I’ve got Pure, by Andrew Miller lined up to read next. I read his first novel, Ingenious Pain, about ten years ago. Here’s what I remember about that – it was a period novel about, I’m pretty sure, a man who couldn’t feel pain. And I enjoyed it. That’s it, that’s all I can tell you about that highly thought-of, prize-winning book. I might as well not have read it. The same goes for pretty much every novel I read these days, and every film I see for that matter, good or bad, they fade, they disappear like a photo left in the sunlight. So what’s the point? Is it just about the pleasure in the moment?
It would be good if reading a book was more like listening to music, more of a sensory experience. It’s easy to remember a loved piece of music, even easier to remember a gig. Listening to The Pretenders play Brass in Pocket at the Marquee, The Specials at the Lyceum, The Clash at Lewisham Odeon. I saw some good gigs. Hearing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto on a friend’s car cassette player as he drove me away from the hospital on a sunny day in 1982. I remember the sounds, sights, textures of those experiences, I associate layers of feelings with them.
But books? Films? Slipping away. Going, going, gone. Shards and tatters of memory, twisting and turning as they vanish, dwindling, out of reach. I used to review books. For the TLS, The Spectator, Kaleidoscope on Radio 4. Couldn’t tell you much about those same books now. In an ideal world, memory would be a resource, something you could turn to, file through, like your own personal Wikipedia. You consult a memory, examine it, and find it in some way helpful. Maybe I should work harder at it, make lists of books I’ve read, even a few notes about each one. Is that a bit weird though, a bit anal? It makes life sound like an exam for which you’re being continuously assessed. Our tastes may create us, but that doesn’t mean we have to remember every step along the way. Maybe it’s enough that a book retains a resonance, an emotional weight. Something lingers.
That title, Going, Going - it's from a Philip Larkin poem, right? One that's actually got nothing to do with memory. I haven't checked, but I'm pretty sure ...