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Posts Tagged ‘Let the Great World Spin’

“The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.

She lies on the bed beside Claire, above the sheets. The faint tang of the old woman’s breath on the air. The clock. The fan. The breeze.

The world spinning.”

These are the final words of Colum McCann’s fantastic novel, Let the Great World Spin, whose title comes from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, Locksley Hall.

This made me turn to a Folio collection of Tennyson’s poetry I have been keeping on my bedside table since listening to a recent In Our Time podcast on In Memoriam, the poet’s famous elegy to his great friend Arthur Hallam, who died in 1833.

In my book Ruth Padel explains that Tennyson wrote “Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change” after taking the first train from Liverpool to Manchester in 1830: “ I thought that the wheels ran in a groove. It was a black night and there was such a vast crowd round the train at the station that we could not see the wheels. Then I made this line.”

My favourite passage from Locksley Hall is:

Love took up the glass of Time, and turned it in his glowing hands;

Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.

Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might;

Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling passed in music out of sight.

Many a morning on the moorland did we hear the copses ring,

And her whisper thronged my pulses with the fulness of the Spring.

Many an evening by the waters did we watch the stately ships,

And our spirits rushed together at the touching of the lips.

However this love proved to be “falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung”:

As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with clown,

And the grossness of his nature, will have weight to drag you down.

He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,

Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.

Ouch !

Tennyson fared better in love in 1850 when he married Emily Selwood, whom he had first met 20 years before, and he published In Memorium that year. Padel writes: “The marriage lit up the inner darkness sealed when Hallam died, allowing Tennyson to let go of that grief, or at least go public about it. Now the pain was alchemised into an order bearable to him and shareable with others.”

Section L is my favourite example of the emotion that Tennyson shares so beautifully :

Be near me when my light is low,

When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick

And tingle, and the heart is sick,

And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame

Is racked with pangs that conquer trust;

And Time, a maniac scattering dust,

And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,

And men the flies of latter spring,

That lay their eggs, and sting and sing

And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,

To point the term of human strife,

And on the low dark verge of life

The twilight of eternal day.

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Around the watchers, the city still made its everyday noises. Car horns. Garbage trucks. Ferry whistles. The thrum of the subway. The M22 bus pulled in against the sidewalk, braked, sighed down into a pothole. A flying chocolate wrapper touched against a fire hydrant. Taxi doors slammed. Bits of trash sparred in the darkest reaches of the alleyways. Sneakers found their sweet spots. The leather of briefcases rubbed against trouser legs. A few umbrella tips clinked against the pavement. Revolving doors pushed quarters of conversation out into the street.

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann

Out of all the books I have read that are set in New York, Colum McCann has done the best job in capturing the everyday energy of the city.

The passage above truly describes the constant noise that accompanies that energy, so it was very eerie when the city fell silent while waiting for Hurricane Irene. Unlike Vermont and the Catskills, Manhattan was lucky enough to escape without serious damage and the precautions, some of which are seen in these photos, proved unnecessary.

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The Atlantic’s In Focus has a selection of more professional images from Hurricane Irene and its aftermath.

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I am off to see my family in Spain and England so thought I would use the time to catch up on some prize-winning  reading:

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Pulitzer Prize)

I have read this already but loved it so much that I am already looking forward to reading it again.

“If you haven’t already read Goon Squad, which the committee aptly described as an “inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed,” get on it.” (New York Magazine)

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (Orange Prize)

Bettany Hughes, Chair of Judges, said: “By skilfully spinning a series of magical tales she has managed to bring the tragedy of chronic Balkan conflict thumping into our front rooms with a bittersweet vivacity. The book reminds us how easily we can slip into barbarity, but also of the breadth and depth of human love. Obreht celebrates storytelling and she helps us to remember that it is the stories that we tell about ourselves, and about others, that can make us who we are and the world what it is.”

  Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (IMPAC Dublin Literary Award)

The novel explores the intertwining lives of a radical Irish monk in the Bronx, an Upper East Side bereaved housewife, a proud young woman suffering years of hardship, a drug-addled young artist and a prostitute and her daughter.

“The judges described the book as “a genuinely 21st century novel that speaks to its time but is not enslaved by it. Its beguiling nature leaves the reader with as much uncertainty as we feel throughout our lives, but therein lies the power of fiction and of this book in particular.” (BBC)

The Long Song  by Andrea Levy (Walter Scott prize)

“The Walter Scott prize is sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, whose ancestors were closely linked to Scott, and uses Scott’s famous novel Waverley to pin down what constitutes historical fiction: events must have taken place at least 60 years before publication, making them outside the author’s own “mature personal experience”. Last year’s inaugural award was won by Hilary Mantel, for her story of the life of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall.” (The Guardian)

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