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Dancing Fish and Amonites!

By (March 30, 2016) No Comment

dancing fishOur book today is one of my many re-reads: Penelope Lively’s 2013 memoir Dancing Fish and Amonites, her elegant and intelligent meditation – partly about her life and upbringing but mainly about the story of her life as she observes it in her own memories: “The memory that we live with – the form of memory that most interests me – is the moth-eaten version of our own past that each of us carries around, depends on,” as she puts it. “It is our ID; this is how we know who we are and where we have been.”

That’s a subtly complex construction of exactly the kind that tend to wind through her novels, and although I admit I could often be impatient with those novels – on how many reading afternoons did one after the next of her books strike me as fussily faint-hearted! – here in her memoir, it found more fertile ground with me. I read and liked this book when it first came out, and just recently I found a copy at a thrift shop (since of course my original copy promptly disappeared), snapped it up, and spent an hour re-reading it on a freezing cold afternoon, expecting to be distinctly underwhelmed the second time around.

Instead, I found myself again and again charmed by Lively’s straightforward, almost bald, reflections on growing older, reflections that show her usual combination of wide angle and lucy looking livelyprecise detail:

Writing survives, for me. Other pleasures – needs – do not. I was a gardener. Well, I am a gardener, but a sadly reduced one, in every sense. I have a small paved rectangle of London garden, full of pots, with a cherished twenty-year-old corokia, and two pittosporums, and various fuchsias, and Convolvulus cneorum and hakonechloa grass and euphorbia and heuchera and a Hydrangea petiolaris all over the back wall (well, some of you will be gardeners and might share my tastes). It gives me much pleasure, but it is a far cry from what I once gardened – a half acre or so that included beans, carrots, squash, you name it, the lot. All I can do now is potter with the hose in summer, and do a bit of snipping here and there, thanks to the arthritis; forget travel, what I really do miss is intensive gardening.

This second time around, I found Dancing Fish and Amonites even more interesting than the first time, perhaps even enough to prompt me to keep it, although that might be asking a lot.