By Vita Forest
One of my very favourite books is Possession by A.S. Byatt. It is a great woolly novel following two literary scholars as they try to uncover the mysterious connection between two Victorian poets. The time frames flick back and forth, the relationships are compared and contrasted, the narrative moves along through poems, letters, diary entries, multiple points of views and even fairy tales.
It is a challenging book to read, but I am one of those people who doesn’t skip the poetry, who reads every word. I know it will be worth it. I know I will discover something new. And I know it will last me through a trip away, when packing space is limited and I can only take one book (not a great fan of electronic versions people).
Needless to say, my original copy is faded, stained and now shedding pages. The edges of the pages are yellowing as if it is a book from a previous century, which is kind of apt really. But the state of that book has been bothering me, the vessel now distracts from the words…
Until Christmas Day.
One of my holiday projects is to make an Ann Wood Paper mache ship. I purchased her instructions last year and it has been on my list of Delightful Things to Do… Prior to Christmas, I had got the ball rolling and carefully cut out the cardboard pattern pieces for the hull of the ship (using old brown postage packages) and was about to move onto the paper mache phase. Ann Wood uses newspaper for the outer-most layer and part of the charm is seeing the text wrapping over the surface of the hull.
Anyway, on Christmas Day I spent part of the day at my parents’ place, and a part of that in the Community room of their Over-55s apartment block with a bunch of other residents. My sister Briony and I were browsing the large bookshelves full of double layers of pre-loved, discarded books and somehow we started to sort them. Those oldies really like (or perhaps really don’t like – these books had been “gifted” to the community room after all) books of the crime genre. We sorted books into “Crime” and “Non-crime” and then grouped them alphabetically by author. We had an amused audience, one of whom (Bruce) was the oracle of whether an unknown book was “Crime” or “Non-crime”. We worked steadily for some time, and in between making towering piles of books on the table and stacking them in some semblance of order on the book shelves, I found – a practically new copy of Possession…
It ended up being “gifted” to me… Payment for services rendered, you might say.
So, it got me thinking about what I could do with my old copy.
As you may have guessed from the photo, its pages have now been carefully scoured for favourite lines and scenes and descriptions, and these have been lifted out with scissors, (which seems somewhat sacrilegious, but still, I did it). I then spent an enjoyable time collaging the lines onto the galleon, running quotations together, juxtaposing past with present, fairy tale with diary. (There were even lines about sleeping in ships and fierce storms over the ocean). It all made new sense as I swathed lines around and around the hull.
The hull is now drying, newly lacquered in my laundry, away from cats (particularly Isaboe who likes to chew cardboard). It is a slow, painstaking process, boat building, but no doubt there will be more missives from the voyage.