will she ever shut up about bukes?

Sometime last week the virus morphed from GI to respiratory. My sinuses are overflowing with sulfurous molten goo and I’ve lost my voice. (“About time!” says my internal Jonathan.) I spent Saturday asleep again and had to blow off dinner at De Haro on Sunday, because I was only parsing about one word in three of the prevailing conversation. When everyone had gone to the party I made myself sardines on toast and junket: Northern English comfort food for the regressing colonial girl. I’ve been craving trifle lately, too. Curled up in my comfy chair, I read.

Tim Ferris is too hard to comprehend when I’m feeling this unwell, so The Whole Shebang is on the back burner for a while. Meanwhile I slummed with Candace Bushnell, Armistead Maupin and Barbara Pym. I also enjoyed both The Corrections and The Elementary Particles far more than I expected to.

“She didn’t care so much, after all, about being liked. She found herself liking.”

I loved the Rashomony structure of The Corrections, the use of the fucked-up family as a lens, Enid’s appalling Midwestern cooking and the idea of a drug that suppresses shame. Called Aslan. Ha! The first ten pages made me laugh out loud every paragraph, like the first time I read Bill Bryson, all of which just goes to show what a sad nerd I really am. Chip was certainly an improvement on horrible Ray from Mortals and on the protagonist of The History Man, whatever his name was, but I still couldn’t quite see why everyone in the book found him so adorable. Always a problem with a thinly veiled author-avatar. The characters did shade off into Dickensian cliche at the edges (note to self – jokey names get really old after a while), and the scenes in Philadelphia and Lithuania lacked the ring of truth, but in general it’s just as good a book as everyone says it is.

I couldn’t decide until close to the end whether The Elementary Particles was brilliant or awful. I settled for brilliant, largely because of an extraordinary passage which is one of the best things I’ve ever read on modern Ireland. In any case, how am I supposed to resist a book which identifies Esalen and The Book of Kells as critical turning-points in human history? Some of the sex scenes were genuinely hot, leading to the same kinds of wacky fun I had while reading Nicholson Baker’s The Fermata on the bus many years ago, blushing all the while, except that this time a sleazy old guy reading over my shoulder on the 14 Mission started actually touching my thigh, which harshed my mellow somewhat. The end of The Elementary Particles is weird, but good.

Both writers, and Pym, too, do lovely lyrical prose. They’re all more or less high-realist, except that Franzen and Houellebecq seem to have been keeping up with their hard-SF: Banks, Gibson and Womack, at a rough guess. There’s a case to be made for The Corrections and The Elementary Particles being two versions of the same book, but as with the argument that American Sweethearts and Laurel Canyon are really the same film (Hollywood self-loathing, semi-incestuous hijinks), it’s extremely silly.

Everyone, me included, is obsessed with gender at the moment. I am no sort of girl. I’ve never had a pedicure and I loathe shopping. I wore a skirt to work last week, to universal acclaim. “You should wear skirts more often!” exclaimed my lovely copyeditor Fred, to which I snapped: “Why?” I didn’t mean to be bitchy but my feet hurt from clopping around in high heels. Poor Claire, who already loves bright colours and pretty flowers, is going to have to get her hair and makeup advice from somebody else.

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