I read a lot, a couple of books or more a week. I don’t say this proudly as I am aware that my reading has something of the manic about it and also that I use it like a drug, to hide from myself and my continuous examining of and questioning of myself. Sometimes of course this is OK but it bothers me that I cannot appreciate language in the way some of my friends do and it is on my list to try to focus my reading.

When I do read it is either to learn-biography, history, philosophy or to give my brain something to chew on, like distracting an over active dog with a bone. For this I use the thriller genre. Even the best of thrillers do not stay with you, the plot gone as soon as you have read it. Chewing gum for the brain as Fr. Ted would say.

I generally don’t bother with other fiction as I am not really interested in makey-up people unless they are fantastical. I mean why bother making up boring normal people right?At least that is what I tell myself but of course I have read fiction that has painted pictures for me, and being a visual person maybe I need strongly visual text.

King Hereafter written by Dorothy Dunnett who was also a painter, is rich and dense in colour and language..

They entered Loch Bracadale with the sunrise, rose-coloured oars laying darkling folds on the rose-tinted pool of the fjord. A dusting of guillemots…..leaving pink and verdigris rings…a charcoal rock needled with cormorants.

…on this God-made tower of layered pink rock, chained to the gulleys and pools of the mainland by rotting spines of pebble and stone


And there are books whose words have stayed in my soul like The Bone People by Keri Hulme, the language of which read like flowing water. This sentence stayed with me for years

“…an element of strain that grew and crept like a thin worm through their embrace.”

More recently I was directed to Claire Keegans Walk The Blue Fields by someone who was reminded of me by one her characters( a wild haired woman who lived by the sea, “a bold spear” of a woman 🙂 )the language of which painted visceral picture for me.


This week I picked up and read a book from the library, The Light of Amsterdam by David Park. I mostly picked it up because I lived in Amsterdam for two years and I am often hugely nostalgic for it in spite of, or more likely because of it being a difficult and raw time for me.

ASIDE:Extraordinary, as you get older, to realise those times that cut deepest into your soul, that hurt most are the times that, though they often feel muddled, meaningless and unresolved, bring you to yourself, push you right up against the window of your soul. These are the times that somehow transcend time and meaning and make life worth living. This is something I would tell young people if I had any young people to tell.

Parks’ novel is unextraordinary in the blurb, three strangers,  two women and a man separately go on a trip to Amsterdam, with either their spouse or child in tow and find that the weekendis a turning point in each of their lives. Love is mentioned in the blurb and I inwardly groaned but I took the book anyway. And love in many ways is woven all through this book.


These are ordinary people struggling with life, relationships, lost chances, regrets and getting old but in a very real way. So much blah blahblah for me but for once,  as a childless single person, I could identify with the characters even though two of the protagonists were grappling with their growing children and one with her husband.

And thankfully there was no romance crap and no sex either, two things which I believe in less and less, or maybe they just seem to me to be mere distractions from the real story, things that in books and reality should be kept private, not out of modesty but because it always boring from the outside.


The major thing about this book for me was that I finished it I felt glad to be  me. Not in the way that it is better than being another way but because somehow Park shows us that no matter what path you take, the magic, the love, though not often glimpsed, is always there for all of us no matter what choice we make no matter what our place in society, we are all, in that way equal.

It is said that real art is universal and that is how this book felt to me. In a way it was saying, realistically and without sentiment, the only thing that any of us can say in the face of every day life. “All will be well and all will be well and all will be well”

Maybe as I said, it is my emotional attachment to Amsterdam that has made me like this book. I believe, because I know, that Amsterdam does shed light.  I loved this book, it made me want to read more but also to examine myself and my life in a new and more positive way.

I finish with this, from page 360, I could have written for myself…

“Then , as the boat vanished under the bridge there came a slow procession of the citys inhabitants…and with them the nameless half-remembered faces of all those…in the park. All of them she was leaving behind. All of them she was taking with her. And she was part of it and whatever else might be taken from her this could never be taken away. The city had given her that at least”



2 responses to “THE LIGHT OF AMSTERDAM

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