note_21 Gillian Darley’s Essex; meanderings (in lieu)…

IMG_4146cropEXCELLENT ESSEX In praise of England’s most misunderstood county by Gillian Darley Old Street Publishing, London. 17 Sept 2019

Gillian Darley caught my attention some years ago with her positivity towards that “most overlooked and undersold of counties”; Essex, which she presented without the usual preface of undermining caveats. “Surprisingly, Essex is rather self-effacing”, Darley wrote, its “delight based on anomaly and paradox.” The part of Essex I have come to know intimately; the River Roding, its valley and catchment, which runs through the north west flanks of an exceptionally rich cultural landscape into London’s most vital parts, exemplifies these qualities. Darley’s refreshing words appeared in her review of an updated Pevsner guide in the London Review of Books (2007) which was, it turns out, also the trigger for Excellent Essex itself.

Titles and terms; I’m as troubled by the ‘excellent’ here as I know you are. If it’s a reference to a phrase or shorthand then I don’t get it. In any case, how does Superb Sussex, Brilliant Berkshire or ‘You’re Beautiful’ Yorkshire sound? Then there is the more elemental problem of a book, any book, about a county. Do we still do that? It’s not that a comparative counties schtick would be better or any less old-fashioned; both belong to cultural realms last evidenced half a century ago. Indeed, Darley refers admiringly to the photography of Edwin Smith which appeared in Gerald Scarfe’s Shell Guide to Essex (1968), in the series edited by Johns Betjeman and Piper. All of which feels fustily antique.

In somewhat belaboured contrast, Darley draws her book to an end with A House for Essex, the architectural curio commissioned by Alan de Botton, produced by architectural new-wavers FAT and artist-mascot Grayson Perry, and located in Wrabness. Darley writes; “The more I think about Julie Cope (Perry’s ‘Essex-girl’ name for it) the more she emerges as a figurative Essex.” By this she means the knowing vulgarities and devil-may-careness of it as well as something more profound. Darley’s figured Essex “took a journey out of one Essex into another, towards a wider more generous world.” This is an Essex I recognise; “belonging yet not-belonging, absurd yet admirable … open to ideas and experiment, making it fertile ground for alternative ways of living and favouring the independent-minded”. Qualities of a place worthy of a book, in fact. Continue reading “note_21 Gillian Darley’s Essex; meanderings (in lieu)…”

note_20 On Lynne Tillman’s No Lease on Life, rearchive fever …

No Lease on Life/ Lynne Tillman by Guy Mannes-Abbott The Independent 30 April 1998

No Lease on Life/ Lynne Tillman/ Guy Mannes-Abbott The Independent 30 April 1998

While my fellow fruitiers were scattered between Ecuador and Sweden, I was able to visit archival regions unexplored for years. Principally I was in pursuit of a clean manuscript from a similar period as this which I want to restore to its original 78 subtle, molecular, daring fragments and, well, see. It got overrun by the immediate receptivity and success of my e.things to be straightforward about it, and though those grew out of much earlier actual experiments with all short forms, nevertheless I now see they were also directly enabled by the work on this novel manuscript for its tautness and the danger, to misquote a later e.thing, that it lived…

“Tillman is a writer of rare intelligence who knows that in writing a story, “the form of its telling will be part of its meaning”. She wants to challenge complacency, to “unconventionalise”, in the ultimate hope that we can “think beyond our limits”.

So. A short review like this needs to be read and disseminated otherwise it’s pointless. The Independent, may they bathe in saffron waters, were always a bit patchy with their online upping. I  didn’t notice for too long, and literally prompted by over generous correspondents for copies, started to pursue now and again. It was tricky for their tech-team to prioritise upping something months or years later, and this attempt failed while one or two others succeeded. Archivists, or writers who write through archives and keep an eye on what the archive is to a writer, keep them too! (I can’t tell you how flattered I’ve been by enquiries about my own archives, for this reason.) I only ever had a photocopy until I found this fondly nibbled single hard copy during the absence of my colleagues.

“Her new book asks the question of how we should articulate the experience of living in one of the world’s major cities at the end of the 20th century.”

Continue reading “note_20 On Lynne Tillman’s No Lease on Life, rearchive fever …”