Fiction & Biography .

FIC I'IONAL. BIOGRAPI lY JANICE GALLOWAY Clara rJonathan Cape S.‘.1().99i .00..

Here’s what normal writers do. Normal writers decide to write a biography. They root out some facts, talk to some people, read through correspondence, do a bit of background. Because there is some stuff they can’t know, they speculate. But they speculate only when it is safe. So they talk about the snow-covered hills if they know their subject was born in January or suggest they might have been unhappy upon the death of a loved one.

Janice Galloway is no normal writer. Not for her the dry facts of a text book. Clara is both fact and fiction. It is about a real person, the 19th century German concert pianist and composer Clara Schumann. It follows the story of her life: her concert debut aged 11, her driven and authoritarian father, her clandestine relationship and eventual marriage to composer Robert Schumann, her concert tours throughout Europe, her eight children, her miscarriages, her husband’s mental breakdown.

In this mundane factual sense, the book is true. But it is true in a much better sense than that. Like poetry, it is true in an imaginative sense. This is no pedantic trawl through known information, it is a vivid and emotional exploration of a woman’s inner life. The facts are merely the starting point of a journey into the subtextual nuances, insecurities, feelings, passions that are the stuff of life.

It’s an extraordinary novel in several ways. Most apparent is its style. Galloway writes in a kind of subjective third person, blurring the division between author and character. She muddies things further by slipping unannounced between characters, leaving us with a vague ‘he’ or ‘she’ as the first clue about her latest subject.

Likewise, she doesn‘t so much introduce new characters as let them appear, unheralded, as if from nowhere; just like people arrive, fully formed, in our own lives. All of this is demanding, but Clara obeys its own rules and, though it may be relentless, it draws you relentlessly in.

Then there are the themes. Broadly, they are music, feminism and mental illness. First the music: at times the novel creates the sensation of 19th century rock’n’roll, the Schumanns hanging out with Liszt, Mendelssohn and Brahms like prototype Lennons, Jaggers and Bowies, each spurring the other on. Galloway gets inside the music, captures the dedication of the musicians, understands the gradations between

Grit; 13%

Jam We Galloway

One artist’s tribute to another

skill and genius, reflects the adrenaline buzz of a hit concert. It is one artist’s tribute to another.

The feminism is understated but hard felt. Galloway portrays Clara as an exceptional creative talent constrained by an institutionally sexist society. When she suffers, it is through an ignorance created by prejudice. You feel for her, though she knows no better.

And then, as the novel nears its end (it finishes 20 years before Clara’s death), the author of The Trick is to Keep Breathing portrays the fearful mood swings of Robert Schumann, as what sounds like manic depression morphs into something like paranoid schizophrenia. And all of it witnessed by the devoted Clara with a touchingly pathetic helplessness.

In short, it is a book of gargantuan ambition and grand achievement. (Mark Fisher)

'r r-ir'./‘x.rRr' l:SSAYS COLIN NICHOLSON ED.

Actors on Shakespeare rF—aber $31.9?»

Instructive and readable

102 THE LIST l.’ -'- l. I”

Having been around actors for most of my adult life. one thing that I've learned about the trade is that it neither precludes. nor necessitates intelligence. This series. which promises further releas 3s next year from the likes of Al Pacino and James Earl Jones. bears this adage out. It attemi')ts to bring an actor's perspective to the understanding of Shakespeare. assigning indivrdual actors to plays. wrth a fairly larsse/.-farre attitude to each performers approach.

Vanessa Redgrave's Antony and Cleopatra O... l is the most instructive and readable. She brings an analytical awareness of context to the drama. and a wealth of knowledge going back to her performance in ex- husband Tony Richardson's production and on to her involvement in several subsequent productions of a play which clearly fascinates her.

Corrn Redgrave"; Julius Caesar O... r is the equal of his sister's effort. bringing a depth of analysis that comes wrth three productions; and as

many parts. the first of which in 1972. was Octavius opposite John Wood. The pair were recently reunited in Pinter's No Man's Land.

On the downside to all this. Emma Freldng's Twelfth Night (0. r is crammed wrth vacuous iuwre anecdotes and pretensions. with an A level knowledge of the text's issues.

Srrnon Cal‘ox'r's Henry /V. Part l (.0. r is the longest of the series. with his garrulousness extending to 1 t0 pages. tyrrce the length of Vanessa's pointed essay. Callow chooses to structure hrs piece as a scene by-scene analysis. which, for all the astute observation he brings to the play tends to make rt read like an unilergrauuate

Finally. Harriet \r’Valter”s rt/i.'rt:l)etii (CO. I rs mu :i‘. closer to an ‘actor prepares' hook than the others. and tends to over quote the text. while still provrdrng some vaILrable insights. This is a variable. but ultimately valuable SOI'ACS. (Steve Cr'arner'i

Shelf life

Classic novels revisited. This issue: To the Lighthouse

Published 75) years ago. What’s the story Virginia Woolt’s ground-l)reakrng tl’tree—act stream—of— consciousness s set at a holiday retreat on Skye. The beautiful. congenial hostess Mrs Ramsay becomes the focus of attention for a group of lonely people who create in her the image of their own desires. These include Lily Briscoe. a spinster artist. the unpleasant academic. Charles Tansley. and James. the Ramsays' youngest son. whose repeated wish to visit the lighthouse is forbidden by his unreasonable father. The father and son eventually undertake this jOurney several years later. following the Great War and Mrs Rariisay's untimely death.

What the critics said Arnold Bennet. writing in the Evening Standard was moved to eat humble pie: 'Despite my notorious grave reservations concerning Virginia Woolf. To the Lighthouse is the best book of hers that I know' Key moment The dinner scene. in which Woolf consistently moves the perspective from character to character. getting inside their heads and highlrglitirig their individual prejudices and desires. is the novel's impressive major set-piece. Woolf herself called it ‘the best. thing I ever wrote.‘ Postscript The novel was conceived as a hymn to Woolf's own parents. reflected in the characters of the Ramsay's. The author said. havrng thought of her dead mother and father daily: ‘To the Lighthouse laid them in my mind."

First line test “'Y >s. of course. if it's fine tomorrow". said Mrs Ramsay. "But you'll have to be up wrth the lark". she a<lded.' (Allan Radcliffe)

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