Book 14: Mary Watson: The Cutting Room

Books I've read

Mary Watson, South Africa, cutting room, fiction, women

It seems as though when you are experiencing something fiercely, the words of music and books come alive. Characters speak to you and of you. Grief is probably the least unique feeling, because it is the best and most frequently described.

I read Mary Watson’s The Cutting Room as the relationship I have been in for eleven years was coming to a sudden and unexpected end, without what I felt was sufficient time to say goodbye. Only weeks ago my life seemed predictable – I was engaged, in love, and excited for the life I was going to live. Now, things have all been made strange. There is a Russian word I discovered the other day:

ostranenie (n.) encouraging people to see common things as strange, wild, or unfamiliar; defamiliarizing what is known in order to know it differently or more deeply.

When comfort is withdrawn, the world feels an unfamiliar and wholly different place. The space between one’s fingers is overwhelmingly large when not filled by the fingers of the one you love.

The skilful writing in Watson’s book was a welcome escape. It was lyrical and tight, and the characters were clear and strong. Lucinda, the main character, was incredibly powerful – she was immersed in feeling to the point that sometimes you weren’t sure whether she was aware of the way it was influencing her thought. For me now, a month in to my new life, I know how that feels. I have always cautioned myself not to make decisions at night, but now that caution has extended to all hours.

All of the central characters were strong – so strong that sometimes if they said disquieting things it felt necessary to feel as though they were talking about you, or to defend the other character. I think her characterisation was masterful – you know that is the case when a fictional creation can get under your skin. Amir’s mother, for me, was this character. I’m sure for other readers, there will be different ones.

Thematically it was a strangely appropriate book for this time in my life. The strongest theme for me was haunting. This came through in the exploration of a haunted house, in the way that Lucinda moves in her home with the absence/presence of her missing husband Amir, and in the way that the ideas of who we are and who others are can take such a strong hold on our lives. It forces the reader to ask what we are to do when confronted by those hauntings, or the revelation that what we imagine may not be the reality.

Life is, as The Cutting Room makes clear, mysterious and full of feeling. Another word I came upon this week, is the German word ‘Erlebnisse.’

Erlebnisse (n.) the experiences, positive or negative, that we feel most deeply, and through which we truly live; not mere experiences, but Experiences.

At the Foo Fighters concert last night in Cape Town, a lyric from the song Times Like These captured the same sentiment:

It’s times like these you learn to live again

Watson is a South African writer from Cape Town. She won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006 for her short story Jungfrau, and is the author of a collection of short stories Moss. This is her first full-length novel, and I will certainly be getting the next one.

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