Book recommendation: “Barkskins” by Annie Proulx

I just finished reading this monumental book and I’d like to write its review while the characters and the atmosphere are still hovering in my mind.

article20lead20-20narrow1010285929gphwhcimage-related-articleleadnarrow-353x0-gphxm1-png1466077644226-300x0This book was mentioned in one of BBC Radio 4 “Open Book” episodes. I had the good chance of finding it in the small English section of my local library. I confess I was initially intimidated by its page count (700+ pages, plus two family trees (!) in appendix), and was not especially thrilled by the first few chapters. The setting remembered me of other books that I cherish, so the inevitable comparison made it hard to follow her way of describing those places and times. But I went on.

My perseverance was well rewarded! It is a magnificent tapestry of human destinies that the reader is guided to discover, one life at a time. I used to dislike when a whole group of people, century or country are condensed in the story of a few characters, but this time I saw it more as way of presenting several points of view, rather than making up a parable through simplification. I laughed so much at the tiniest details that made the whole picture come alive: noises, smells in particular. I find that Annie Proulx created a symphony. I am no writer, and when I do it’s more doodling than prosing; there has to be some different skillset in action when putting together such a book. It could compare to the difference between the training for a sprint and a marathon (also for the reader, when I think about it). I noticed that I had to read slower than usual if I wanted to understand what the book was about. It seemed to me like starting a week-long hike by properly warming up instead of running to the next landmark. The initial chapters have been able to slow down my pace and tune it to the speed I needed to complete the read. I like to think that it was intentional; either way, I am grateful for this little lesson.

For who is looking for the summary and comments on this book, I simply redirect you to the Internet and your trusted fellow readers/librarians. I didn’t search this book for the contents, but for the style; and my review is purposely focused on it.

Rock bottom

Today I read Chris Nicholas’ post about reaching rock bottom and rebuilding from that foundation. I read it a few times to check what could match with my story. I found much similarity, but not on the “rock bottom sensation” that he experienced – and not yet any intention to start rebuilding.

I feel more like I fell off my horse. There is no proper desperation in that. I saw the fall coming as I progressively lost balance and slipped on the side of the horse, grabbed his mane, at last let the reins loose, felt the speed of the running horse from an increasingly uncomfortable position. I knew I just had to stay in the saddle like everyone else, but I just couldn’t anymore, at least not like that.

I fell off a galloping horse once and I can’t exactly describe how it happened. One moment I was hanging precariously on his side, the next I was on the grass, the horse a couple strides away – as if I had skipped ten seconds of a video. That same scene happens now. I am simply and suddenly on the ground, not hurt, at least not suffering. I had a very first thought: “Back on that horse, immediately! No one would notice.” but next I felt surprise, and an immense exhaustion. My rock bottom is a soft meadow. The horse has come back to me, slightly surprised and genuinely curious. He even stands reasonably still as I try to get back in the saddle. What blocks me are two feelings: the present lack of force in my muscles, even if the movements are routine, and the dreadful perspective of coming back to the unending race.

my rock bottom is a soft meadow

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