Thursday, 28 November 2013

The nostalgia of books to come - Clémentine Beauvais

A while ago I read a French novel called Voyage au centre de Paris (Journey to the centre of Paris), by Alexandre Lacroix, which is full of very well-knit sentences and interesting trivia about the city, of wandering philosophers and of clever references to lots of lovely books and essays and poems.

Anyway, one phrase jumped out of the page when I was reading that novel. The narrator's talking about Rilke, and about being a young writer, and he says that when he started writing he felt a kind of 'nostalgia of books to come.'

Of course that's an oxymoron, since nostalgia, by definition and etymology, is famously the 'pain of return', homesickness. How can you be nostalgic of something that hasn't happened yet? And yet it resonates perfectly with me - and with lots of other writers, I'm sure. I also feel just like that; like I've got a clear picture in my mind of my 'books to come'. Children's books, non-fiction books, academic books, books for adults... They seem so real to me that they're almost tangible, I 'see' them there on the Bookshelf of All My Books, they already exist, I'm sure - even though I couldn't tell you what they're about. They're just waiting to be written, so I'm keeping a trustful eye out for them.


But the trouble, of course, is that this bookshelf of predicted books keeps getting betrayed by the real bookshelf which is slowly building itself. No book I write is judged good enough by me to be part of the real bookshelf of books to come; so I mentally pile all my actual books on a fake bookshelf, while the true bookshelf, currently empty, is waiting for the true books to come. Those are the ones I have 'nostalgia' for - those are the ones I 'ache to return to' every time the euphoria of having written a new actual book has passed... and that I identify that new baby, once again, as fake, as not-quite-there-yet.

So of course if someone is talking about my latest book I always want to say no, no, wait for the next one, it will be better, it will be a true one! . But of course the next one will be just as not-quite-that-yet and therefore a fake, a mistake, a fraud, it will join the pile on the fake bookshelf while the true empty one waits for the true books to come.

Nothing serious, I'm sure. Wouldn't life be boring without that kind of nostalgia? See you in a month. I promise the next blog post will be better. And then eventually I'll write the true blog post, I promise...

Clémentine Beauvais writes books in both French and English. The former are of all kinds and shapes, and the latter, for now, a humour/adventure detective series, the Sesame Seade mysteries. She blogs here about children's literature and academia and is on Twitter @blueclementine.


Stroppy Author said...

Are you actually Plato, Clem? There is the ideal Form of your books out there and each one you write is a shadowy, imperfect instantiation of the ideal...?

I know exactly how you feel. And I think it's what keeps us writing, because if we'd written the perfect books there would be nothing more to do. That's what I'm hoping, anyway. But I like the idea of it as a form of nostalgia rather than just frustration at my incompetence - your way is better!

Richard said...

When we were at university, we invented that word you want. We called it "Prestalgia". Unfortunately Google says it's been hijacked since then.

Perfection is over-rated. In a fairy-story, it is the struggle leading up to perfection that is interesting. The far longer part afterwards is glossed over with a single sentence.

Catherine Butler said...

I totally recognize this! At times I feel offended that some book or other of mine hasn't been more widely lauded, only to realize that I haven't written it yet. Such a trivial technicality -but it can really affect a book's chances of winning the Carnegie.

Clémentine Beauvais said...

haha Cathy :D I agree, Anne! it's what keeps us writing. Better than paralysis I guess.

And Richard, thanks for the new word!

Emma Barnes said...

I have to confess that I actually spent about 10 minutes squinting at the photo of your bookcase and trying to identify the books - wondering in particular if the old red hardback was a Jennings novel.

Then I suddenly realised I could click on the photo to enlarge it so I did! And it was!

Not only that but my favourite classic Alice Through the Looking Glass was there too so feeling very in tune with your actual book case...

Clémentine Beauvais said...

ha, actually I must admit it's not my bookshelf but that of a good friend of mine. But we have the same taste re:Jennings! absolute favourite of mine too.