[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, April 2015.]
Reading a book is never a neutral, objective experience. We can send our eyeballs through the first page to the last page in one stage of our lives then do this with the same book when we are older and it will feel like a different piece of writing entirely. The words of the text have not changed of course but most probably we have changed, even without knowing it, and the readers takes new lessons from a book that is reread.
I had previously dragged myself through Sue Townsend´s "The Queen and I" and had been underwhelmed by it. I wasn’t looking forward to reading this fictionalised account of a woman staying in bed for an extended period of time and after starting it had decided that for the first time ever in my four years of work with the ECClub I would not read all of the book. Oddly, once I had made this decision I found that the story was nowhere near as irritating as I thought it was. Freed of the compulsion to read something I didn’t like, I discovered that I actually even enjoyed parts of it, though I would still never voluntarily choose to read anything written by this author.
So, I have now done exactly what many of the club members do in meetings – I have talked about my relationship with the book before I say anything else. And this, in itself, is a great insight into how many people in this part of the world (and probably other countries) seemingly approach almost everything: as first and foremost an interaction that has something like a social context to it. A book is a physical object that we put our energy directly into, just as we do with a friend or family member, and we can even get the sense of having a conversation with it, or have an emotional reaction to it such as disappointment or joy. The best books are those where the reader gains a new awareness of some element of our species or where we intimately get to know someone for the first time.
I said earlier in this article that I felt liberated when I didn’t feel that I had to read this book. In a similar way Eva, the main character in the story in question, was also psychologically freed up by her decision, in this case to take to her marital bed and stay there. Eva’s (at times sinister) twins are going away to start university and the great, horrific ritual of another British Christmas is soon to arrive. She decides that after all these years her household responsibilities will be a thing of the past. She is simply not going to do it anymore. The narrative follows not only what she does and does not do, think and feel while she stays in bed but also in an indirect way suggests why she might have done so by showing us the objectionable features of her extended family including her cold-hearted and carping mother, her totally unlikeable husband and her nasty mother-in-law.
There are some comedic moments in the book too but they are for someone else’s sense of humour.