The Heir by Vita Sackville-West was my first book of the year. A charming book where a bland and blank slate of a man, Mr. Chase, inherits his ancestral home when his aunt passes away. His first impulses are practical ones - sell the house, rid himself of its multiple mortgages and ties to another age, and secure a little nest egg for himself. But as he spends more time in the house and gets to know the tenants on the property, he becomes increasingly attached, defining his place in the world for perhaps the first time. He sees himself not in living family members but in ancient portraits of those long gone, in the furnishings, in the architecture of a home that is the most fleshed out and compelling character of the novella. Clearly influenced by the author's passionate attachment to her ancestral home, Knoles.
So perfectly satisfying start to the reading year. I thought I would follow The Heir with a little nonfiction companion reading from the stack seen above starting with the Dennison biography. Some years ago, I enjoyed Victoria Glendinning's biography of Vita, and was hoping this would be equally enjoyable. It was not. All was fun and games in the beginning. Like when you visit the salon and read with relish the gossipy rags you typically would not be seen with. Until all guilty pleasure leaks away with the sordidness of it all. This bio starts not with the too-typical lists of dates and ancestors but with juicy tales of family indiscretions. But soon enough, one tires of the details of predatory lesbianism and begins to wonder if Vita ever wrote a poem, a book, an article not inspired by lust for another woman. Skewed is a polite way of describing the perspective here. Where Vita's talents take a back seat to her sexual impulses. Where Virginia Woolf's death is wrapped up in a single sentence and so much of her relationship with Vita is minimized since they only really slept together a few times. Vita is a shell of a woman here just as the book itself is. Skip it. And that ended my wish for some extended Vita reading.
So looking to attach myself to a new reading plan, I jumped on board to read Clarissa throughout the year, each letter from this epistolary behemoth on its noted date. As so many impulsive reading plans do, this one started on Twitter and my reading companions seem like a fun lot. I will share more on this later as I am not sure how this will play out. Despite the fact that the first letter is dated January 10. This Tuesday. Two whole days from now. Plenty of time. You can find us starting then by searching #Clarissa on Twitter. The hashtag I suggested, #lettersfromabrothel, was ruled out as too long.
And Bellezza and Dorian both recommended A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and I am glad they did. I am halfway through and really invested in the writing, the civility of it all. We are living in less than civil times so a reminder of what was, what might be is especially welcome right now.
What have you read during the first days of the new year?