Louisa Parry

Louisa is a container of multitudes. She likes people, places and things.

This blog is mostly used for her "Three Beautiful Things" journal - every night before bed, she records at least three pleasant things that happened during the day. They're not always about her cats. She occasionally writes slightly more substantial stuff too.

Contact: louisa at louisaparry dot co dot uk // @louisa_

24 March 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Review: ‘Time’s Arrow’ by Martin Amis

When I was a kid – what would be called a tween now, my brother and I watched Red Dwarf on almost constant repeat. I haven’t watched it in nearly two decades now but it, specifically the episode ‘Backwards’, was for obvious reasons the first thing that came to mind when I first started reading ‘Time’s Arrow’ by Martin Amis.

In ‘Time’s Arrow’ as in the ‘Backwards’ world, Christmas sees people callously taking beloved toys from children, the Second World War sees millions of people being brought back to live and going to the toilet is – if you’re conventionally minded – deeply disturbing.

The novel starts with the death of the main character – or rather the moments fractionally before death as he is dragged into life by an assortment of medical personnel – and works forward, in jumps and starts, to his eventual birth. As an old man, he regurgitates food, scraps grease from his head to sell to the local pharmacy and slowly destroys his beautiful garden. As he grows younger, he acts callously towards those around him at first, then he grows kinder until after a final fizz of excitement, they calmly forever exit his life and his thoughts. And he becomes a doctor – a cruel man who makes relatively well people’s illnesses and injuries steadily worse before kicking them to the curb too. But all the while, he is plagued by mystery – a recurring girlfriend who says she knows his secret, peculiar postcards and dreams of horrors yet to come – and as he repeatedly flees his life, changing his name and travelling east (to New York, then to and across Europe), we realise where he’s going (or coming from) – that he was involved with those millions of people being brought back to life en masse in camps across Poland. After (before) that, the time goes incredibly quickly – his wife becomes steadily more frigid and distant until she disappears from his life, his mother turns up to replace her, and his dreams calm to colours and noises – and then just before the end, he – or perhaps rather the narrator – sees something unexpected: an arrow flying, point first.

It’s a strange book.

The narrator is both the main character and not him at the same time. The narrator exists inside the protagonist’s head and experiences everything he does, but is also separate from him, allowing commentary – and critically to start with, clarification. The narrator performs as our stand-in – aware that time is progressing backwards from “normal” and thus explaining things (like going to the toilet) that would be commonplace to the actual character – but this also distances us from the story: the narrator isn’t privy to the character’s innermost workings and doesn’t know what is to come any more than we do. Through the use of the narrator, we are saved from excess “spoilers” (just those hints and dreams) and we are prevented from identifying too strongly with, or feeling sympathy towards, the character who will in time do/has done horrendous things. Like with Brecht’s verfremdungseffekt in theatre, by being held at a distance, we consider the character and his actions intellectually rather than emotionally.

And there is a fair amount that is worth reacting to emotionally. Before the journey back to Europe and the big reveal, we see him objectifying women and treating them with utter disdain, and towards the end of the novel, we see he is barely kinder to his wife and he reacts coldly to the death of their daughter. But it is, of course, his actions during the war which are the most challenging. That it is happening in reverse – that he is bringing people to life rather than killing them – doesn’t make the events any less horrifying: torture is still torture whether it’s going forwards or backwards. The violence and terror of the final solution remains because it wasn’t just one big act at the end but a series of heinous, dehumanising acts played out over years: that the indignities drop away rather than build over time doesn’t mean the journey is not still atrocious. It is the reverse timeline here more so than the narrator that distances us from the action, and in doing so we are forced to reflect in a new manner on the events with which we are familiar.

What impacted me the most was a notion not explicitly discussed by the narrator in the text – that a universe where time flows backwards is one of ultimate predestination, where cause and effect are utterly devoid of our understanding of them. As Rimmer says in another episode of ‘Red Dwarf’:

It will be happened; it shall be going to be happening; it will be was an event that will have been taken place in the future.

The character in ‘Time’s Arrow‘ has no ability to change his life any more than Lister could change what he had for breakfast yesterday: he is plagued by nightmares for years but can’t change his actions to prevent the source of them. He has, in essence, no free will. This both intrigued me on an intellectual level but also affected me on a more fundamental one – after reading for longer than usual, I felt disorientated on my return to reality, as if my actions didn’t matter: whatever was going to happen would happen however I acted. A very strange feeling indeed!

 
(It’s a coincidence that I read this book shortly after reading ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August‘ – another book about time (or at least the character’s sense of time) working abnormally. I had planned to read ‘Life After Life‘ next but I think I might go for a book where time progresses in a straight line in a forward direction instead, just for the novelty of it ;))

29 February 2016 ~ 0 Comments

3BT – heel, fall, wait, heat

3BT

1. Somewhere along the line, I became someone who loves the heel of the bread.

2. Falling down a research rabbit hole.

3. Our neighbours’ cat A waits sweetly for me to finish with her brother and put out their food, then she jumps on my knee and we have a long cuddle.

3b. Our neighbours’ underfloor heating.

28 February 2016 ~ 0 Comments

3BT – horses, better/wobbles, Circa Tsuica/punning? it’thorite

3BT

1. An early (for me, for a Sunday) phone call has me up and hunting for strayed horses in the woods. I track hoof prints in the mud and identify three different types of poo, proving that both foxes and deer have been around recently (as well as the horses). I also spot one of our cats – Tilda I think – on Wood Hill, a fair way from our house and I get a hug from Friendly Black Dog when I met her out on her morning walk. We don’t find the horses (they finally turn up in the afternoon, a mile away) but it’s sunny, and warm for February, and that makes the search enjoyable all the same.

2. The restaurant turns out to be better than we thought – I give the cook free rein on my soup noodles, ending up with a mix of flavours I’d never have picked but love.

2b. Jewels of jelly wobbling.

3. We go to see Circa Tsuica – a circus group from France that combines acrobatics and brass band music. It’s silly, crazy and awe-inspiring – we grin solidly for an hour at their exertions.

3b. We make stupid puns the whole way home. And exchange clumsy, awkward side-on high fives to celebrate the dumbest of them.

27 February 2016 ~ 0 Comments

3BT – zines/take up space, sausage roll, to Leeds/look around

3BT

1. It’s lovely to see everyone’s zines coming together – neon pamphlets with serious messages, little fold-ups on mental health and feminism, and muted colours & pages from old books gathered together into what looks more like a gorgeous artbook. Mine feels silly and frivolous as I knew it would but I’m still happy with it when it finally comes together. I have a lot of compiling and stitching work to do this week but I decide I want one finished before I leave the stall. When I get home, John says it feels like a proper book.

1b. It’s been a great little course – learning about letterpress, bookbinding and all sorts of collage/layout techniques – but the most important lesson I’ve learnt was probably in the first week. Someone said that we – as people, as women – need to learn to take up space. A few times while I’ve been making my zine, I’ve thought ‘who would want to read this?’ but the point isn’t to sell to a million people: it’s to reach a dozen or so people who nod along because they experienced something similar or are interested because they didn’t. Nearly all my favourite comics/graphic novels are by indie biographical artists – I just like reading about their everyday lives. And, most notably, they nearly all started out self-publishing zines – daring to put their work and themselves out there, to say ‘I’m here, I have a voice to be heard’.

2. I need something to eat but not too much because we’ll be eating dinner early. I grab a hot sausage roll from a bakery and you know what, it’s pretty good. It’s salty and greasy, and deeply nostalgic of when I used to eat hot sausage rolls, while waiting for my mum in the old post office in Crosby.

3. To Leeds. A smooth hot chocolate and a wander around the shops. MyThai looks like it’ll be full again but the friendliest waitress in the world invites us inside, saying there is an empty table right at the back. A table also opens up for us at North Bar, where I spin my little straw around my coke glass, and I get John to lean in to me, then burp loudly in his ear. Finally, we go back up the road to the Grand. We haven’t really heard much by either the support artist (Fuzzy Jones) or even the main band (The Shee) but are won over by both. Specifically, I enjoy the complementary sound of the two guitars and the warmth of the bass over Fuzzy’s vocals, and am impressed with the fullness of the sound particularly in the last song. And we just don’t know where to look during The Shee – each instrument and voice just beautiful in their clarity and passion.

3b. John looks around to see if we know anyone there. I doubt him but then he notices that we’re sat next to his mum and dad’s neighbours.

26 February 2016 ~ 0 Comments

3BT – fish butties, “help”, wild times

3BT

1. He’s not hungover but we have fish butties for lunch anyway.

2. I’m sticking together the most fragile, most collage-y part of my zine and the cat decides she must ‘help’. I enjoy the irony that I am, superficially, sticking down some pictures expressing how much I love the cats.

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3. Friday evening: croque monsieurs, steam cleaning the kitchen and giggling from behind my hands while watching a new episode of Broad City. Rock n Roll.

25 February 2016 ~ 0 Comments

3BT – collage, neighbours/perfect timing, focus

3BT

1. I’m looking for a particularly picture of my old cat, Zoe but instead I find something better: a collage I made when I was 13, of photos taken across the twenty years before that. Back then, we’d have had to wait weeks for the pictures to be developed then I cut them out and sellotaped them together. Today, I snap a picture of the collage with the camera on the computer I keep in my pocket and by the time I walk downstairs, the image has been set across the world and arrived on the computer in my office, where I can correct the layout and colour balance with a click of a button.

2. I bob into Leeds to have a pre-Leeds Ruby Thing meal with John – something I used to do all the time before Lily but which seemed too much of a bother when she was waiting, anxiously, at home. We try to go to My Thai but it’s full, so go next door to Fuji Hiro (which is a long-time favourite anyway): it’s wonderfully convenient to have them right next to each other, both offering quick yet delicious food.

2b. We finish up at exactly the right time – just when John needs to go over to the pub, and three minutes before my bus is due on the Headrow. We chat to each other on the phone for the rest of our short, separate journeys.

3. I pass the rest of the evening sketching and re-sketching some more little portraits for my zine. When John texts to say he’s on the bus, I sit back and realise how hard I’ve been focused all evening – and how pleasantly tired it’s left me.