This is one thing I did this week, and where it took me.

I celebrated. It was a modest event, no popping corks, or bubbles.

There was, however, a jubilant, ‘Yes’, as I completed that task I signed up to with Cleo, on Classical Carousel, four months ago. You know, the marathon that seemed hardly possible. Surely you remember my mentioning that I intended reading Ann Radcliffe’s, The Mysteries of Udolpho? Well, I’ve finished. And I’m three weeks ahead of the reading schedule.

You’d be right in thinking that last statement is a surprise development. Just like Emily, I could never be quite sure that things would work out for the best. Well, I turned an unexpected corner.

It happened this way. I’d been avoiding even looking at the hefty tome for several days. It had been hot, I was lethargic, and the story seemed to be lagging. I had a list of jobs needing attention. It was a classic set-up for displacement activity-itous.

I started with taking on boring, mundane chores, that no one but me would notice. I became focused on crossing jobs off.

Days passed. I wrote course proposals, bringing fresh papers and books to the corner of the table that has become a temporary office.

Udolpho and my original list got buried, along with the top of the table. I found some new lines of research and began a fresh list. When that one disappeared, I started another. At some later point the table began to groan under the stacks of ideas.

One morning I walked into the kitchen and found an old envelope on my laptop. Written on the back of it, in large black letters were the words, ‘tidy notes.’ It was the reminder of a dream that I had woken from in the middle of the night. There had been an Alice-in-Wonderland like moment when page after page of a story had rained down upon me, and I had seen, clearly, some perfectly formed and irresistible narrative.

Tenniel’s ‘Alice’

Unfortunately, the form and shape of it had evaporated with the sunrise, as they usually do, even after making notes. But, looking at our mountainous table, I saw some other sense in those two terse words.

Dismantling a paper heap of that size is no simple matter. Things must be re-read, decisions need to be taken on what to save, where to tidy them to, and whether they’re safe to discard. I found several books I’d forgotten about before I resurrected Ann Radcliffe.

I did not pull back in horror, tattered as the cover is, though I may have sighed, a little, as I recalled that neglected schedule. Surely, I thought, I was so far behind by now it would need a marathon to catch up.

Could I have missed the finish date all together? I hunted around for the reading schedule, and perhaps I was half hoping that I might be able to add it to my must-finish-that-one-one-of-these-days shelf. I could not. I put the book back on the emptied table.

So imagine my surprise, later that morning, when I took it up to re-establish my ten-minutes-a-day reading policy, and a moment later realised that I had been reading for over an hour. More astounding still, I was reluctant to leave Emily and make lunch.

I don’t think it was just that I realised the end was in sight, and the pages I’d read far out-weighed those ahead of me. It was that at some point, about half-way through Volume Three, the story took me over.

Perhaps, I was better adjusted to the mindsets of the characters, and the author. It seemed to me that they had all become brighter, and more active. Strands of plot were coming together in interesting and unexpected ways. New characters appeared, and took me to fresh scenes.

There were some things about the plotting that seemed a little conveniently coincidental, but I was enjoying the journey. It seems that, when the writing works, we readers can accept it.

Maybe, the old saying about ‘truth being stranger than fiction’, could be said to apply when the writing doesn’t persuade us to suspend our sense of disbelief. Could it be that because most of us do experience odd coincidences, we’ll accept fictional truths so long as the characters and their world are believable?

29 thoughts on “This is one thing I did this week, and where it took me.

  1. Well done! You definitely deserved that jubilant ‘yes’! How nice that the story won you over in the end – an added bonus alongside the satisfaction of having finished the book, completed the challenge AND ahead of schedule! If you’d like to come and clear my table of a massive paper pile, you’d be very welcome. But wait … social distancing and all that …. I know you would have leapt at the chance otherwise! šŸ˜‰

    Liked by 3 people

    • If it weren’t for social distancing, of course I could tackle your table. Though I should warn you that when I clear up after Ray I invariably get complaints about where I’ve chosen to put things, and what I’ve decided to throw away.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Shey, glad you enjoyed this.

      And, thank goodness I haven’t relied on Stillmore for my celebration – a big bar of chocolate. No doubt he’d be disgusted with my option, and I doubt it’s any healthier.

      Like

  2. classic set-up for displacement activity-itous. hehaha!
    I’m glad that you enjoyed, and dare I say, got swept away by the book.
    I agree, if fiction – and even fantasy – is done in a way you think is common sense, then yes, it’s easy to put disbelief aside and enjoy what’s being told.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Isn’t it interesting how a book that we aren’t connecting with suddenly connects? Sometimes, I think a reader and a book have to meet at the right moment for reading-magic to happen. I know there are books in my life that I met at just the time, and they had such an impact that I remember them 40+ years later. A fascinating post, Cath. šŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like the idea of being disciplined, Neil. Not sure whether my nearest and dearest might swop that label for stubborn…
      I don’t think I’ve read Crooked House. Hope it’s good. Agatha C is usually a safe bet. Thanks for dropping by. Hope you also have a good week.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed, Rosaliene, for me, the test so often is whether I’ve connected with the characters, especially when I get to make discoveries about other cultures. And Ann Radcliffe certainly did give me a sense of having stepped back to another space – in time and geographically.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice, Cath. I could use a little Marie Kondo-ing around here, but I, too, suffer from displacement activity-itous as well and I’ve been trying for what seems like 5-ever to finish the novel I have been working on so the clutter is growing by degrees. By some ambition, or maybe it’s just my dogged tenacity and never say die attitude — from where that comes I really have no clue — I am within the 15% range of completion. Perhaps I will be swept away by my own characters, much as you were by yours, and pull those last plot points together, for up until now, a satisfying wrap-up to the novel’s events that doesn’t feel cliched or tiring has eluded me. It doesn’t help that I can only work on it weekends because of work and other volunteer commitments. Still, we press on, eh?
    Have a great day!

    Like

  5. Congratulations Cath and thank you for writing this piece, it is inspiring, I too will try to tidy up my table. šŸ™‚
    Special thanks for sharing your dream with us, Alice in the Wonderland is one of my favourite novels, how lovely that you saw such a dream.
    Yay!

    Like

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