Monday, June 08, 2015

Heaven in a Wild Flower

I seem to be exiled in Sussex at the moment, but I can think of worse places to be. Like the main character in the Stanley Middleton novel I've just read, I'm finding pleasure in small things: a hedgerow in blossom, a hatched bird's egg, a flint wall covered in lichen, a Victorian letter box, a fish-shaped weather vane...

I hadn't read Stanley Middleton before. I first knew him as the author whose name I didn't recognise on a list of Booker Prize winners (he shared the prize with Nadine Gordimer in 1973). His novels were usually conspicuous by their absence from bookshop shelves.

Middleton's 'Necessary Ends' is a novel about an old man by an old man and deals with death, regret and loneliness in a way that is never mawkish or sentimental, eschewing melodrama in favour of an almost forensic realism.

A hostile critic might complain that the end result of this realism is a novel in which nothing happens. That would be unfair. In one scene a pub lunch is arranged, in another chocolate biscuits are served on a small plate. There is even an episode that involves the misuse of a front lawn.

But I'm being flippant about what is actually an exquisite, beautifully observed novel, written with great warmth and humanity. And once you realise that the author isn't going to resort to any of the predictable plot devices for a novel about an octogenarian - the heart attack, the violent burglary, the estranged child - you're left with a story in which even the most trivial events are loaded with significance.

In its quiet, understated way, 'Necessary Ends' has the same dramatic and redemptive qualities as any novel I could mention, but they are more subtle and nebulous. A pub lunch that might seem mundane to most of us becomes a transfigurative event and is quietly uplifting, suggesting that we can be surprised by joy at any age.

Which brings me back to the theme of finding pleasure in the familiar, or as Blake put it, heaven in a wild flower. Here are a few photos from the last week:


 

But for me, the best picture is the one below: my older son, running along the local beach for the first time in two years, laughing and playing with his brother. Thanks to a number of people, things are at last changing for the better.

15 comments:

Annabel said...

Lovely to see your sons enjoying themselves. I hope it continues to go well.

Love the egg picture too - its composition with the different types of greenery surrounding it reminds me of the illustrations in the ladybird 'What to look for in spring' book! Glad Stanley Middleton was worth reading - I recently found a copy of his Booker winner in a charity shop.

Catherine said...

Sounds a lot more pleasant than driving all over the country on a sometimes fruitless quest for books.

Love the picture of the Victorian post box.

Hope you continue to have a peaceful summer.

Steerforth said...

Annabel - I must read the Booker-winning novel. 'Necessary Ends' was intriguing because on one level, it was one of the most mundane stories I've ever read, but on another it was also one of the most touching. Middleton must have been a good writer to pull it off.

Catherine - Yes, the novelty of visiting industrial estates has worn off, so I'm quite happy to have a little more free time than usual. I hope you have a lovely summer too.

Roger Allen said...

Stanley Middleton was also a poet. A selection is being published soon and an interesting article on his poetry and novels appeared in PNR 222 earlier this year.

Val said...

Brilliant photographs....especially the last one .

Radio plays not forgotten we're off out and about camping..we hide out in the countryside in the Summer :o)
I'll try and contact you end July/start August if that is Ok ?

joan.kyler said...

All the photos are lovely. The photo of your sons made my heart sing. It's so full of beauty and contagious joy.

Steerforth said...

Roger - It doesn't surprise me that he was also a poet. There is a perfection in his use of language that transforms even the most banal scenes.

Val - Many thanks. I hope you have a good camping trip and take lots of photos of the stunning landscape.

Joan - I'm glad the joy comes through. I think my son's surprised by his own capacity to feel happy again. We're still walking on eggshells, but at least we now have hope.

Rog said...

Lovely monochrome clouds!

Erika said...

The last photo says what words cannot. BUGE steps forward - may they continue, however unevenly. Really very happy for your family.

Steerforth said...

Rog - I discovered a new button on my camera that acts like a red filter to make the clouds more prominent.

Erika - Thanks. I had a bit of a struggle this morning getting him into school, so I had to use the 'tough love' approach. He'd had such a good day yesterday I made the mistake of think today would be a breeze. It's definitely a work in progress.

Lucille said...

That is terrifically good news. I hope the upward trajectory is not set back too often or for too long. I would be very interested to know more of the help that is working but appreciate your need for privacy.

Steerforth said...

Lucille - Email me at steerforth@live.co.uk and I'll happily explain.

Tom Ford said...

Wonderful post, wonderful pictures. To paraphrase Bette Davis, there are no small things in life, just small people.

Steerforth said...

That's a great quote Tom. I shall make sure I remember it.

zmkc said...

Wonderful last photograph. So great to hear that at last you are all getting some useful help