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Flash Reviews (10th April 2014)

‘Stag’s Leap’ by Sharon Olds

Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds ****
I was quite surprised to find any of Sharon Olds’ poetry in my library, and this was a volume which I immediately snapped up.  The book itself is beautiful, with its heavy cream cover and lovely burgundy frontispiece.  The various reviews on the cover of Stag’s Leap call it ‘essential reading’, and I certainly agree.  I absolutely adored her volume of Selected Poems, and hoped that I would love this just as much.

All of the poems within this volume are centered around Olds’ divorce from her husband of thirty years.  The book has been split into separate sections which relate to the seasons, allowing the reader to see how her grief at the situation manifests itself over time.  It is, as one would expect, incredibly heartwrenching at times:

“I tell him I will try to fall out of
love with him, but I feel I will love him
all my life.”

Olds’ poetry is so intelligent, and her imagery is stunning; she reminds me of Sylvia Plath in that respect.  I loved the different styles which she used throughout, and it is so brave to document such a loss in such bare and stark, yet beautiful, terms.  Stag’s Leap is a very dark collection, and whilst I did not find it as enjoyable as her Selected Poems, it is a great selection nonetheless.  Olds is definitely one of my favourite contemporary poets.

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Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley ***
Parnassus on Wheels is the prequel to Christopher Morley’s Haunted Bookshop novel, the first in a series of three books.  The entire novella is told from the female perspective of Helen McGill, and Morley renders the voice of his narrator most believably.  She is the younger sister of celebrated author Andrew McGill, and is not at all forgiving of her brother’s ardent bookishness.  Merely to spite him, she purchases the ‘Travelling Parnassus’, a done-up vehicle of sorts which travels around selling books – or, to be more precise, ‘good books’.  Helen wants to have an adventure of her own, and in doing so, to ‘play a trick’ upon her brother.

The siblings are very different indeed.  Helen says that her brother is ‘just as unpractical and fanciful as a young girl’, and Andrew too has trouble taking her seriously.  Parnassus on Wheels is very witty, and its ideas about books are just lovely:

“When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.  Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book.”

Though short, Parnassus on Wheels is a really sweet read, and my favourite elements of it were related to the joy of reading, which Morley clearly shares with his characters.  It is highly recommended to anyone bookish who has a fondness for quaint literature.

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The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West ***

‘The Edwardians’ by Vita Sackville-West

I started The Edwardians on a trip to London, and found when I began the typical style of Sackville-West, whom I am so fond of.  This novel, like many of her others, is a comedy of manners.  It is a witty book, rather acerbic, and is focused solely upon the upper classes.  It is not dissimilar to Family History, really, but I did not find it quite as amusing, nor as enjoyable.  For me, the most interesting characters in this novel were the siblings Sebastian and Viola, but they were sadly not present throughout.  Regardless, I still very much enjoyed Sackville-West’s writing style.

The Edwardians, which begins in 1905, feels almost Downton Abbey-esque part way through, and not being a big fan of the television series (I did enjoy the first season, but I think it became a little ridiculous after that), this did put me off a little.  The storyline, for me, became just like an episode of Downton, in which little happens from one week – or, in this case, page – to the next.  I found that huge chunks of it could probably be missed out without any adverse effects.

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Sunday Poem: ‘When’ by Sharon Olds

“I wonder now only when it will happen,

when the young mother will hear the

noise like somebody’s pressure cooker
down the block, going off.  She’ll go out on the yard,
holding her small daughter in her arms,
and there, above the end of the street, in the
air above the line of the tress,
she will see it rising, lifting up
over the horizon, the upper rim of the
gold ball, large as a giant
planet starting to lift up over ours.
She will stand there in the yard holding her
daughter,
looking at it rise and grow and blossom and rise,
and the child will open her arms to it,

it will look so beautiful.”

                                                                             Sharon Olds

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Saturday Poem: ‘I Could Not Tell’ by Sharon Olds

I could not tell I had jumped off that bus,
that bus in motion, with my child in my arms,
because I did not know it. I believed my own story:
I had fallen, or the bus had started up
when I had one foot in the air.

I would not remember the tightening of my jaw,
the irk that I’d missed my stop, the step out
into the air, the clear child
gazing about her in the air as I plunged
to one knee on the street, scraped it, twisted it,
the bus skidding to a stop, the driver
jumping out, my daughter laughing
Do it again.

I have never done it
again, I have been very careful.
I have kept an eye on that nice young mother
who lightly leapt
off the moving vehicle
onto the stopped street, her life
in her hands, her life’s life in her hands.

Sharon Olds