The loneliness of the long distance reader

Lynne Freed does a lovely piece on ‘Reading, Writing and Leaving Home’:

“What I did take on faith in this story [The Water Babies], however-and in so many other stories fed to South African children when I was growing up-was that, contrary to what was true in my world, small white boys could be made to work for a living (girls, too-to wit the many tales of English waifs dressed in rags, who skivvied all day and were then consigned to freezing London attics to pray and shiver through the night). Also that snow fell at Christmastime, that there were fires rather than flower arrangements in fireplaces, and that hedgehogs, toads, foxes, and moles-not monkeys, snakes, and iguanas, the urban animals of my childhood-were the sorts of creatures which, in fiction, would stand up on their hind legs, don clothing, and sally forth into a story.
More than this, I believed that these strange customs and creatures were more real than those of the world I lived in, and far more worthy of fiction. The real world of my childhood-a large subtropical port on the Indian Ocean, with beaches and bush and sugarcane and steaming heat, a strict Anglican girls’ school, massive family gatherings on Friday nights and Jewish holidays, and then my parents’ theatre world, the plays my mother directed, my father learning his lines every evening in the bath, both of them off to rehearsal night after night, leaving the next episode of her story for me to listen to on a huge reel-to-reel tape recorder-this world did not exist, not even peripherally, in the literature available to me. Nor did I think that it should.”





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