Saturday, 17 March 2012
The Snow Queen
I've been writing, and re-writing, and discarding the threads of a near-impossible book. It's so damn hard -- to try to address something deeply personal, in the almost certain knowledge that exposure to the outside world might shrivel it up and turn it to ashes. I say 'it', as shorthand for the unsay-able -- in other words, the attempt to tell a story that begins with the end of a marriage, without being hurtful or damaging to anyone involved. Has anyone else read Rachel Cusk's 'Aftermath'? I did, a couple of weeks ago, and admire her courage in addressing a subject that seems to create such powerfully judgmental reactions (she initiated the separation from her husband). The reviews have veered to extremes; critics love it or hate it -- usually the sign of an interesting book, and Aftermath is vividly spiky, demanding, jagged, visceral -- but the online response is terrifying (volcanic acid spewing out of the internet). Needless to say, this has made me horribly uncertain about the idea of writing anything personal, which is perhaps an appropriate response.
I'm not sure why, but the anxiety sent me back to Hans Christian Andersen, to re-read The Snow Queen. What a strange, unsettling series of episodes make up the narrative -- so much more complicated than its modern interpretations tend to be. There's something profoundly compelling about the opening -- a devil-made mirror that reflects and refracts uncertainty, showing the worst of all worlds, and then smashes to pieces, the tiny fragments lodging themselves into the eyes and hearts of those thereafter doomed to see only the dark side... (Andersen himself being a writer more often drawn to the shadows than the light).
It cannot be coincidental that the Snow Queen was elemental in Daphne Du Maurier's writing, an archetype that seemed also to be summoned into her life (by the writer herself, as a character that sometimes blended into her mother, or her husband's lover -- the threatening Other Woman, too powerful to resist); so yes, I confess, I've been thinking about 'Daphne' again, and the process of reading and writing, and how to see clearly, without a shard of broken mirror in my eye.
Does any of this make a modicum of sense? Not to me, not yet, not clearly... but I'll keep trying.
Upon reflection (ten minutes later)... perhaps looking at the fragments of a broken mirror is inevitable, in the aftermath -- examining them, putting them down again, sweeping them out of sight, too sharp to touch, too dangerous to handle. And trying to reassemble them into some kind of order is as doomed a puzzle as the one attempted by the boy in The Snow Queen. Still, he was obsessed with numerical and logical processes -- while I'm more intrigued by intuition, however elusive, and the thoughts that lie just beyond our grasp.