Only a Lodger...
And Hardly That by Vesna Main published by Seagull Press is an evocative, beautiful book on the existence and how hard or sunny, or funny or simply wonderfully complicated, can be.
There are four stories and a poetic excursion.
I read this book in a few hours and absorbing it, is like a long digestion because of the thematic treated, the characters introduced to us, readers; it is an hypnotic book that you'll love a lot and that, first of all, will let you think; at the end you will want to hugh the protagonists of all these tales, because of their lack of fortunes, because of their misadventures, because of the confusion created by third people to them so that the existence was altered forever, creating maybe creative people; minds born because of an internal intense sufferance. You will also imagine these people in your existence and how they could have made the difference; revolutionaries, fearless characters, people of culture.
In the first tale, the longest one of the book, the protagonist is She; her mother was the center of the existence of this not yet four years old kid, when the story starts; a mother who loved to change the clothes of She three times per day; they hadn't to be necessarely dirty; a mother, this one, who loved to punish psychologically and physically her baby if she lacked; if She didn't remember a piece of poem, something crucial but important for her mother; a mother who, coldly, has never demostrated her any kind of love, just severity; a babysitter pretty sweet disappeared abruptly and She, didn't never understand the reason but she missed her tremendously; this toddler at six years went to a local school, not properly the one expected by her mother; there were children much different, and more than once they were unpleasants.
Love, love, love. She would have always wanted to be loved, but she could not to be loved, because, she didn't know how to love or better, what it meant the word love.
Once at the university when she understood that a very good student didn't pass an exam, she asked to a common friend if the husband of that girl had left her: her friend started to laugh asking her if for case she was joking because for sure they were not together because of university and the failure of an exam wouldn't never been so remarkably important in the couple.
She didn't understand, because in her case, love meant to do all her best at school: so a bad vote would have meant to be less loved by her parents and in particular, by her mother.
Growing she dreamt of going somewhere else, for re-start everything; she developed, maybe because of her mother's character, so hard, controvertial, the idea of cultivating some girlfriends like lovers. These women laughed at her, and she couldn't never establish a good relationship; two big love, two men will mark the existence of tribulated She. The decision to become a writer, because she needed to tale, to report. For sufferance, because it was a catartic way for making some peace with her past. Memories, tales of a remote past, and the present, with her memory fading away. It is one of the best short tales I have ever read. Intense, felt, written with heart, profoundity, analyzing, going deep, and putting in that words a sincerity and passion.
In another tale the character of Pavel Horvat. Pavel was a man of culture, someone intensely curios and a man who culturally bettered his existence for all his life.
He was a great teachers, admired by everyone but he didn't find interests for women. People started to think that maybe was homosexual. Simply, he had a family, abandoned that one and now he was fine in the solitude of the four walls of his house.
He was a man starved of learning. He thought that the existence was too short for spending it in a too silly way, so he read a lot, learnt many languages, spent time in many countries, was enchanted by the italian language, was suprised and addicted by every word in the world, meaning, smell, because Pavel thought that words smelled as well; he was in love with every language he learnt. Every year was a different discovery and vacations the best time of the year for learning more.
In the while Pavel every Christmas for thirty years sent anonymously at four people of his family four packages plenty of books, anonymously; do you know the secret of Pulcinella? Everyone knew who the sender was: his relatives knew that was Pavel/Viktor who sent these pacakges, but they didn't tell a lot about it if not to be absolutely grateful for the thought. Why Pavel did it? Absolutely, at first, for culturally enriching his dear ones. Why did he choose certain books? Maybe Pavel wanted to "drive" the readings of his relatives.
Yes, maybe there was the idea of "driving" the reading existence of their beloved ones, making them curious. One of them is sure of it; that packages had meant the discovery of great novels, a passion never abandoned anymore.
Great Pavel! Great idea!
The Fourth Character is the story of four photographs of beloved relatives of the author, analyzed with great disgressions; she starts with grand-father Francis and her; Francis in the pic was in his 60s just retired from a big newspaper and book publishing.
Francis more than anyone else instilled in the existence of her niece the love for knowledge and reading; better, she says that "It was with my grandfather Francis, and not with my parents, who were far too busy making a living, and far too cynical to think of changing the world, that I learnt to appreciate the life of the mind."
Then the author analyzes the facial expression of her grand-father. He doesn't appear happy to be there, he doesn't smile. Realistically just some time before that that picture was taken, people were not comfy with pictures.
When pictures were born taking a picture, a memory, was a long process: people wore their most elegant clothes, it was necessary to go to the studio of the photographer.
In these first pictures, admits the author, taking pictures started to become more normal but at the same time perfection resulted distant because photographs not taken by a real photographer.
In the second picture the comparison of the group of people with the painting by Manet La Musique aux Tuileries.
What did that picture of a group of people taken after a lunch mean to the author? A great sadness because most of the people she knew very well passed away and just maybe two toddlers, now in their late 80's, or early 90's.
The painting of Le Tuileries, where there are unknown people, results immortal to her because she didn't know them; their existences is perpetuated and fixated on the painting; sure, in the pic where there were her relatives, she understands all the mortality of the existence.
There is also the analysis of this group of people: all from the same social class, people derived from the working class but that hoped to reach best results during the life.
In the third picture the happy birthday, her grand-father Francis at that time just 40 years had developed big problems with alcohol. She married a woman she loved but the parents of her were skeptical because they "read" in him a revolutionary spirit: Francis was in love for socialism.
His wife didn't want to notice the problem of her husband and continued with her own existence.
In the last picture we will be introduced at the extramarital relationship Francis developed with the time. More: during the last world war, he joined the anti-fascists group. He was put in jail and tortured.
Now, that her grand-parents are disappeared, the author imagines what it is still remained in her soul of them; then, flashes of a remote past, voices whispering in her ears, she remembers...Her grand-father Francis reading some of the Faust of Goethe, Crime and Punishment, Overcoat, by Gogol. A picture can become a story, and objects are remarking not just the time passed by but also memories of our story.
The fourth story the one of a man, pretty wealthy in his forties, unmarried but with the idea of settling down. Maria the daughter of a man he knows very well become the center of his attention. He will try with all himself: he will invite the family of the girl at dinners, in his house in the countryside, he will speak with the father of the girl, he will cultivate under many ways the friendship with the girl. Nothing: after three years, one day he will discover that the girl married another man. As his mother would have said..."Ottel... was not to meant to be."
The Acrobat is a section dedicated to a poem and telling the story of a girl, Maria in love with a flying circus performer.
This book is a gem, trust me. You'll love it and you'll treasure forever.
I thank Seagull Press for the physical copy of the book.
Anna Maria Polidori