Spring Reads, Part I: Violets and Rain

We had both rain and spring sunshine on a recent overnight trip to Bridport, Dorset – a return visit after enjoying it so much in 2019. Several elements were repeated: Dorset Nectar cider farm, dinner at Dorshi, and a bookshop and charity shop crawl of the main streets. While we didn’t revisit Thomas Hardy sites, I spent plenty of time at Max Gate by reading Elizabeth Lowry’s The Chosen. Beach walks plus one in the New Forest on the way back were splendid. This was my haul from Bridport Old Books. Stocking up on novellas and poetry, plus a novel by a Canadian author I’ve enjoyed work from before.

Now for a quick look at two tangentially spring-related books I’ve read recently: a short novel about two women’s wartime experiences of motherhood and an elegiac and allusive poetry collection.

 

Violets by Alex Hyde (2022)

I was intrigued by the sound of this debut novel, which juxtaposes the lives of two young British women named Violet at the close of the Second World War. One miscarries twins and, told she’ll not be able to bear children, has to rethink her whole future; another sails from Wales to Italy on ATS war service, hiding the fact that she’s pregnant by a departed foreign soldier. Hyde’s spare style – no speech marks; short paragraphs or solitary lines separated by spaces – alternates between their stories in brief numbered chapters, bringing them together in a perhaps predictable way that also forms a reimagining of her father’s life story. The narration at times addresses this future character in poems that I think are supposed to be fond and prophetic but I instead found strangely blunt and even taunting (as in the excerpt below). There’s inadequate time to get to know, or care about, either Violet.

Can you feel it, Pram Boy?

Can you march in time?

A change, a hardening,

the jarring of the solid ground as she treads,

gets her pockets picked.

[…]

Quick! March!

 

And your Mama, Pram Boy,

yeasty in her private parts.


Granta sent a free copy. Violets came out in paperback in February.

 

Rain by Don Paterson (Faber, 2009)

I’d previously read Paterson’s 40 Sonnets, in 2015. This collection is in memoriam of the late poet Michael Donaghy, the subject of the late multi-part “Phantom.” There are a couple of poems in Scots and a sequence of seven nature-infused ones designated as being “after” poets from Li Po to Robert Desnos. Several appear to express concern for a son. There’s a haiku-like rhythm to the short stanzas of “Renku: My Last Thirty-Five Deaths.” I didn’t understand why “Unfold i.m. Akira Yoshizawa” was a blank page until I looked him up and learned that he was a famous origamist. The title poem closes the collection:

I love all films that start with rain:

rain, braiding a windowpane

or darkening a hung-out dress

or streaming down her upturned face;

 

one big thundering downpour

right through the empty script and score

before the act, before the blame,

before the lens pulls through the frame

 

to where the woman sits alone

beside a silent telephone

I liked individual passages or images but didn’t find much of a connecting theme behind Paterson’s disparate interests. (University library)

 

Another favourite passage:

So I collect the dull things of the day

in which I see some possibility

[…]

I look at them and look at them until

one thing makes a mirror in my eyes

then I paint it with the tear to make it bright.

This is why I sit up through the night.

(from “Why Do You Stay Up So Late?”)

 

And a DNF:

Corpse Beneath the Crocus by N.N. Nelson – I loved the title and the cover, and a widow’s bereavement memoir in poems seemed right up my street. I wish I’d realized Atmosphere is a vanity press, which would explain why these are among the worst poems I’ve read: cliché-riddled and full of obvious sentiments and metaphors as she explores specific moments but mostly overall emotions. Three excerpts:

All things die

In the flowering cycle

Of growth and life

 

Time passes

Like sand in an hourglass

 

Feelings are changeful

Like the tide

Ebbing and flowing

“Love Letter,” a prose piece, held the most promise, which suggests Nelson would have been better off attempting memoir. I slogged (hate-read, really) my way through to the halfway point but could bear it no longer. (NetGalley)

 

I have a few more spring-themed books on the go: Hoping for a better set next time!

Any spring reads on your plate?

12 responses

  1. I’m quite a fan of Paterson I must say. Hope you had a lovely Easter!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I preferred his sonnets.

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  2. Phew, what a relief! No TBRs here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is that at least!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Violets was rather poetic when I read it but has faded almost entirely from memory over the past year or so—I think you’re right that we just don’t get enough space or depth about either woman to really care about them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was surprised that it was one of Simon Savidge’s top reads of the year.

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      1. No accounting for taste, innit!

        Like

  4. Ouch, Violets does not sound good. Will avoid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d hoped for something like Bernardine Evaristo does with her hybrid poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember really enjoying The Mezzanine when I had my Baker phase oh god two and a half decades ago? (influenced by a boyfriend). Not sure of any of the books you review, and I have just read a completely summer-summer-summer novel about a summer set in the summer so have failed on the spring thing notably!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a couple of other Baker novels in an omnibus edition. It was naughty to buy another when I’ve not read him at all yet, but oh well!

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  6. […] my second instalment of spring-themed reading (see Part I here), I have books about those very birds, one a nonfiction study of a species that is a welcome sign […]

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