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This often happens to me...


It's rare I return to a novel until years later. I do have some firm favourites I return to quite regularly but it's the one's from fifty years ago that pose the problem. My rereading rarely matches the recollected memory and too often I find myself disappointed. I remember Hermann Hesse's 'The Glass Bead Game' as an influential read back at the beginning of the Seventies. On a recent revisit I wondered why? I found it ponderous and a labour to read without becoming overly critical. What had I seen in it at the time? Whatever it was I was no longer seeing it nearing a half century later. This was why coming across Muriel Sparks poem 'Authors Ghosts' made me smile. It also brought this quote to mind:

William Gibson hit the proverbial nail confirming Sparks's humorous yet accurate observation. Our memories do not serve us well no matter how good we believe we are in our remembrances. The occasional Proustian madeleine moment might fire the old neurons but time by and large is our worst enemy. What we treasured as literary gold begins to feel more like cheap gold plated alternative and maybe even more like cheap junk jewellery. What a shame life's experiences erase our youthful exuberances and the original freshness felt then now leaves us flat and disappointed. Such novels I liken to the girl who I believed I was passionately in love with years ago, who I loved so passionately then but who ditched me back then. Seeing her again decades later brings sweet relief knowing I got off light as she did me a big favour.

On a more optimistic thought not all novels meet this fate. Re-engaging with some I discover insights previously overlooked, subtleties never noted on first readings. Perhaps it's these novels where the author's ghost did the original magic. Perhaps these are the books like the girl you married and who is still by your side.


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