Books like Novel on Yellow Paper (Revived Modern Classic)

Novel on Yellow Paper (Revived Modern Classic)

1994, Stevie Smith


Sometimes it's not what a book is about that keeps me reading, but how it's written. The trouble is, it's much harder to talk about how a book is written than to simply tell what it's about. About, about. There are a lot of 'abouts' in the beginning of this review, aren't there? But 'about' is a word we associate with stories since forever. What's it about, what's it about, we always want to know. And don't you, chaps, don't you keep reading reviews here on goodreads just to find out what such-and-such books are about? But what a story seems to be about is sometimes not the same as what it really tells, and then the way it is told becomes the key to what it's really about. 'Really'. That's another word that is striking out for glory in this here piece of screen typing. Does it deserve to be repeated, chaps? Are you wondering if Stevie Smith uses the word 'really' much? She really muchly does, is the light and frothy answer. The word 'really', odd as it might seem given the underlying seriousness of its meaning, helps, along with some other idiosyncratic style tics, to make her writing sound the opposite of serious-o. 'Sound'. So why do I say 'sound', chappies? Well, I used the word 'sound' just now, or just then — since a few moments have passed since I used it, because I'd used the word 'underlying' just before. Now 'underlying', that's a really serious-sounding word, don't you think? There's rarely anything light or frothy involved when it comes to the word 'underlying'. Still, in spite of that last sentence, the light and frothy waves that ride on the top of the ocean rolled into my mind just now, and I am thinking as I type, how they manage to hide tons of 'underlying' stuff, great huge depths of fear, and much much foreboding. And, yes, that fierce and grimmig death lies under those light and frothsome waves. O, how much we bode, fore and aft, on that chappy, Death-o.Mais oui, mais oui, there are indeed a lot of thoughts on dying in this autobiographical novel. For yes, what we've got here, chappies, is a kind of memoir story in which poet Stevie Smith, or Pompey Casmilus, as she likes to call herself, rattles back and forth over the first thirty years of her life, ostensibly while working in an office in London in 1936, an office where there is a lot of spare yellow paper just waiting to be scribbled on. And you could miss the ever so grimmig death theme quite easily because of all the fun and frothy yarns that Pompey spills onto her bright and yellow pages whenever the Boss is napping. It's quite a feat, really, her ability to be funny while experiencing deep anguish. O yes, chappies, there's no doubt about the existential anguish that underlyies everything here. But Pompey, she just rattles on, endlessly churning fear into frothy fun.And here's a fun coincidence, as often happens in my reading life. I read this office-typed novel right after I'd been reading the work of another anguished woman poet, also living in London, and also working in an office as a typist. Yes, Elizabeth Smart, she of By Grand Central Station fame, describes this self-same fun-fear see-saw ride, which she associates, interestingly, with Samuel Beckett: How can Beckett be so witty in his agony? Now I know. Once you start speaking, of course, the agony lessens –memory of it is near, but relief makes laughter. Already tragedy turns to comedy, a better form.I felt that Pompey, chatting away to us reader chappies on those reams of yellow paper, got a good measure of relief out of her monologue. …………………………………………………………Have I told you enough about how this book is written for you to understand what it's about, chappies? Can I add anything at all? Perhaps if I said that Pompey's novel is the longer and funnier version of the poem Stevie is most famous for, 'Not Waving But Drowning', it might help...Nobody heard him, the dead man,But still he lay moaning:I was much farther out than you thoughtAnd not waving but drowning.Poor chap, he always loved larkingAnd now he's deadIt must have been too cold for him his heart gave way, They said. Oh, no no no, it was too cold always(Still the dead one lay moaning)I was much too far out all my lifeAnd not waving but drowning.

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