The Tricks Of Memory

Colm Toibin explains, as nearly as any author can, how he wrote his novel, Nora Webster, a book I want to read. Interesting to me, in part, because I just solved a major problem in my own novel a couple of nights ago; and interesting also because Toibin’s essay sheds light on all the work we have to do, physically and mentally, in order to write, whether it’s reading, thinking, or writing on what we think is a completely different subject.  I smiled wryly at his comment that some of his night thoughts wouldn’t stand up to the cold light of day, and I was moved and saddened by this passage:

“I found something also in the last section of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks that interested me – the use of music as a way to inhabit loss, or to allow loss to have its full weight. I remembered my mother, who had very little money, getting a stereo and gradually buying classical LPs. There was one record that she played over and over – a recording of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio with Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim and Pinchas Zukerman.”

There’s something in “my mother, who had very little money, getting a stereo”–something of yearning for a life we want but can’t live, and something of sacrifice, too.  But maybe, in that statement, there’s something of being able to live a little bit of the life we want amidst our poverty, too.  And, perhaps, since her son remembers and uses those LPs, just a little bit of love in what Toibin’s mother did, as well.  Most of the time, we make our memories, but our early ones are gifted to us.


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