I’ve always loved chocolate. I can remember returning from a holiday in Switzerland with a delicious bar of hazlenut fondant. Aged about 10, I ate it all and then went to the sweet shop where I bought a Topic – remember them?
What a disappointment. It tasted like rice paper in comparison to the rich, creamy flavours that the Swiss choclatiers coaxed into foil wrappers.
I thought about that moment this week while I was considering reading and how much I’ve always loved it. As a child I could travel the world from my bedroom and I did. I went to Anne’s Green Gables and Pippi Longstocking’s South Sea Island. I went to Anne, Dick, Julian, George and Timmy’s Smugglers Top and everywhere else they went too. I was there. I was right there and I relished every moment, even reading under my desk at school while whole lessons came and went without me realising that maths had given way to geography or science.
The Enid Blyton example is the most fascinating to me. I don’t believe that anyone bar the most die-hard zealot for her work, would describe it as fine writing or literature. But I loved those books and read them all, again and again. The plots gripped me and I was fond of all the little character-tics I got to know.
To this day I think of Anne, who always thought food tasted ‘better outdoors’, whenever I’m having a picnic. Whatever Blyton did, and however much people criticise her, she got me there.
Does this make a mockery of my attempts, or anyone’s, to write well? Is it just vanity and snobbery. When I think about how avidly I enjoy genre, especially Donna Leon’s Venetian detective Brunetti and Robert B Parker’s Spenser, the answer must be that to some extent it is.
Then again, I find when I read a really fine novel, like, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and then move on, say, to contemporary chick lit, which I also enjoy, the thin flavour of that English chocolate repeats on me.
These days we’re not allowed to define literature. There’s no definition that won’t shrivel in the critical flambee.
My favourite is the one from the Russian formalist Roman Jakobson who called literature ‘organised violence done to ordinary speech.’ But what about James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf? Some forms of distinctly unordinary speech demand to be called literature.
The only definition that seems to be allowed is that literature is whatever ‘we’ like. Fine. I like chocolate.
For me, literature is a question of rich flavours, of depths.It’s part of a secret alchemy I am desperately trying to learn, but which sometimes seems as opaque and richly impenetrable as premium gianduja.
Ah well. I’m just grateful to be alive in the era of Green & Black’s.
PS more pubic hair soon. I just wasn’t sure it went with chocolate?