Saturday, October 28, 2006


Off to the Spanish Badlands for a few days. Back soon.
(Cue eerie music from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly")

Monday, October 23, 2006

Reading about Kevin

The book had been sitting by my bedside for a while but I was loath to start it — the subject matter was frankly repugnant. Convinced that novel about a high-school murderer could only be trite, I let it gather dust.

On Friday evening I read the first few pages and realised that I had it all wrong — I had confused the theme with the novel itself. The writing was tight, the style beguiling, and the first chapters were more about the “We” in the title than Kevin. It was also about motherhood, childhood, couples, being American, elsewheres, the weight of the Armenian genocide, agoraphobia, and funnily enough it was even about the triteness that I had anticipated. I read on and on.

By Sunday afternoon, I was three quarters of the way through. Enjoyment gave way to creeping foreboding. It ended the only way it could.

The subject matter viciously killed the words.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Honest !

If this post comes out sounding a little unhinged, please bear in mind that I got up at 4.15 a.m. this morning to go to Paris and that I’m drafting this on the train home. And please also know that the malodorous young man sitting next to me has just crunched his way through half a raw cabbage.

A while ago, Jilltxt mentioned the work of Philippe Laplace who has written books on the theory of autobiography. She was interested in a specific aspect of his work — namely how online diaries end — but her post reminded me of another aspect of his theory, the idea of the "autobiographical pact". This implicit contract between reader and writer is sealed primarily in the proper name: the author's name is identical to that of the narrator and we consequently read the text written by the author to whom it refers as reflexive or autobiographical. This is followed by the preamble of which Lejeune writes:
Très vite, je me suis mis à faire une anthologie de ces préambules propitiatoires, de ces serments, de ces appels au peuple, avec l’impression qu’ils disaient déjà tout ce que je pourrais dire ! Ce discours contenait fatalement sa propre vérité : il n’était pas une simple assertion, mais un acte de langage, un performatif (je ne connaissais pas encore l’expression), qui faisait ce qu’il disait. C’était une promesse.
Obviously, I’m wondering about the validity of this so-called autobiographical pact in the world of blogs where proper names are rarely disclosed. Is there a similar implicit pact between blog writer and reader? Is the reader naïve in expecting everything that appears on the blog to be true? To derive any enjoyment from following the blog, do we always have to believe the “profile” to be accurate?
I know that some bloggers ham anecdotes up a little, wringing out as much slapstick/pathos/sympathy as possible. (In a BBC Radio 4 interview, Petite Anglaise owned up to having done this occasionally).
Is it possible that some of the people whose lives I follow on a quasi-daily basis aren’t really who they say they are? Perhaps those interesting women who claim to have husbands and children and over-filled domestic existences actually sit cross-dressed with manly legs in lonely bedsits. Perhaps all of those hilariously funny people are really high-security prisoners with over-active imaginations and amputated ambitions. The exotic ex-pats may be blogging from High Wycombe. How many James Freys are there out there?

And why does it matter whether or not it's all real?

(But he really did eat half a raw cabbage.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I absolutely love coincidences. I never tire of telling people about the time my friend S. was waiting at JFK and got talking to a bloke called Jeremy. He looked down at the address tag on her bag and said "Oh, Littletowninscotland ! I know someone from there." And it was me! He and I had met the summer before in France.

That summer I was working on a campsite with a girl called Carolyn. When Carolyn and Jeremy met they took one look at each other and cried out "But I know you!". They had shared a long conversation in a train carriage a few months before that on their way to interviews at Southampton University.

See, one guy, two coincidences. I love it.

That same summer, I met JB. We went out together for a while once I was back in Edinburgh and he was in Oxford.

Today, a bloke turned up at my workplace and asked to see me. "I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to share a house with JB". Wow.

But where’s the coincidence? I hear you cry. Well, wait. This guy had actually worked in my university department, the very place we were standing at that moment, just a year before I arrived there. He knew some of the people that I still work with. Please people be amazed. I’m finding it difficult to hold back on the exclamation marks here.

And it doesn’t stop there.

So what brings you back here? I asked.
Oh, I’ve been living in Eeenyweeenyteeenytinyvillage for a while now.
What Eeenyweeenyteeenytinyvillage! shrieked I. I know it well.
Turns out our very, very good friends are his neighbours in this village in the middle of nowhere.

Now tell me about your coincidences. I promise to shriek.