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Wanted: A dose of Dickinson for Ms Solnit.
on 8 January 2015
This is my first encounter with Solnit, after hearing her lauded on a TED talk by an engaging Irish writer whose name I forget but who recommended her and Adam Phillips as thought-provokingly unpredictable. A few obvious things need mentioning: she is intelligent, kind and has written two pieces of this collection about her Mother suffering from Dementia, a timely subject. I was put off by one reviewer calling her "The prizewinning Rebecca Solnit" since that's as meaningless as "the prizewinning 'Rocky' " (the worst film to win the Oscar: it is indeed no guide to quality. Watch it and tremble). No quibble, there's something I think of as Creative Writing School syndrome at work here: the prose is a bit too self-conscious, it likes to be looked at, admired: its favourite is the colour purple. Now that I have sloughed off Pater's account of The Mona Lisa' as the acme of brilliant prose for that of V.S. Naipaul's lucid but austere beauty (as seen in the first sentence of his 'The Search for El Dorado'), I have trouble with any style that calls attention to itself, aside from Sir Thomas Browne's and my own! Still this may not be typical and I may grow into appreciating it, but rarely for me, I find myself lured away from Solnit's work to the latest Tony Judt (if you like history, GET IT!). I would not leave Naipaul for anything; Solnit has a way to go to approach the grumpy Trinidadian. Perhaps as a tribute to her Mother she was trying too hard, might be the kind view. I think that she needs to relax and let her prose draw closer to her skin. But to be fair it's an interesting portrait of herself and her family and the relationship with her ailing Mother is touching. It would have been a more impressive piece if RS had taken a lesson from the Spinster of Amherst.