Negative Capability by Michèle Roberts
Published By Sandstone Press
Available from all Good Bookshops and Online
What They Say:
Yesterday ended in disaster. Very late at night, I decided to write down everything that had happened; the only way I could think of coping.
So here goes.
So begins Michele Roberts’s intimate and honest account of the year after her latest novel has been rejected by her then publisher. Written with warmth and sensitivity, she navigates the difficult road from depression and anxiety to acceptance and understanding of the value of the friendships which nurture her and make life worth living – whatever happens.
What I Say:
“I’d rediscovered, recording them, the pleasures of doing ordinary things,
the pleasures of living day to day.”
I think like many people, I had always assumed that once an author has had a book published, every book they write is edited and it is a done deal that we will see it in the Bookshops.
Negative Capability is Michèle’s Diary – a book about what happens when her latest novel is rejected by her publishers. It is obviously a painful and awful experience for her, and I can imagine that everything you had planned about that book being published suddenly slips out of your hands slowly and absolutely out of your control.
As a response to this, she writes about what it is like to be an author with no book being published on the horizon. This is where it becomes a really absorbing and revealing read, as Michèle opens her heart and life totally to the reality of having to accept that you have no plans. The Negative Capability of the title refers to the idea that instead of reacting to a negative situation, you instead allow yourself to resign to the fact that yes, this is not a good place to be, but that it will get better.
What I really loved about Michèle’s writing is the fact that it is not linear, and it slides beautifully from one moment to the next. One minute she may be talking about her gardens, the next the passing of one of her friends, but it works so well because it is and authentic and visceral experience, and I felt as if I was sat having a drink with Michèle as she talked about her life.
Memories slide from one to the next, we learn about the families she comes into contact with, the lovers she has had, her visits to France and all the social niceties there and the etiquette one is expected to follow. I also felt that it was almost Michèle’s love letter to France, a way for us to understand the deep emotional connections she has to the country and to the people she loves there. It is also a complete treat for our senses – her pitch perfect and evocative descriptions of the places she visits and the countryside she is in, only serves to draw us closer to her.
I felt that reading Negative Capability was like sitting with a friend who is chatting with you about what they have been going through. It is conversational, clever, witty and so refreshing to read a book by someone who is absolutely candid about every aspect of their life, be it positive or negative.
It is also absolutely impossible to talk about this book without making reference to the many and glorious references to all things food related! There are descriptions of wonderful informal and simple breakfasts and lunches, of dinner parties and get togethers, and I defy anyone not to read this book and not immediately feel hungry. The act of eating and being with other people and enjoying the preparation and eating of meals is also a major part of this book, and it made me think about how often for me, the act of eating and being with my family is a rushed and thoughtless one. We need to understand the importance of being with each other and the joy that sharing food and conversation can bring, as oppose to wolfing down a meal and disconnecting from each other by going to different rooms, or staying in the same one and just looking at our screens.
As we follow Michèle through her year, she offers us insights into the world of writing and her processes. I am not a writer, just a reader, but I found it really interesting to see how Michele explains the process of writing and the way in which a book goes from a creative impulse to a finished novel on a Bookshop Shelf. Michele is always honest about every part of it, and I think that it made me understand and appreciate the art of writing so much more. I realised how much I took for granted about the act of writing something, that I believed it was much more of a formulaic process and that the author went from A to B, but Michèle absolutely dispels that theory.
It is difficult to review Negative Capability, because although it is a relatively short book, it encompasses so much. Within these pages, all life and death is here. You are absolutely and totally in Michèle’s life constantly, and feel every emotion with her. For me, one of the most affecting parts of the book, is when she is talking about grief, after losing people close to her. Her pain and incredulity at the fact these people are no longer here are translated to the page so sensitively, that for anyone who has lost someone, the words absolutely resonate with you.
Negative Capability is a book that defies categorisation, but it is all the more richer for it. It is a book to be savoured and lost in, and one that will absolutely make you think about many of the things you take for granted on a daily basis, and stop and appreciate everything and everyone around you even more.
Thank you so much to Kealey Rigden at FMcM Associates for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.