Who stole January? Is it laying slumped in a sack, all wrung out? Or is it half-finished, languishing on a bookshelf somewhere?
It seems fitting that my January was lost in bedsit London. London with NHS waiting lists, peeling wallpaper, sexual uncertainty and a certain junk-shop mustiness.
There are always books that you know you should read. 'The Millstone' by Margaret Drabble was one of those. I started the year by reading it. As I read on, a ball of images from novels by Angela Carter, John Fowles and A.S. Byatt, gathered momentum in my head. They share a tone. A dusty, tawdry, unsettling tone. The era about which they write, has echoes of those hip and swinging images of Dylan in a London taxi, but is much sadder and more down-at-heel. Less this:
I have always loved Gibert and George's photo montages of a London filthy, and curling up at the edges. Many novels seem to echo this. Drabble's exhalted masterpiece of a young woman who finds herself pregnant, is driven by a narrative of interior spaces. The scenes pass muddily through pubs, pavements, small flats, doctor's surgeries, buses and the off license. It is devoid of the experimentalism of Dead Babies or The Magus. Yet, it is ahead of its time; and the London in the novel, populated by tired, impoverished mothers, immigrants, writers and absent parents, feels not so distant. Shockingly, not terribly much has changed. Class lives on. The NHS is nowhere near coping. Marriage is still a yardstick by which success and normalcy are measured. And, we are surrounded by the damp, grey weather, which has not completely disappeared in our global warming halo.
I find the fetid, mixed-up characters in so much of British literature in the 60s oddly comforting. Outside and inside are connected through a strange, morbid innocence. An example of which can be found in the use of moonlight on skin in Carter's novels. Television so often tells us that the 60s were knowing and, behind a facade of innocence, people were actually enlightened. The innocence and vulnerability in the (predominantly female) characters in works by the aforementioned authors, has a depressing quality. They inhabit the weakness of a crumbling bedsit or a water-logged newspaper. They are their surroundings.
"He became as silent and decorative as the statue with which she always compared him, while their home rotted around them, suffused with purgatorial gloom."
"She lay in bed for hours, while Lee was at work, sometimes drawing her pet apocalyptic beasts in her sketchbook but, more and more, merely gazing into space, absorbed in thought. The window remained boarded up and the room was always dark and shady."
"They moved disinterestedly in the floating world centred loosely upon the art school, the university and the second-hand trade and made their impermanent homes in the sloping, terraced hillside where the Irish, the West Indians and the more adventurous of the students lived in old, decaying houses where rents were low."
All taken from Angela Carter's 'Love'.