28 May 2007

words melt into arrangements of blue and black

Touch is my least developed sense, my least favoured style of experience. Surprising then that my visit to New Zealand was so enjoyable. As this is a tactile world - leaving traces on people as people leave traces on the land.

Motifs of flora and fauna are the pins on which the story is wound. Pillowcases are embroidered with flowers so that

‘Etta sleeps with her cheek on the stitching, and when she wakes there is an impression of flowers on her skin.’

But marks are erased just as surely as they are laid. Significant parts of the novel feature extracts from Clifford’s diary, inherited and read by his son Gene as his own death looms.

‘Gene thinks of it now, decomposing in the mud, slowly covered over by thirty years of refuse. He doubts that any part of it remains; paper and cloth, he imagines, would be broken down fairly rapidly, like the soft flesh of creatures without bones.’

Moments of gentleness,

‘Thorsten tells her she has mermaid hair. He held it over her face once, and kissed her through it, and she felt like she was drowning.’

fall between recollections of exquisite destruction,

‘Mrs Hoffman is back in Dresden. Buildings are cracking like bone china. She must run to avoid the falling shards. A library smashes to the ground; pages flutter around her, shuffling themselves to form stories nobody would ever believe. She looks again, and people are cracking. Life-size, bone-china people. A man on a bicycle shatters. A girl with a dog smashes to dust. A woman in a floral dress explodes, showering Mrs Hoffman with sharp flowers.’

A character tries to write a survival guide, to help people lost in the wild. I felt like I needed a guide, to help me filter through all that New Zealand offered me, to enable me to organise my experiences and catagorise my questions in hope of matching them to answers. But that was not Chidgey’s intention, instead she immersed me into the family and their country and I am left a little awed, a little speechless - much like one of her characters.

‘The woman is waiting for an answer, but Christina’s mouth is empty. Leaves are falling onto the tables and she hears every one as it lands like a dry breath. One falls into her lap.’

the circumnavigator

a stitch in time

My visit to New Zealand (care of In A Fishbone Church by Catherine Chidgey) left me with a backpack full of questions, a pocket full of ponderings.

- Can you enjoy a view so much that you forget where you are or what you are looking at?
- Can you fall in love so deeply that you forget who you are?
- Do we travel more than we think we do? Do we move less than we appear to?
- Can we swim through memories of the past as if through still waters?
- Can we be too busy living to see what surrounds us? Too busy dusting off fossils to give thought to our future?

Once I get my snapshots developed and my thoughts in order I shall return with a clearer impression of my visit.

the circumnavigator

07 May 2007

its only water and sand

I’m off. To New Zealand. Place names that begin with the word ‘new’ always make me a little sad - sad that I missed the chance to see the old. Perhaps I would have preferred that?

I hope that reading this book will help to clarify the fuzzy indistinctions between New Zealand and Australia. But the back of the book rumours ‘the story of three generations… spanning continents and decades’ - so perhaps I will merely become more confused.

I often fall for books based on their covers, and I like titles that tempt me in. I will tease you a little longer, but believe me when I say this one draws me in, and leaves me to set sail within the skeletal ship of a long dead whale. I’m off.

the circumnavigator