It looked like this: 304+304+321+320+336+288+464+336+336+193+304+289+272+352+602+256+316+256+400+461= Reading the Orange List.
And where to go from this string of figures?
How to quantify the reading?
Now that it’s swollen with characters. And settings. And plots. And tigers.
Maybe I should tabulate the number of wives?
It’s far more than 20, thanks to Lola Shoneyin’s and Leila Aboulela’s novels. (They definitely outnumber the tigers.)
Or, perhaps I should tally the number of losses?
Add up the dead children and lovers and parents; and, for an even greater sum, I could include those that take place beyond the page (griefs not yet dealt with, like Ria’s, like Paul’s, like Osceola’s).
Possibly I could just consider the numbered bits.
The number of slides in the PowerPoint presentation chapter (A Visit from the Goon Squad)? Or consider characters like 730004 in Artic Circle Sector 111424. (The Birth of Love)
No, numbers won’t do at the end of all this.
So perhaps just the string, a thought-thread connecting 18 reads over the past 8 weeks of reading.
And who doesn’t love reading?
Not only are there several writers in the pages of these Orange novels (as in The London Train, Great House, The Birth of Love, and The Swimmer); there are lots of readers too.
Soraya, in Lyrics Alley, reads all sorts of books, including Lorna Doone, Rebecca, Liza of Lambeth, Emma and The Woman in White.
Natalia is obsessed with her grandfather’s copy of The Tiger’s Wife.
(And I can’t remember which books Jack has, in Room, but maybe you do; I just remember Ma reading to him.)
Yup, sometimes books intersect, just as Nicole Krauss tells us that people do.
“We move through the day like two hands of a clock: sometimes we overlap for a moment, then come apart again, carrying on alone.”
Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is a novel-length study of this idea.
Indeed, chance encounters abound in these stories.
These can be short-lived or long-lasting.
Take this, from The Pleasure Seekers: “Babo was used to falling instantly in love.”
Or this, from Jamrach’s Menagerie: “It was not love at first sight, but love at second sight.”
Sometimes these encounters are obsessive rather than romantic, as in Whatever You Love, which begins with an actual collision, a fatal intersection.
That’s an ugly bit for Laura, who looks outside of herself to cope with her loss, in a rather destructive way: “He is taking shape, acquiring substance with each new detail that I learn about him.”
But the way that Ben takes shape for Ria, in Roma Tearne’s novel, is beautiful indeed.
That relationship — and novel — is controversial. As is the romance in Repeat it Today with Tears which also contains a remarkable love story.
Susie’s happiness is something to behold. She glories in it. “I wished to walk slowly and more than once I know that I smiled at the night.”
She continues by saying, ” I wanted also to be close beside the river. At that date, if you grew up and went to school in south London, you seemed, somehow, to be related to the Thames. it was a constant and familiar presence in your consciousness; you crossed it for excursions and railway termini and the Christmas lights, you knew it from the avuncular narratives of history textbooks.”
Other characters, like Susie, find a profound connection with water.
Some of these you might guess, even without reading the books.
Like Ria, in The Swimmer. And you might have spotted the segment “Swimming Holes” in Great House.
But of course you would think immediately of The Seas.
In Samantha Hunt’s novel, a mermaid falls in love with a man, who can’t quite love her back.
(And here, in tribute to Great House, whose references took me outside the novel, to Beethoven’s String Quartet in a minor, third movement 31 — which you, too, can hear here, and the images of R.B. Kitaj, which you can see here — I present a digression, a video in which a seal falls in love with a girl.)
Ava was one of my most memorable characters from this set of Orange reads, and I was led to read Karen Russell’s novel not only via the longlisting but because I had so loved her short story “The Dredgeman’s Revelation”, which is actually part of Swamplandia!.
The dredgeman is also water-soaked. His name is Louis Thanksgiving Auschenbless. He is 17 when he says this: “One thing about me, though…sort of interesting thing I guess, is that I was born dead.”
Well, how can you not think of the opening sentence of Carol Birch’s novel: “I was born twice.”
Not only The Birth of Love (and who could forget Brigid’s experience), but also in The Secret Wives of Baba Segi’s Wives.
“One day, I will have a child of my own and everything will fall into place. My husband will delight in me again, the way he did before my barrenness ate away at his affection.”
Well, it’s the absence of birth that’s at the heart of that particular character’s story. But that’s also true for some other women in these reads (and I shan’t spoil anything by naming names).
Anyway, you can’t always believe what folks say. Which is true of Baba Segi’s wives, but others too.
Readers are warned in The Tiger’s Wife that “many of the people telling you the story couldn’t have been alive when it happened, and then it becomes clear that they have all been telling each other different stories too.”
And Grace, too, knows that truth can be hard to decipher. “I knew by now that David didn’t always tell things straight, or whole. Mostly over-whole and flowery.”
But better to talk about it than keep it quiet.
One character in Great House says this: “…that is how she dealt with the past: in total silence”.
And Eric said of Ria that she “shuts down. Ever since she was little. It’s her way of surviving.”
Susie, too, shuts down, but on a smaller scale. “Because I found it upsetting I put away contemplation of it in a section of my mind that I could shut off.”
That’s not good. And talk about sectioning off. For whom is that more true than Annabel? Entire sections of Wayne are shut off.
Kathleen Winter’s novel gave me my favourite line of Orange season: “Everyone was always becoming and unbecoming.” And one of my favourite aspects of Annabel was the friendship between Wayne and Wally.
(And I love the bridge that they built. Which also recalls this quote from Whatever You Love: “Bridges can be crossed both ways.” And it reminds me of the title of Julie Orringer’s novel, although I shan’t say why.)
There are some similarities between Wayne and Wally’s relationship and that between Na Ga and Pia (in The Road to Wanting); both narrators found a comfort in their friends that they had never known.
And there is also a connection between Wendy Law-Yone’s novel and Roma Tearne’s The Swimmer.
This intersection takes the form of a bird’s egg. One, which Pia gives to Na Ga. More, which Ben makes into a necklace for Ria.
Ria, who takes the 6: 45 train into London. Which takes us back to The London Train, which is where my musings began.
A great stack of books that can’t be figured.