The Ant is a nickname for Delia Del Carril, second of Pablo Neruda’s three wives, and the title of her biography, by Fernando Saez, translated into English by Jessica Sequeira and published by Fiction Advocate, a small alternative press producing e-books and excellent quality paperbacks. As an enthusiastic follower of Jessica Sequeira’s work, I early ordered and read The Ant and considered a long reflective review comparing Delia to Joyce’s Nora, whose fictional biography I read and reviewed back in April (Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce, by Nuala O’Connor, 2021, Harper Perennial). There’s almost no basis for comparison. Delia was a wealthy and influential scion world’s away from poor Nora, and she would be cast aside by Pablo, her junior by two decades, for the younger Matilde. But Delia and Nora were born the same year, 1884, and both married men who grew to gigantic proportion in the country of books. Both were dedicated to and sacrificed for their husbands, who, it might be argued, scarcely deserved their affection. But that is love. That Pablo was no saint should come as no surprise to anyone who has read his poetry or his Memoirs. Likewise, Joyce was no saint, at least not one likely to be canonized in the eyes of Holy Mother Church. Yet both Pablo and Joyce seemed to possess boundless capabilities (some might say disabilities) for love and love’s expressions. Time is the great canceller of the postage stamp that is literature. “Neruda participated in a bohemia of bars and poverty” (86) – places from where Joyce also drew a good amount of inspiration. “Could there have been two people any more different [than Pablo and The Ant]? It’s difficult and risky to explain the origins of an interest, the unthinkable reasons that bring a couple together and make love possible. The mystery of why him, and why her, can lead to a number of questions without answer, in which there is surely more absurdity than logic” (89). “More absurdity than logic” – how’s that for a definition of literature? But don’t we go to literature to find the logic that might displace the absurdity of our lives? In any case, apart from the absurdity of the love story, there are good, practical reasons for reading Saez’s The Ant: to further our understanding and appreciation of 20th Century thought and expression; for an inside view of the history of politics, art, economics, and the geography of Chile and Argentina; and it details the ins and outs of the lives of artists and the families and friends they choose to live and correspond with. It’s possible that Delia and Nora might have met one another. They may have both been in Paris at the same time, where circles of expatriates, artists, and bohemians of both wealth and poverty often overlapped. If they did meet, would they have recognized one another? What would their talk have been about?
Edna O’Brien’s “The Country Girls” is the first in the trilogy telling the life and times of Kate and Baba, two girlfriends from country situations who get to the city trying to move away from the tangled mores of Irish family, church, education, and politics of the mid twentieth century. The second in the trilogy is “Girl with Green Eyes,” first published as “The Lonely Girl.” The third, received by critics at the time with the least enthusiasm, is “Girls in Their Married Bliss.”
Kate and Baba must work jobs, find a place to live, take care of themselves, all on their own. So what, we might ask. Those might be good problems to have. Indeed they are, and even better if the girls survive – the attempts to shame, the gentlemen who come into their lives, the petty but deep economic exploitations, trusts and distrusts of one another and their trysts.
“I work in a delicatessen shop in Bayswater and go to London University at night to study English. Baba works in Soho, but not in a strip-tease club, as she had hoped. She’s learning to be a receptionist in a big hotel. We share a small bed-sitting room, and my aunt sends a parcel of butter every other week” (212, “Girl with Green Eyes”).
At the time of their publications, in the early 1960’s, O’Brien’s books were banned, her family shamed. “The Country Girls” is dedicated to her mother, though it’s doubtful her mother ever read it. It wasn’t enough for the Irish censor board to simply ban the books – people burnt them in public shamings, and priests denounced them from the pulpit. It’s doubtful any of them read any of it, except maybe the pages someone said were rife with you know what, and God bless and keep you if you don’t know.
But O’Brien persisted, her work redeemed itself and a generation of girls. “My whole body was impatient now. I couldn’t sit still. My body was wild from waiting” (186, “The Country Girls”).
But redemption might not be sufficient for those who want to write their own lives, who want to be reborn every day: “Not long ago Kate Brady and I were having a few gloomy gin fizzes up London, bemoaning the fact that nothing would ever improve, that we’d die the way we were – enough to eat, married, dissatisfied” (7, “Girls in Their Married Bliss”).
My Penguin paperback copies are all three editions from 1981 (they were originally published in 1960, 1962, and 1964). Many editions have been printed, some with maybe better cover designs.
…from my Goodreads “short reviews of old personal library books.”
Another review of “Alma Lolloon” released into the cybersphere, this one by Ashen Venema, author of “Course of Mirrors” and blogger friend. I paste below, and below that, please see the “TinyLetter” opportunity.
Grammar, speech marks, arc, none of this matters to Alma as she reads to her listeners. They’re obviously entertained by the occasional odd simile, or they wouldn’t show up at the rotating local venues where they meet. ‘Where’s this going?’ they query. ‘But that’s incredulous,’ they exclaim. Stay silent, burst or share and be crucified. Through the sardonic, provoking and lamenting chapters shines Alma’s need to express her unique truth.
Could it be said that ‘men’ is a category of books?
And then, Alma finds out, there are those who choose a book for its cover.
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Three reviews of “Alma Lolloon” are now loose in the cybersphere:
Bill Currey bound his review in a tweet, to wit:
Bill Currey @williamcurrey
And here I thought I was going to get a Joycean map with footnotes and all to Linker’s Portland! I stumble blindly onwardly towards, if not to summation, at least to termination.
Joe Linker @JoeLinker
Replying to @williamcurrey @PhilippaRees1 and 2 others
Thanks for the review, Bill. Sounds like something Beckett might have said.
And Dan Hennessy posted a review of “Alma Lolloon” to his “Tangential Meanderings” blog (AKA: itkindofgotawayfromyou). Click here to read Dan’s review.
And if you’ve not read Philippa Rees’s review of “Alma Lolloon,” it’s at Queen Mob’s Tea House. Click here.
We’ll be spending the holidays with the grand girls, and for an art project we’ll be making bookmarks for a Joe Linker book.
The bookmarks use standard, toxic free materials, of paper and fabric, thematically linked to the books with original artwork.
If you’d like to receive a complementary bookmark, please send a reply to this tiny letter telling us what book you’d like the bookmark for (Penina’s Letters; Coconut Oil; Scamble and Cramble: Two Hep Cats and Other Tall Tales; Saltwort; or Alma Lolloon), and also include a snail mail address for us to mail you the bookmark. All bookmarks will be sent out by Dec 31st. If you prefer, we can send you an e-bookmark. Reply the same as above but with an email address. What’s an e-bookmark? Not sure, we’ve not made one yet.
You can view the covers of the five books here.