For reading under the apple tree there are some books which engage the mind easily without being a grievous injury; I mean books which pause the ‘borne back’ and permit us to remain suspended like pond skimmers on imaginations surface tension. There is a time for flummery. I have just read we have always lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson:
"He used the most sugar," Mrs. Wright said.
"Alas," Uncle Julian said. "Then, on either side of my brother, his daughter Constance and my wife Dorothy, who had done me the honor of casting in her lot with mine, although I do not think that she anticipated anything so severe as arsenic on her blackberries. Another child, my niece Mary Katherine, was not at table."
"She was in her room," Mrs. Wright said.
"A great child of twelve, sent to bed without her supper. But she need not concern us."
The sugar is passed frequently in this macabre comedy. Uncle Julian is the family historian and the shambling relic of an event that he can’t get quite straight. Mary Katherine ought to concern us. Constance we are inclined to suspect may be an agent of deadly nurturence. Are we correct?
Zuleika Dobson by Sir Max Beerbohm is pure fun. She is visiting her grandfather in Oxford and her unpacking is :
All the colours of the rainbow, materialised by modistes, were there. Stacked on chairs were I know not what of sachets, glove-cases, fan-cases. There were innumerable packages in silver-paper and pink ribands. There was a pyramid of bandboxes. There was a virgin forest of boot-trees. And rustling quickly hither and thither, in and out of this profusion, with armfuls of finery, was an obviously French maid. Alert, unerring, like a swallow she dipped and darted. Nothing escaped her, and she never rested. She had the air of the born unpacker—swift and firm, yet withal tender. Scarce had her arms been laden but their loads were lying lightly between shelves or tightly in drawers. To calculate, catch, distribute, seemed in her but a single process. She was one of those who are born to make chaos cosmic.
The Incomparable Max is incapable of cliche without at the same time straining after novelty of expression. That happens.
Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer is a English comedy of resolute indecision which I have begun (again and again). Beyond changes of venue nothing much will happen in a trance like way. He will notice things and then recant and then grudgingly accept. This is dangerous fiction for those dogged by velleity. I wish I could make up my mind whether this persona is a gimmick that allows Dyer to plunge his sink and carry on.
Because life is serious I continue to read The Road to Wigan Pier (unabridged, uncorrected) and enjoy bloody Orwell laying about him. Decent sort of chap: play up, play up and lay the blame.