by Jenny Diski
This is a collection of essays, most of which were written for the London Review of Books, and so masquerade as meandering book reviews. Diski sets up the reader to believe in meandering with her preface, saying that one “of the great pleasures for me of writing is starting out in the wrong direction and discovering how all points can eventually lead to home.”
I have read one of her novels (Like Mother) and I’ve looked for others from time to time, but as she is British, she is much better known in England than she is here and I haven’t had much luck finding them. Most of the books she uses for talking points in this collection I have not read. Many I still have no interest in reading; not because she trashed them, but because the pleasure in this book was in listening to her think, not in getting excited about new things to read.
Diski has some great lines and good points. Of Oliver Sacks, she says he “acts is the non-fictional conscience of imaginitive art.” She dismisses the idea of diagnosing dead artistic geniuses, setting aside the issue of whether or not Blake would have written the same way on lithium, and instead says “I would sooner know in what way we think we benefit from pathologising the extraordinary.” “The Illusory Game” is not based around a book, but in the idea of fame; she points out that the glare from the cameras “isn’t love, its wattage.” The only problem was the times I felt there were too many pages between moments like this.
Diski comes across as smart and more skeptical than cynical. For all that she reveals (a breakup, depression) she does maintain a distance from the reader — it may be all about her, but not really. The book is organized well, divided into five more or less thematic sections. Maybe it would have been better to dip in and out of this book, rather than read it straight through. I’m at a loss as to say exactly why that is, other than to say this is probably best read as an “in-between” book, the kind of thing that is a pleasant enough way to spend time but nothing to get revved up about. Look for it in the library and flip through it with a cup of tea.