I’ve just completed my Book Club read, Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun. The novel is based on Beryl Markham’s early years in Kenya. Born in 1902, Beryl has become a feminist icon. Her mother abandoned the family when Beryl was quite small, her father was loving but distant. Beryl grew up largely on her own. She played and hunted with the natives, became a racehorse trainer and was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.
Paula McLain is a gifted scribe. Through her words, the reader endures the simmering African sun, experiences the fear of a cold dark night spent in the bush, feels the horror of being attacked by a lion.
I peruse with a yellow highlighter in hand, underlining the many imaginative phrases and rich metaphors. Before beginning this blog I galloped through novels, eager to race to the finish line, sometimes even reading the last page first. Now I find myself considering how an author crafts her sentences. Which delicious adjectives are strung together to paint the crystal clear images in my mind?
McLain also wrote The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway’s relationship with his first wife. I’ve read The Paris Wife. I now plan to re-visit it, putting my yellow marker to work. What better way to study the art of writing than to read excellent books?
Learning about Beryl Markham has sparked an interest to delve more deeply into her life. She wrote memoir West with the Night, about which Hemingway stated, in a letter to his publisher, “Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West With The Night? …She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers … it really is a bloody wonderful book.”
I just ordered it on Amazon. I will savor it slowly, highlighting the passages Markham uses to breathe life into her story. Maybe, sentence by sentence, passage by passage, I too will outgrow pounding together “okay pig pens”. ( I should be so lucky as to create a Heminwayesqe hog stall!)