Tag-Archive for ◊ triumph ◊

• Monday, April 27th, 2009

Jon McGregor was born in Bermuda in 1976 while his father was appointed as a vicar there. The third of four siblings, he spent his childhood in Norwich,Thetford in Norfolk, England, where he later joined Bradford University to study Media Technology and Production.

He started writing during his final year at university. He had a short fiction published by Granta magazine, and a short story : While You Where Sleeping, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He now lives in Nottingham with his wife.

Jon McGregor has to date written two novels: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things published in 2002 which won several awards and So Many Ways to Begin, published in 2006 and which took Jon McGregor three years to write and was short listed for the Encore Award in 2007 and long listed for the Man Booker Prize.

So Many Ways to Begin has an uncomplicated, slow-paced plot of an uneventful story of love, disappointments, frustrations, resentment and family secrets. A sad story where “chances” play a big part. The author recognises and celebrates the triumph of love over the hardship that life brings; it’s emphasized by the undying and intact love of David Carter for his adopted mother, Dorothy and to his wife Eleanor.

David Carter, a museum curator, dreams of one day having his own museum and leading a happy and peaceful life with the girl he loves and marries. But he ends up having his dreams and his wife’s dreams slowly suppressed and shuttered in the commotions of everyday life.

His wife, not being able to continue her studies to become a geologist, often succumbs to debilitating bouts of depression and he will never own a museum, or even succeed in keeping his job as a curator in the Coventry museum and ends up without even achieving a career.

His life will take a different turn when he finds out, inadvertently, in his early twenties, that he was an adopted child. His hunt for the truth and the search for his biological mother will begin without success. But he doesn’t give up, and when he reaches his fifties he goes on another journey of self-discovery by working out all the missing pieces of the past to unravel his roots and in order to find his own identity and with it his own salvation. As he was never able to come to terms with the ship replica in the museum, he could never accept nor live with a false identity.

The novel, set mainly in Coventry, England, covers three generations of the Carter family by going back and forth through several decades, from the first world war to the present time.
Each chapter is headed by various mundane artefacts description, like in a museum catalogue, in an attempt to try and uncover the secret behind them and to underline the strong feeling of attraction, of the main character, to debris and discovered old objects.

The author also wanted to prompt the reader to make the connections about, where does the object come from? How did David get hold of it? And what further narrative information does it bring? The characters, although somewhat distant, are described in a touching, moving and human like way, with their different emotions and their everyday trials.

In So Many Ways to Begin, the author mentions the different, unexpected things that can change one’s life, like : “chance meetings, over-heard conversations… history made by a million fractional moments too numerous to calibrate or observe or record… But what he had would be a start, he thought, a way to begin.”

In an interview with Jon McGregor, he was asked, what is So Many Ways to Begin about? His answer was : “It’s the story of a marriage; it’s the story of two people trying to make a life together, and the way their own families and histories impact upon this life. It’s also about museums, identity, story-telling, and the difficulty of starting again”.

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• Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Margaret Forster was born in Carlisle (England) in 1938. She was educated at the Carlisle and County High School for Girls. She won a scholarship to Sommerville College, Oxford where she was awarded an honors degree in History.

Margaret Forster married the writer and broadcaster Hunter Davies in 1960. Today they live between London and the lake district in England. They have three children, two daughters and a son. Their eldest daughter Caitlin also became a novelist.

Margaret Forster worked as a teacher in Islington, North London from 1961 to 1963. Starting from 1963 she worked as a novelist, a biographer, a contributor to newspapers and journals, and as a regular broadcaster for the BBC. She was also on the Arts Council literary panel for three years, and a chief non-fiction reviewer for the London Evening Standard.

Since 1964 Margaret Forster has been very prolific. She has written biographies, criticism, fiction and non-fiction. She has won many prizes and awards for her fiction and non-fiction works. Her bibliography is quite long, amongst her novels is the very successful 1965 Georgie Girl, which was made into a film in 1966, and a short lived Broadway musical in 1970.

Keeping the World Away is the story of a painting, the women who owned it, and the message it bestowed on them. In the prologue, the young school girl Gillian, introduces the original theme of the novel; how about if a painting had a real life of its own, according to who owned it, and what it conveyed to the people who looked at it.

Gillian says to her teacher after staring and staring at one painting in The Tate Gallery for a while and noticing that “something was there which she couldn’t quite grasp… The lives of the actual paintings, especially one of hers. I was wondering where it had been, who had owned it, who had looked at it. And other things – I mean,what effect did it have on the people who have looked at it ? What has it meant to them, how have they looked at it, did they feel the same as I did, did they see what I saw.”

Keeping The World Away portrays the struggle of female artists in finding their way, their independence and freedom. Margaret Forster who is a feminist, like her predecessor Virginia Wolf in A Room Of One’s Own, describes how women from the early days of the twentieth century aspired to gain recognition from a society monopolised by men. They wanted their financial freedom as well as their mental freedom. Virginia Wolf said : “There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of the mind.”

The novel is divided into six sections. The first section is a semi-fictionalised story based on a real painting, the corner of Gwen’s room in Paris, produced by Gwen John at the beginning of the twentieth century, and of the genuine Welsh artists Gwen John and her brother Augustus who where born two years apart in Haverfordwest, South Wales, Gwen in 1876 and Augustus in 1878 and both became artists. Gwen went to live in Paris and fell madly in love with the famous sixty four year-old French sculptor Rodin. Her passion was short lived by her lover who distanced himself from her young, “vigorous” and “voracious” needs.

Feeling lonely and forlorn, but at the same time serene, Gwen painted the quiet, and what she perceived as a peaceful corner of her Parisian attic room, yearning while waiting for her inattentive lover, Rodin to come and visit her, like in the past. She worked with a great deal of concentration and minutiae, putting her feeling and strong emotions into the painting, in order for her lover to understand her state of mind, and her longing for him: “she had wanted it to prove her own triumph. She had wanted to show Rodin that this was evidence of her transformation. She had imagined him walking into her room and being transfixed, overcome with admiration for what she had achieved.” Didn’t he tell her that “she must be composed and calm and let his own tranquillity enter her soul. Only then, he told her, would she do good work.”

Gwen waited patiently for Rodin who never went back to her. She offered the painting to her dear friend Ursula, who lost it during the journey back to England. From then on the saga of Gwen’s room corner painting begins.

The following five parts of the novel follow the journey of Gwen’s painting: The different women who owned it, loved it and shared the same aspiration felt by it, despite the different message the painting bestowed on each one of them, and how it had affected their lives, and that true art can have a life of its own.Charlotte, the dreamy, intellectual and art appreciator. Stella, the ex nurse and amateur artist. Lucasta, The artist specialised in portraits. Ailsa, Paul Mortimer’s oppressed wife. Then the novel ends as it started with Gillian who is now studying art in Paris and will be inheriting the Gwen’s painting after Mme Verlon’s death.

The painting of Gwen John’s room in Paris is today hanging in the Sheffield city art gallery in England.

The title of the book is taken from Gwen John’s own note book. She wrote : “Rules to keep the world away: Do not listen to people (more than is necessary); do not look at people (more than is necessary); have as little intercourse with people as possible.”

Gwen John (1876-1939) and her brother Augustus John (1878-1961) studied at the Slade school of Art in London. During their life time, Augustus became famous at an early age, while his introverted, solitary sister Gwen, who was obsessively in love with Rodin, remained in the limelight. Her paintings mainly depicting interiors, still-lifes and portraits were less appreciated than her brother’s bold style of painting. He was considered a great artist of his time. Recently,Gwen’s art became internationally renown while by contrast her brother’s paintings seem to have fallen into the shadow.

Margaret Forster’s combination of fact and fiction is done in a masterly way, with an easy-to-follow plot and a clear and limpid writing.

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