In the High Peaks

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Graham Greene and New Memoir, Old in Art School

I finished Time and Chance, the medieval historical by Sharon Kay Penman early this morning. During the last 30 pages, I was in awe of the writing and the care Penman took to end the novel so carefully, so "lovingly."
By "lovingly," I mean that the ending was so polished, and, in it, she handled the most important personal relationships so tenderly, so carefully, that I was in awe of her talent in rendering it so.  High marks!!

This afternoon I decided to begin Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, published in 1951 (The link leads to a long Wikipedia biography, starting with a summary of his life and work, followed by in-depth sections about his books, his writings, and his early life).

The End of the Affair begins in London, in very late December, between Christmas and New Year's, in 1945. I deliberately chose it because it is set in the same early post-war period as Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark, which I read and enjoyed within the last couple of months.

So, in a sense, The End of the Affair was contemporary English fiction for its time period, as if someone writing today had set their novel in 2012. Not long ago at all!  I've read several chapters and realize I am in the hands of an unreliable narrator. What fun. Actually, Greene has a marvelous sense of humor, among all the serious subjects he handles. More to come about Greene and the novel.

And late this afternoon, as the heat rose to 90 degrees, I turned the AC up and heaved my body onto the treadmill in the living room with a wallop. It sounds as difficult as it was, but I was determined to get my body moving somehow. Once I got going, it was not bad at all, especially because I had a new audiobook: Tah dah!
I  am in  love with Old in Art School already (The link leads to a Bookpage interview with Painter.) It is the new memoir by Nell Irvin Painter, an impeccably distinguished  historian and acclaimed writer, who, at the age of 64, decided to leave her chair at Princeton University to pursue a new undertaking. Her goal was to get a Bachelor's in Fine Arts, followed by a Masters of Fine Arts, and become a professional artist.

I am very well acquainted with Nell's academic work. She is and was an intensely dedicated historian of U.S. History, in particular, African-American women's history. When I was working in this field, particularly when writing my history of American women during the Civil War, I read all her works: books, articles, attended conferences where she lectured. She is a very, very strong, determined, impassioned individual.
So you can imagine that I really, really perked up when I discovered that Nell Irvin Painter wrote a memoir about her life as an artist. Especially because of my affinity to art. I couldn't picture her pursuing collegiate degrees in studio art, because making art is a universe away from what she accomplished in her academic career.

I listened to the first 40 pages this afternoon. Nell is the narrator, and the writing is exquisite. I MUST purchase the hardcover. She has so many, incredibly important things to say to women in their 60s (50s? 70s?) who want something more, who want to do more, to experience something beyond what they did in their earlier lives.

At a conference, I remember Nell discussing how she approaches her professional writing. She writes the first draft, then revises, she writes the second draft, and does the revision, then the third draft, and the fourth draft, and on and on! That's how this book reads and breathes. That's why I need to see this book in print. The writing is that amazing!

Best quote: A young fellow student, fresh out of high school, asked her, "Well, how old are you?"


  1. I've only read one book by Graham Greene and that's Travels With my Aunt, which I loved. I didn't feel inclined to read more because I thought he was mainly about Cuba/Latin America, not a particular interest of mine. But I'm currently reading a book about the literary people who lived in the south of France and his name keeps coming up. The author said that he set books in the area, which I didn't know, so I'll see if I can find out which ones and give them a go. Don't you just love these reading quests and adventures we go on?

    1. Hi Cath,
      It seems that Greene wrote novels over a number of decades, and a number are set in England, and France, as you mentioned, and other locales.
      I'm really enjoying The End of the Affair.
      I believe I once read The Quiet American, which is set in Vietnam during the French occupation and leading up to its pull-out. Lots of fascinating intrigue and unfathomable characters in that one. And Greene has written so many. Penguin reissued loads of them in sturdy paperbacks for the 100th anniversary of Greene's birth, 2004.
      Your book does sound interesting!

    2. Oops, sorry Cath. I'm adding a postscript to my reply. I forgot to say the most important thing--I do indeed love these reading adventures. Vicarious living is highly rated in my book.

    3. I read The End of the Affair over a decade ago with my book club, then 'reread' it several years ago on audio with Colin Firth narrating. I was struck by how much Firth's narration added to my appreciation of the novel. Don't think I've read anything else by Greene.

      Old in Art School sounds very interesting. Just clicked over to audible and listened to a sample. Have added it to my wish list and will look forward to your final thoughts.

    4. Hi JoAnn,
      Late yesterday I learned of the Colin Firth narration of The End of the Affair, and that it won the top Audie award in--2011, I think? Which made me think. I must, must listen to Firth read the novel. How wonderful that would be. So at some point I'm going to do just that.
      As I listened to Old in Art School today while cleaning the kitchen, I was struck by her viewpoint, her ideas of what she was thinking and experiencing as she commuted on public transportation from her home in Newark to New Brunswick, where the Rutgers Art College is. Very different, very interesting.

  2. I've been meaning to read The End of the Affair for years. In fact part of me suspected I had read it, I have seen the film though. I read GG as a teenager but I see I've only read a couple since starting to blog. I think he was quite strange as people who convert to Catholicism often are!

    1. Katrina,
      And isn't GG among the ranks of Evelyn Waugh and C.S. Lewis? It's hard for me personally tof understand, as one of the millions of Americans raised Catholic who do not now practice the faith. It's funny, though. Lots I know want a Catholic funeral mass and burial, despite it. Old ancestral habits die hard.

    2. They always used to say here - once a Catholic always a Catholic but it isn't like that nowadays, most here keep away from it, even in death. I worked with a woman years ago who disliked everything about it but said if she had kids she would bring them up RC though. Sounds like child abuse to me - repeating itself. GG became RC then spent his time breaking all the rules, I think he just liked shocking priests - but now we realise a lot of them could have shocked him!

  3. All of these books sounds good. Too bad I cannot read everything I want to at the same time.

    1. Hi Tracy,
      Oh do I ever know exactly what you mean--it seems this problem becomes worse for me every year.