Interlace

As I’ve previously posted here April has so far proved to have been a Month of Random Reading, positioned as it is between a March of Readathons and a May of Fantasy.

But, as is the way of things, my choice of reading has unwittingly pointed me in the direction of books that bear some relationships with each other, however slight. Those relationships have reminded me quite a bit of the art of interlace.

Interlace has had a long pedigree. From the ancient crafts of carpet weaving with which the Middle East has had a long association to the so-called carpet pages of medieval Celtic illuminated manuscripts interlace is found in many cultures. The visual interweaving of strands is common in many northern European contexts, such as Viking longship prows and Norwegian stave churches, Anglo-Saxon enamel ornaments and Dark Age high crosses in Ireland and Wales.

Interlace techniques cross over into other arts, however, notably narrative: look up ‘narrative interlace in Beowulf‘ online and you will see what I mean. But it can also occur with texts that have no obvious connection with each other.

Katy Mahood’s Entanglement (reviewed here) has, above all, a suggestive title in this respect. Simultaneously it’s about entanglement as a concept in quantum physics and as a description of how, unbeknown to us, our paths can cross with strangers who later become acquaintances (and more).

Metaphorical paths weaving in and out of our lives also manifested in Christopher Priest’s The Adjacent (review here) though in this SF novel these occur across what we must guess are related multiverses. Reading these two titles back to back was at times a curious experience.

Mackenzie Crook’s The Midvale Sprites (reviewed here) was, indirectly, about chance encounters and crossed paths, though they were more to do with the author’s other work than with the novel. In particular, Crook’s tv series The Detectorists (which he wrote, directed and starred in) drew much of its subtle humour from what the viewer but not the protagonists could see — hidden treasure and signicant finds beneath their feet or above their heads, their field-walking criss-crossing the hidden trails of history.

We come now to James O’Brien’s observations in How to be Right: the extracts from phone-in listeners to his talk show demonstrated how disparate subjects (Brexit, feminism, Trump, immigration or LGBT issues, for example) were intermingled in the minds of some misguided listeners or were likely to attract a similar confused or angry response from that audience.

I’ve just finished Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm (subtitled A memoir of childhood reading) and, given the difference in our ages, choice of fiction available and subject interests, there was a fair overlap both in what we each read at similar ages and what I was reading to my own children at a similar time. From what I’ve read in reviews of this memoir it’s clear that it’s spoken to untold thousands of a shared love of solitary reading, multitudes whose lives will never cross but who will share similar emotions over individual titles or genres.

I’m also concurrently reading a few other titles, notably Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business and Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley (which I have been struggling through for a couple or more months). Actually what the Davies novel and Claire Harman’s biography Charlotte Brontë: a Life share so far is a languid yet readable examination of lives lived mostly among those who don’t share a passion for the written word or understand the importance of the inner life for one’s sanity and relative wellbeing. Yet both lives have characteristics that are recognised by readers who may never meet but who totally get the self-sufficiency that bookishness can bring.

I’ve talked often enough about how books read consecutively or simultaneously can strangely inform each other. In many ways it’s those interweavings, entanglements, interlace or what-have-you that bring as much wonder and joy as each book on its own brings.

Is this the case with you? Do you find that books speak to each other, or share unexpected links, strands or themes?


Postscript

Today is Charlotte Brontë‘s birthday (203 years old!) so I feel a bit bad about neglecting her. But April 23rd marks the presumed birth of Shakespeare, and also marks Will’s and fellow author Cervantes‘ death date (though Spain and England followed different calendars at the time.

As UNESCO, inspired by this apparent coincidence, declared April 23rd the International Day of the Book I shall be posting—oh so appropriately—a review of Lucy Mangan’s book, mentioned above.

35 thoughts on “Interlace

  1. “I’ve talked often enough about how books read consecutively or simultaneously can strangely inform each other. ”

    This certainly does happen with me–some connection or other, a place (not so common) that characters in two simultaneous books talk about or visit, a theme, even a person, so many times two consecutive books read do have these links, however randomly one picked them. Reading this post my mind went back to one such link when I read Children of the New Forest and after it The Kings General which ended up not only having the civil war theme but also a few of the same ‘people’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me, Mallika! It’s sometimes a bit like bumping into a well-liked acquaintance miles from home (though less fun when they’re not your favourites, when you put your head down and pretend you haven’t seen them!). I’ve just added a postscript because, when I mentioned Charlotte Brontë in passing, I hadn’t twigged that today was her anniversary! Another coincidence to relish. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I meant to ask you about Shirley in my reply and forgot. How are you liking it? A bookgroup is reading it next month, and I’ve been considering a reread though I still haven’t read Coriolanus.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I got distracted by Claire Harman’s biography and am still stuck a third of the way through Shirley, but I’m determined to complete it this side of Christmas!

          Coriolanus has been on my radar since I was school; I’ll get round to that sometime too… 😁

          Liked by 1 person

          1. 🙂

            I did hope to read it before picking up Shirley again, but if I do read it with the group, I may not end up doing that again. I don’t remember very much about it except a little about Shirley herself.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I’ve found Shirley very slow moving so far, not a criticism in itself but given that a third of the way through we’ve barely met the main protagonists and the outline of the character portraits have been fairly obvious very early on, I’m not sure that even Charlotte was sure where she was going with it all, never mind the reader. But I shall persevere!

              Liked by 1 person

            2. One of my favorite things about a reading life is these unexpected connections, sometimes quite funny ones. I once read, in two very different books in two days, a description of the old treatment for glaucoma. James Joyce had it done. There are lots more, of course, but that’s the one I thought of.

              Liked by 2 people

            3. Yay, we think alike, Jean! I always say that there are coincidences, random things which occur at around the same time, and then there are synchronicities, coincidences to which we attach significance because they hold some meaning for us. Those glaucoma descriptions attracted your attention because they were close in time, and your experience paralleled mine with the themes I found in reading.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. piotrek

    Finding these connections is one of the greatest joys of a passionate reader! It happens to me a lot, recently, during my re-read of Discworld, I love comparing Ankh-Morpork’s industrial revolution to what I remember from “serious” history tomes and XIX-cent. novels.

    History is especially rewarding here, as you might easily get very different perspectives on certain events. I’ve read a lot about Persian wars from Greek perspective, and now I’ve just started Gore Vidal’s Creation, where the main protagonist is Persian… very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s why the brightest minds always advise reading widely — fiction or non-fiction, it matters not so long as it’s not narrowly focused — because it gives you a wide perspective from which to make all those connections. Pratchett’s Discworld is an excellent example, a product of wide interests and enlightening those who read it closely and intelligently (which is most TP readers, is it not?).

      I ought to read Gore Vidal’s serious stuff, his Myra Breckinridge put me off when I tried it in the 70s but I know he’s highly regarded for his wit and intellectual penetration.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. piotrek

        There’s an interesting documentary on Netflix, about Vidal and his fight against proto-trumpian conservatism in the US… I’ve also read his novel on Julian the Apostate, my personal hero, highly recommended 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes yes yes! The connections that crop up during reading are one of my absolute delights! They can be so various and surprising and can lead me down paths I never thought to go. 🙂

    I look forward to your review of Lucy Mangan’s book, a recent read for me too and one that I loved. I must be roughly of an age with her as she shared a lot of my childhood reading.

    AND Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business! Another favourite! Hurrah! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you’re another reader to validate that delight in finding connections, Mayri, and that’s it’s not just from reading narrow genres such as novels about Ancient Egypt or fantasies about unicorns (though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either of these!).

      I’m an older generation than Lucy Mangan (or you!) but I was interested to see how many overlaps there were. Nearly finished the review now… 🙂

      Lory Hess (of http://www.emeraldcitybookreview.com) is doing a Robertson Davies event in August so I thought I’d try this title, my first acquaintance with his stuff. Enjoying it so far!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oooo, have just taken a look at Lory’s post, a Robertson Davies event sounds like fun – thanks for the heads up. 🙂
        Glad you’re enjoying Fifth Business. You have the rest of the trilogy?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, I’m another one who delights in those myriad connections. Occasionally I think about keeping a record of these links and crossovers just to see how long a chain might become. It’s a joy when I stumble across something of this nature, and when one unrelated book informs another it becomes even more of a gift.

    That apart, this is a great post, Chris. I’ve always been fascinated by these ancient patterns and tend to think of them as particularly Northern motifs which of course, they are not. A universal motif in fact, which perhaps arose quite separately in different civilisations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe it’s in our nature to seek connections between apparently unrelated things: on the plus side it’s creative and imaginative, allowing us to transfer insights and instincts from one context to another; on the minus it’s the sort of process that encourages conspiracy theorists to come up with false leaps of logic and fake news.

      And interlace in all its manifestations is wonderfully absorbing, if one has the patience for it! Sadly, patience is in all too short supply these days, isn’t it?

      Like

  5. A superb piece of interlacing, Chris, with some interesting intersections.

    I’d never have thought of connecting Charlotte Bronte with Robertson Davies, but now you’ve made the link, I see what you mean. I loved Big Business. I had to write a 2000 word essay on it some years ago, and this was one of those novels where close study only increased my respect for the author.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fifth Business is a slow burn but never tedious, and full of sly touches of humour in amongst the more reflective stuff (I just read the passage about Agnes Day, Gloria Mundy and Libby Doe…). Shirley is slow too but in a more po-faced way — so far, at least, though her opening pages made me smile!

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  6. Love this! I’ve never thought of the “chance crossings” that weave back into something more before, but you’re right; heavens, that’s the story of Bo and me! From a non-meeting at a bookstore where I worked (his friend spoke with me while he stood there and said nothing) to a set-up via mutual friend to dating to marriage. And that we’ve had friends who meet via us, talk, date, marry. And I see this with the past, too! My parents went to the same boarding school as me, and for years they kept in touch with their classmates. Turns out I had met one of MY best friends from boarding school before I knew who she was! We were 3, running around on a beach like little goofs during our folks’ high school reunion. 🙂 Entanglements, indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You totally get this, clearly! And then you hear stories like travelling halfway across the world, only to discover a neighbour from the same street has ended up on the same beach as you…

      They’re wonderfully weird, and weirdly wonderful, but they do say in many cases if you wrote a similar plot line then the coincidence / synchronicity would strain the reader’s sense of what was credible.

      Mind you, even the stories that claim to be true I swallow with a large pinch of salt!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! So many people just roll their eyes when it occurs in fiction because we expect…hmm. We expect organic change, yet we have to be able to see where those changes come from. And then here we are in real life, which so often IS stranger than fiction! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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