Friday, February 19, 2010

The Night-Side

I like winter. I like cold. I like night. But this year the winter feels too hard and I am not sure why - it isn't the snow. Sometimes the winter feels like a long night, and the nights are already so long when one doesn't sleep properly. The longest night I ever had was when I was five and went to have my tonsils out. After the operation I was sick. The nurse was angry. My throat ached and we had to eat ice cream. There was a bitter medicine to take, it made one of the other children cry, but afterwards we were given glucose. When my father came for me I thought I had stayed for one night but he said I'd been there a week. No-one visited, you didn't visit children in hospital then, it was thought less upsetting for everyone. Anyway, I was used to being left with strange people. If I was there a week, it was always night. When you are ill a long time, it feels as though you are living in the night. Floyd Skloot wrote a book called The Night-Side - he got the title from Susan Sontag, who wrote "Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship." There are weeks, months, years, waiting for the day which never comes. Times when you behave as though it does come, you talk about the weather, what is coming into leaf and bud in the garden and forest, lemonade on the patio drinking in the blue sky and light. But soon you are tipped back into night and it is as though the day was a brief space in some parallel existence that occasionally opens for short, intense moments. In the night, you keep telling yourself that the day will come, and you wait for that because if you told yourself that this is how it will be for ever you would lose hope. And you can't do that.

I am reading The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson. I will echo Ursula le Guin's review: it is the most beautiful and satisfying novel I have read for a very long time. The words come into me and find no resistance. I have need of this language.


Mim said...

Beautifully sad and hopeful: you play both chords with sensitive hands.

Zhoen said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks to you i am now reading The Summer Book and have The True Deceiver waiting on my bedside. I previously read The Winter Book and really enjoyed it, and when i read the review you linked to here it spurred me into buying more Tove Jansson books. I love her simplicity. I love how a whole story can be about a little walk and what was seen (moss, rocks, water) and a quirky thought/conversation. Good accessible reading for someone with ME! It calms me into sleep and dreaming.

Reading the Signs said...

Thanks for this Ashy - I read the book for my book group and was thinking I would like to read more of her work, wondering which book to choose. I think I will get both the Winter and the Summer books.

It's true, there is something about her use of language (and praise must also be due to the translator) that makes the prose accessible to the ME-afflicted brain. Sometimes I feel as though I suffer from a kind of dyslexia that comes and puts a barrier between me and what I want to read, even if the writing is good. Simple, strong, poetic language seems to be best.