Posts Tagged ‘Actresses Turned Writers’

While browsing through my book collection, I discovered an interesting trend in it. Across the years, I had collected books by British women writers, writers who were probably well known in their circles, but who were all new-to-me. In the case of most of these books, I picked them up because I liked the plot. In the case of some books, I picked them up, because there was something about the writer that I found interesting, and in some cases, the book had won a literary award. Some of these books were also long / shortlisted for the Booker prize or the Orange prize. So, a few days back when I thought I will pick a new book to read, I decided to take all these books I have by British women writers and read them together. I thought it will be fun to compare their different takes on life and their different writing styles if I read them together.

The Whole Wide Beauty By Emily Woof

The first book that I picked up for reading, in this series, was ‘The Whole Wide Beauty’ by Emily Woof. I bought Emily Woof’s book because I had discovered her through a different context. A few years back I had seen the movie version of Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Woodlanders’. It is about a young woman who wants to grow out of her village roots and become a sophisticated person, but she keeps getting pulled back to her village by her childhood sweetheart, while the doctor that she is in love with, though he is sophisticated, is not exactly the nice person she assumes him to be. This young woman’s search for love and how circumstances and the social setup of that time foil her plans form the rest of the story. Emily Woof played the role of this young woman and I loved her performance. So, when I saw ‘The Whole Wide Beauty’ and discovered that it was written by the same Emily Woof, I couldn’t resist getting it. I have a soft corner for artists who are talented in multiple fields and who find expression for their creative impulses in diverse ways. ‘Have a soft corner’ is putting it mildly. I love these artists and am extremely jealous of them. I am especially biased towards actors and actresses who write novels. I have read and loved novels by Steve Martin (‘Shopgirl’) and Ethan Hawke (‘Ash Wednesday’) in the past. So I had to read Emily Woof’s ‘The Whole Wide Beauty’. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.


‘The Whole Wide Beauty’ is about Katherine who teaches music in a school for special children and her life and loves. Katherine used to be a dancer before, but she has given up dance after she got married to Adam. She and Adam have a son called Kieron. Adam’s parents David and Kay are very literary – David is a poet and also manages a foundation which is attempting to preserve the literary heritage of Northumbria, while Kay teaches literature and poetry at school. David organizes a fundraising dinner which also features poetry readings. Stephen, a poet who is mentored by David, is one of those who participates in the readings. The audience loves his poetry. And Katherine falls in love with him. How Katherine manages her relationship with Stephen and that of her family form the rest of the story. This is, of course, summarizing the plot simplistically. The novel is also about David’s attempts at raising funds for his literary foundation and the problems in doing so. It is also about the complex relationships that David has with May (his wife), Gregory (his brother-in-law), Katherine, Stephen and other characters in the story. From one perspective the novel is the story of Katherine. From another perspective, it is also the story of David. Though the novel is just around 300 pages, like George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’, the book has many characters, many stories, interesting surprises and beautiful prose. The main characters were all fully fleshed out and complex and flawed and humanly beautiful. Though I liked Katherine and Stephen and some of the other main characters (I didn’t really like David much) my favourite characters in the story were May and Ken (David’s gardener).


Some of the interesting things I noticed while reading the book were these : one of the characters was called Kieron (Katherine’s son) and the word ‘pollard’ was used (in the sentence ‘the pollarded plane trees seemed to push up…’ – if you are a cricket fan you would probably know about Kieron Pollard); Katherine looks at her mobile phone to find out the time (which seems to be a very contemporary practice – I remember reading about this in two other novels recently); the singular form of the verb is used with the noun ‘a couple’ (in the sentence ‘A couple was crossing a side street.’ – today the plural form is used quite regularly though it is grammatically incorrect and it has even started sounding right to our ears, for example, if we say ‘A couple were crossing a side street’).


I liked ‘The Whole Wide Beauty’ very much. I read some parts of the novel rapidly and I now regret doing that, because it is a novel which needs to be read slowly because only when we read it that way, the novel rewards us with its magic. I can’t wait to find out what Emily Woof comes up with next.


I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.


May knew that he was reassured by her mischievousness, as she was by his indignation.


When he spoke to Katherine about May, David always referred to her as ‘your mother’ rather than the familiar ‘Mum’ which presumed an intimacy he resisted. It was part of his stubborn Northern heritage. ‘Your mother’ was used by men to distance themselves from the family; ‘your mother’ seemed to Katherine to mean, ‘she’s your mother and neither of you have anything to do with me’.


Once people were introduced to poetry, they would change forever. Poetry was a quiet permission for people to embrace their own mystery.


David : His work is conceptual, very abstract.

Christopher : Art has to look like something for me, I’m afraid.

David : Artists like George Gull need you.

Christopher : What on earth for?

David : They need to be rejected.

Christopher : I see. The perversity of the artist. Longs for success but thrives on disdain.


They probably took their dog on the same walk every afternoon. May imagined their lives, conventional, their marriage so faithful and unchallenging. They were perfectly moulded to each other, like two bowls on a kitchen shelf. She could never have chosen a life like theirs, but as she got in her car to drive to Carlisle, she wished for a small measure of their contentment.


The poem held a new intelligence. The language was arresting, almost disturbing, s though he had pounded and bullied the words, pushing them to the limits of making sense. It was a raw excavation of the human need for love and the struggle to sustain it.


Have you read Emily Woof’s ‘The Whole Wide Beauty’? What do you think about it? Do you like reading novels by actors / actresses or creative artists from other fields?

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