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© Carol Lefevre 2008


Summer Reading



After the terrible heat wave at the turn of the year, which kept most of us indoors and not too far from the cool waft of a fan, summer has settled into a stream of long, warm, lazy days. Neither too hot nor too cold, our mornings and evenings are, like baby bear's porridge, just right.

First thing, while the coffee brews, we fling open windows and doors to let in the fresh salt air. Everything in the garden looks its best then, and even the drought-yellowed lawns seem a little less afflicted in the softer light. Sometimes there is cloud, although it rarely rains. By the middle of the day, the bed of blue salvia in the courtyard has begun to wilt, and its spikes of flowers that glow like neon wands at dawn and dusk have dulled to washed-out lavender. The black eyes of the echinacea flowers patiently follow the sun, their big rough leaves like shoulders ever-so-slightly lowered, until it is time for me to fill the watering can and damp down their roots.

Only the passionfruit vine 'Nelly Kelly' seems to revel in the heat. This is its third summer and, were it not for nocturnal visits by possums that shin down a nearby tree and bounce noisily across the tin roof to gobble the glossy leaves, it would have covered the back of the house by now. As it is, the possums have left us some fruit, and I have been keeping a close eye on the smooth green globes, waiting for the first dimples to appear along with the flush of colour that means they are edible.

This morning I picked the first of the crop, a mere handful, but the rest will ripen in a rush and we will be wondering what to do with them all once we have squeezed some over fruit salad, and covered a banana cake with a thick layer of passionfruit-flavoured icing. As children we ate them straight from the vine, biting into their leathery purple skins to make a tiny hole then sucking out the contents, much as the possums do. It is that time of year when reading takes precedence over writing, and I have discovered the joy of iced tea while lolling in the shade with a pile of books. Since returning from Ireland in September, my reading has been limited to books by Irish writers, so over Christmas I was glued to Benjamin Black's The Silver Swan. This is John Banville in crime mode and the prose is enviably elegant, as is only to be expected, with the added bonus of being taken to 1950s Dublin from the very first page.

After Banville, I finished Homesick at the New Yorker, a biography of the little known Irish writer Maeve Brennan, and immediately plunged into re-reading Brennan's The Springs of Affection. As with Alice Munro, Maeve Brennan was able to pack the complex world of a novel into a long short story, and her skill was at its peak when she wrote the connected stories about Rose and Hubert Durdan which make up most of this collection. As imperceptible and yet inexorable as the slide of a glacier, the Durdan's marriage inches from its tentative but hopeful beginning in a corner shop in Wexford, towards complete disintegration, decades later, in a house in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh. This was a house that Maeve Brennan returned to again and again in her fiction – a house she knew from childhood.

Reading Brennan's fiction is, for a writer, a lesson in how – page by page –nothing at all happens, and yet by the end, everything is different. It is writing that appears to move at the pace of life itself, yet the medium of the short story artlessly compacts it for readers. Admittedly, Maeve Brennan's material is emotionally exhausting, but I am in awe of her talent, and remain one of her greatest fans.

Right at the moment I am halfway through William Trevor's Felicia's Story, a narrative so tense and dark it can be hard to turn the page for fear of what is coming next. Trevor is another great favourite, a writer of understated power who creates stories that flow as inevitably as rivers towards the sea, all the while delivering a huge emotional punch.

This period of rest, reading and recreation, is all the more delicious since it will soon be time to pick up the pen, a red one, as I enter the editing phase of the new novel, If You Were Mine. Editing is a task to relish, because unlike the slow and lonely process of writing the novel, one can refine and polish it in the company of a skilled and committed editor. And once it has become a thing that gleams, there lies in wait the many and lengthy deliberations and conversations over commas and semi-colons: I can hardly wait.

If You Were Mine is to be published in Australia by Vintage in September 2008.
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