I mentioned that E read This is all. He picked it up when I left it on the table, still not yet opened, because he’ll read anything he can reach. I warned him, from somewhere in my fifteen-year-old memory, that it was very much a Girls’ Book; Cordelia, and here relationship with Will, and the romance (and, something naggingly reminds me now, symbolic meaning) of the trees, and the loss of her virginity in the church. A book to her unborn child, first person narrative. Yes, a girls’ book.
He read it anyway.
E races through books. He read The Tempest in 24 hours, Joyce’s Portrait in a few days, Far from the Madding Crowd in a week. This book, this book which is all, is a brick. But I’d never seen him read that way before. It wasn’t just the speed – all 800 pages in three days – but the feverish way (a kind of desperation?) to gulp it all down, plot, language, syntax, symbolism, all in one. He said to me, that the book is so thick with all the things you so want to know that reading it in one go is the only way to make sure you snatch it all up. I disagree; I like to savour my food.
But the other thing I noticed was the way E would sometimes physically put the book down, and walk away from it. Once when we were by the pool he got up and jumped in halfway through a page. He said it was because it all piled up, “and you have to clear your head from it for a bit.” The plot (although I haven’t reached that far yet) gets progressively more harrowing, as relationships fall to pieces and awful things happen to Cordelia. But E said he also identified elements our relationship within the book, and made parallels between This is all and things I’ve written, and that the literary aspects were incredibly interesting. There’s so much in it, that I guess I wonder why his head didn’t explode from cramming everything in at once.
“Why is Brideshead our set text, and not this?” E asked. I agree: every Lit student should read This is all. It makes you want to be a Lit student.