It's a long, detailed book and took even a fast reader like myself some days to get through. It is one of those stories that lingers in the back of your mind and impinges on your daily activities, making you hurry your tasks till, like some delicious confectionery you are allowed to dip in, enjoy and savour the moment of indulgence.

The characters are unforgettable, fascinating and vivid. The atmosphere is enthralling from the start as the fearful, agitated 'woman in white' glides into Walter Hartright's life, arousing his pity and protectiveness.

The beauty of a long, detailed book such as this is that the characters have time to develop. They impinge on the mind and stay with one forever because one really gets to know them with all their little quirks and foibles. What could be more unforgettable than the vision of the incredible Count Fosco sitting with his little canaries, teaching them to hop from one fat finger to another and then bidding them to sing when they reach the top of the 'ladder' made by his hand?

There is no lack of action in this story though it's not of the manic, helter-skelter kind of modern writers such as Dan Brown where characters are of little importance except as vague vehicles of the frantic activity and death dodging dangers of the plot. Locations if anything seem more important than people in such a tale and the wierder the locations the better.

There is also time to be philosophical in a long, detailed story. But where do philosophies fit in any more in the fluttering, ephemeral, chattering, meaningless world of twitter, facebook, i-pods?

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Favourite Quotes

  • My home is my retreat and resting place from the wars: I try to keep this corner as a haven against the tempest outside, as I do another corner of my soul. Michelle de Montaigne
  • Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Friends are people you can be quiet with. Anon.