“She opened the window and hung out. The rain, like a quarrel, was over. The earth breathed warm and damp in its sleep. Clumsy drops fell from the old trees. Suddenly she saw her life as a bird let into a series of cages, each one larger than the last; and each one, because of its comparative freedom, seeming, for a while, to be without limit, without bars. It’s time to get out again; she knew, but told no one. She stared down at the dark and forgot herself. Under the plastered, hammered earth there was a fecund stirring in the old garden. Under stones, out of decay, sticky wings, moving jaws, feeble millipede wavings—they were all coming back to hunger and reproduction, to crawl and swarm and eat their way through the feast.”
from Occasion for Loving, Nadine Gordimer, 1963
In the bustle of the holiday season, my brain has only seemed able to enjoy re-reading. I have a handful of wonderful new books (including Clarice Lispector’s Collected Short Stories) that I am eager to get lost inside, but I have found myself gravitating to old favorites instead. Comfort reading.
It has been some time since I have reread any Gordimer, and this is one of her “overlooked” novels—that is a bit of a lie, since I think she is rightfully famous for her entire body of work. But this particular novel, Occasion for Loving, which has a fiercely important story for its time and political context, is also alive with Gordimer’s bright and complicated writing. Somehow her writing feels a little old-fashioned to me right now, perhaps because of the things I’ve been reading over the last few years. But it’s so lovely to sink into and admire. By old-fashioned I do not mean slow or tedious or outdated, I mean more that she was writing in a literary moment that invited her to write “richly” in a very particular way, to linger on details and thought movements in a way that I feel contemporary fiction does differently.