This is odd. I’ve been known to buy a novel purely because of its striking cover or due to an intriguing title. However, I have never had an experience whereby I bought a book by a favourite author, and then felt unable to proceed with it because I was captivated by the cover image. Yet this seems to have happened with Atonement by Ian McEwan. I love McEwan’s writing, but somehow didn’t get around to picking up a copy of his latest title until a few days ago, when I ordered it from my book club. The problem is that every time I try to start reading, I get no further than staring at the photograph on the front.
It’s one of those curious images that provokes so many questions. What is the girl thinking about? Why is she frowning? Is she looking at something in the distance? Why is she sitting on some stone steps in the middle of an ornamental garden? I guess that my questions would be answered if I actually opened the book and began reading, but … oh, it’s probably just tiredness making me this way.
Along with Atonement, I also bought a copy of the Collected Poems of Philip Larkin. I was a student at the University of Hull, and spent many (well, a few) late nights in the campus library where Larkin worked for thirty years, so it’s perhaps not surprising that I discovered his poetry during my time there. While I didn’t find his name exactly ubiquitous in the city — perhaps the locals didn’t go much on his most famous opening line — his ghost was difficult to avoid around the university. A couple of my tutors claimed to have been personal friends of Larkin, and would begin relating an old anecdote or two at the drop of a hat — or the first sip of a pint. I remember buying the Whitsun Weddings collection at a cheap book sale in the Student Union building, but it’s taken me until now to get hold of the complete collection of his poems:
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
It seemed appropriate, at the end of one of those days.