Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy 4th of July and Like Bees To Honey


It's all a bit strange. It really is. It is strange how certain things conspire to make you dwell on things that run beneath the surface of your life- the part that no one sees or to be honest cares about -the inner workings of 'self' that define who you are. Today is the 4th of July and I'm sitting in my beloved HOME in Cornwall. This place is my home as in where my heart lives, but it is not where I am from.

Where am I from? I get asked this question as frequently as once a day. Really? Yes. It's the odd word slipped in or phrase or a slight vowel sound change and someone thinks she's not English. So they ask and my reply is usually - do you mean where do I live? Over the years this of course has meant Massachusetts, London, Englefield Green, Calgary, Gatwick, Moscow, Cornwall, Houston, Jakarta and Dubai...

This leads me to two books that I have just finished - BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin and LIKE BEES TO HONEY by Caroline Smailes (in fact as I write this I have just finished the later and there are still tears in my eyes). Both books deal with some one who has left 'home' and both spoke to me in very different ways. One made me cry and the other didn't. One left me hopeful and the other didn't. Both explored parts of me - one my past and the other my current.

BROOKLYN is a exquisite compelling read. It is a book that you don't stop but flow through and experience but don't feel - if that makes sense. All four of my grandparents left Ireland for a new life in American and although this book relates that experience for a later journey (1950s) I was given a glimpse- an insight into the life in New York and in Ireland. Because of this, I felt as if I had made some connection to my past. The most important aspect for me was in the struggle Eilis had adapting to her new world and then the going home - that peculiar feeling of neither world seeming real for moment and then dream like quality of the world you are away from. The book encapsulates that perfectly.

I don't recall that it captures the haunting dreams that continue (do they ever stop?), but that could be because the book's time frame is short. LIKE BEES TO HONEY deals with so many things...but one of them is that haunting of your past that floats around you reminding you/ taunting you of what you have chosen to leave behind. The book spoke to me of my dreams that reoccur of revisiting the past - past places - past homes that are the same yet different...

Nina's going home is to heal as is Eilis's return trip to Ireland, but Nina's trip is more poignant as her grief is still alive. Eilis's isn't truly real until she returns home. One of the worst parts of being away is when loved ones die. You are not there. You can not see (which is a huge part of my Irish/American experience of death and grief) and therefore you cannot say goodbye or let go. How can you let of something that is still there living as you left them? You haven't seen them so they live on in your thoughts unaltered. This is something that I have struggled with and continue to do so. This forms a huge part of my life - the hold of the past and the one of the present...

LIKE BEES deals with this beautifully. It touches upon guilt, unfinished business - no that word isn't right but I can not find it at the moment. LIKE BEES probes love...and how that doesn't always come out as we would like. It probes guilt - real and imagined.

You are left at times wrecked, in tears but ultimately hopeful and there in lies its gift, its beauty and its strength. Caroline's books in the past have dealt with painful subjects and the beauty of her words aided me through the pain - this time it was words giving me the hope that led me to tears.

So two books both superb in there own right - BROOKLYN is a flawlessly written book exploring the devastating experience of leaving home and having no home - that no man's land but in the end I was left emotionally untouched.

LIKE BEES TO HONEY will stay with me always. I will carry it in my heart.

On a truly personal note I also have to say that LIKE BEES deals with faith - this is a subject that is at the core of me (BROOKLYN does too but only the lip service part of it). I flinched when I began LIKE BEES as it deals not only with faith in general but with the Catholic faith. I am used to it being the punching bag for one and all... yet I felt that faith, the church, God are perfectly portrayed in LIKE BEES... imperfectly - real, as people with faith experience faith by fumblingly blindly led by love.

I mentioned at the start that today is the 4th of July. In past years I would have made sure that blueberry pancakes were on the table for breakfast - that I had dug out the stars and stripes table cloth - in short that I had done something to mark the day as special. This morning I woke to a brilliant blue sky and forgot. It wasn't until I read this from Sue Guiney. Sue, an expat/transplant like me, has captured so many of my feelings. My last proper 4th was spent on Cape Cod in 2001. My youngest was not yet two and the boys were 7 & 9 - too young to really remember the cookout and fireworks. My children recall little of their American experiences....I must try harder. Maybe I should dig out that old table cloth and find some hot dogs and tie the boys together for a three legged race....

P.S. great post on knowing your characters Help I Need a Publisher

5 comments:

SueG said...

Yes, I'll eat an extra hot dog for you, Liz. Your post was lovely, too. And although I've already read and loved Caroline's book, I had forgotten all about Brooklyn and had wanted to read it. Thanks for the reminder, and for the link. Happy 4th.

JJ Beattie said...

Liz, gorgeous post today; thank you. I finished Brooklyn as our 'plane touched down at Heathrow airport and I'm about to start Like Bees to Honey.

Happy 4th July to you and yours.

liz fenwick said...

Sue - thank you. Hope it was a fabulous day.

JJ - you have gift waiting then

lx

Debs said...

Hope you had a very enjoyable 4th July in Cornwall, Liz.

T. Anne said...

Ooh, I want to read Like Bees, now. It sounds like the author tapped into things on a really deep level. Thanks for sharing!