Sunday, May 8, 2011

Carol Wallace

Carol Wallace is the author of numerous books, including The Official Preppy Handbook, which she coauthored. A graduate of Princeton University, Wallace received a M.A. in art history from Columbia University in 2006. The research for her M.A. thesis provided the foundation for Leaving Van Gogh, her first historical novel.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Like many committed readers, I’ve usually got several books going at once: different books for different moods.

There is always something soporific by my bed: that could be nonfiction but at the moment – and in the imaginable future – it is Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. I had previously attempted this in English, and got stuck because it is so very dense and slow. But somehow reading it in French is easier: there is always a certain sense of achievement in merely unraveling the sentences. At two pages per night, it will take me another 3 years to finish. I’m a substantial way through A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur and the narrator has finally managed to meet Albertine. He is attempting to persuade himself that she is a worthy object of his affection because he has put so much effort into making her acquaintance, but even I can tell that she is abrupt and crude. (She uses a lot of words that aren’t in my dictionary, that’s how I know.)

I’m also reading a novel by Henry Green. A friend gave me the beautiful Penguin volume that contains three short Green novels, Loving, Living, and Party Going. He’s a sly fellow, that Henry Green. Loving and Living are full of dodges and misdirection – Party Going takes that technique even further. We are in an enormous train station in a pea-soup fog. The characters are mostly the members of a party of rich young people who are gathering for a trip to the South of France, but the fog has completely upset their plans. Green seems to be most interested, here, in miscommunication: fog as metaphor as well as literal plot device. The novel begins with a weird episode involving Miss Fellowes, the aunt of one of the party goers, who feels compelled to pick up the body of a pigeon that flies into a wall of the station. She then, for some reason, thinks it’s a good idea to wash it in the sink of the ladies’ room, and carries it around with her for the rest of the evening. I don’t know why, and probably never will know. I must admit I’m finding Party Going a little tedious: the characters are intentionally shallow, the situation trying. There’s a great deal of futile fussing about luggage and insincere gossip about a character called Embassy Richard who did or did not crash a party. The best business has to do with the negotiations between various classes packed together in this train station under considerable strain.

And then, because it arrived in the mail as a present and because I love this kind of thing, I’m also reading Parisian Chic by Ines de la Fressange. So far I have not found any of her tips to be applicable to a woman of a certain age who spends her day at her desk, but I live in hope.
Visit Carol Wallace's website.

The Page 69 Test: Leaving Van Gogh.

--Marshal Zeringue