this is not a review: there is a season, by patrick lane

 
I can’t lie. Nor do I think I ought to. On reading the first chapter of Patrick Lane’s There is a Season I felt mostly annoyed. I didn’t think I’d make it to page fifty, which is my official limit…[page 100 is my un-official limit]. If I haven’t engaged in a book by then I close it and move along.

I can’t say what it was that bothered me, I just couldn’t get with the rhythm, I wasn’t paying attention.

When this happens, and despite the accompanying crankiness, something about the book occasionally compels me onward and prevents me from slamming it shut. This was not the case here. I walked away muttering about how I wasn’t in the mood for epiphanies in the form of raindrops. But the next day I picked it up again. It was a library copy so nothing would have been simpler than to take it back from whence it came—but those raindrops had gotten into my head and when I opened it up the second time to some random page, I read this:

“I don’t know why I confuse myself in the world when all I need to do is spend a few moments in this gentle space.”

I kept reading, pages and passages in no particular order.

“I measure friendship by those who are the friends of spiders and those who are not.”

“The drenched garden glows like the womb must to an unborn child.”

“What I call silence is not the absence of sound but the presence of the garden when it is not weighted down by traffic noise and talk.”

“My quest has always been to find what I could not leave.”

“A green frog does not sit on a red geranium unless he’s gone a little mad.”

“There are times I want to be in the second or third person… It’s simpler to be a fiction.”

“We break our path when fear tells us to live.”

** 

And then I started again, at the beginning.

—It’s springtime in the Okanagan and the author is a boy. We meet him as he stands “… among yellow glacier lilies and…windflowers…the western anemone, their petals frail disks of trembling clotted cream.”

This is the opening. What, exactly, about that is cranky-making?? I’ll tell you what: nothing. Whatever my initial reading mood was, I’m thrilled it passed.

It’s a book about a garden in flux and the man who is putting it [and his life] to rights; about the connection of man to nature. Of an ornamental tree, he says “Their leaves funnel the rain, and the water runs down one leaf, falls to the next and the next, miniature waterfalls in a stream until the last and outer leaf drops the water where the feeder roots drink.”

It’s a book of poetry in the form of prose. Or vice versa. It’s a meditation. You read it slowly, and maybe that’s what was wrong on my first attempt. My speed setting was off.

“That is beauty, to stop a moment and watch the endless play of light on water and stone and see how the living things of the garden come to drink or just to gaze as I do now at the surface of the pond.”

The book is also about sobriety although drinking is rarely mentioned. It’s Lane’s senses that are sober for the first time in forty-five years and so the reader is privy to the perspective of not only a great poet, but of someone who’s been issued a set of fresh eyes, ears, skin and taste buds.

“The drenched garden glows like the womb must to an unborn child.”

51aac9pD90L__SX200_There are many references to rain and mist and dew, pools of water, as if the booze has been replaced by more useful forms of liquid, ones that help him think—and remember—more clearly.

The book is divided between the present day Victoria garden and the past: childhood, parents, marriage, failures, joy, sadness and one especially incredible scene where he returns with his now elderly, unemotional and extremely reluctant mother to the old homestead; it’s near the end of the book and is one of the best passages I’ve read anywhere for its power to convey, essentially, a whole world, the now and the then, in a few sentences. Perfectly placed.

I’ve since returned the library copy.
And purchased one of my own.

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7 thoughts on “this is not a review: there is a season, by patrick lane

    1. Thanks, Maureen. Me too. There are so many books that don’t immediately strike a chord, for whatever reason… mood, timing, etc… but there’s something about them that’s ‘un-put-down-able’.

  1. I will slow down, Carin, perhaps begin again at about half past the middle where I got ‘bothered’ … not sure how or why. My beginnings with the book were opposite to yours, loving it, then something fell away …? A couple of my favourite lines at page 143: “The past … is a small house with many windows. I stare from each one at myself.” And, “When metaphor becomes reality it stops the spirit.” Thoughts?

    1. Yes! That whole reflection that begins on p.139 with the ‘innocent’ memory of St. John’s Wort and then travels through such murky, personal childhood territory and then, standing there in Crete, with Lorna, being struck at “how small history is”. Brilliant. The line you quote about the house with windows… gorgeous. “The past is the present illuminated.” I love how he travels through these memories, the way he navigates the honesty of them, because that’s how memories come to us… in fragments, neither prettified nor melodramatic. I’m guessing he’d never have been able to face or see any of it as clearly under the influence of booze. But he rarely mentions that bit.

      Looking forward to your verdict! (;

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