on November 6, 2005
A remarkable book by a remarkable woman, By Grand Central Station captures the almost hallucinatory, painfully intense experience of a powerful love affair. By no means a "novel" with the expectations that term raises of plots and carefully delineated characters, the book reshapes already dramatic true events into brief but grand art (Smart's circa 1940 pursuit of the then-famous poet George Barker--based entirely on her love of his writing--her discovery that he already had a wife, and the necessarily tragic passion that ensued).
The book tells this story, but through a beautifully crafted howl of language. At times, the writing has the richness and cadence of scripture which sets it worlds apart from conventional prose. You can read it again two years later and feel like you've returned to the Catholic mass after years of "sensible" agnosticism.
If you like a story told more straightly (for it does take a certain kind of sensibility to savor this howl) read Rosemary Sullivan's excellent biography of Smart, BY HEART. It's hard to beat the saga of her decades-long affair with Barker, her subjugation of her genius to his and to the four children they conceived...and ultimately, of the way this cult book was rediscovered in the 1960s and brought her a fame that would completely eclipse his.
on September 25, 2012
Though this is a very slim book, I'm still reading it. Smart's style is so dense that it almost requires a mental shift to get into her prose style, which is immersive and almost like an altered state. When I'm finally done, I might give it more stars, but at first, the style really turned me off. It felt overwrought; I can see the comparasin to Anais Nin, another sensual and immersive stylist. Sometimes it works and sometimes it just feels suffocating that you can't understand how someone could be that deep into their own thoughts and senses; it begins to feel narcissistic and like I said, suffocating.
On the other hand, she has a very unique voice and I respect that.
Post-script: now I get this book- and I've seen her sense of humor, especially when she says something to the effect of "lay off the stuff, Solomon, get pally with the gang", referencing the Song of Songs in a contemporary dismissive way that others may reduce her obsession to. This book requires careful reading as it is incredibly dense and the sentences have a lot of imagery, surrealism and literary references packed into them. I did find that she overused 'blood' and 'ghosts' a bit much, but this is a very striking work and now I can really see why people rave about it. Originally I gave it 3 stars as it just seemed overcooked to me, at the start, but once you adapt to living in her inner world you begin to understand her language better and you succumb to the rhythms and style.
Must read more prose-poetry; what an amazing form.
on December 16, 1998
Simply breathtaking - a unique account in magical prose poetry of all consuming love, which you will return to again and again. Almost too painfully visceral at times, snapshots of sheer beauty leap out of the page as you ride the non-stop vertical drop on the rollercoaster of their relationship - not for the faint or hard hearted.
on October 11, 2012
I had the good fortune to discover this book when it was recommended to me by a nonfiction writing professor. I appreciate more lyrical writers with an interest in exploring love and passion on deeper, more honest levels. It's not enough for me to read the words of a writer; I want to be immersed in their world and to occupy neglected corners of their brain space. I want to feel as vulnerable and exposed as the author herself, as crazed and awkward and off-guard. In moments of pure honesty and exposure, as a reader you become acutely aware that the author has not simply strung words into a sentence, but has given you a gift. It's magical.
No one pulls this off like Elizabeth Smart. Did I really just say no one? No one.
Every word of this book is carefully selected and presented to cast a portrait of a time in Elizabeth's life that was full of love, and full of grief. This book details her long, torrid affair with a man who was married to another woman, but with whom she had five children. She has enough self-awareness to recognize his wife as an actual human with feelings and pain of her own; she acknowledges both the issues of this arrangement, and her inability to disentangle herself from someone she loves so desperately. The end of this book is perhaps the most perfectly crazed, wretched, heartbroken decree ever penned. For these reasons, I turn to this book again and again, in the aftermath of any and all break-ups, for confirmation that the short-term insanity I'm experiencing is not unique.
Read this book. Buy four copies and distribute them to your friends. Her writing talent alone deserves our ovation.
on October 12, 2014
I have to confess that I read this book because I was reading a book about The Smiths and this was listed as one of Morrissey's favourite/most influential books. Now that I've read it I can see the connection. There are actually lines from this books which got used as lyrics in some Smiths songs.
The book stands on its on merits however. The writing is beautiful and poetic. The emotions are real and raw although not always admirable. The narrative loosely follows the author's affair with a married man, her crippling love for him regardless of all common sense and social taboos. She disgraces herself in the eyes of her family and society. She gives birth to illegitimate children by her lover while he forsakes his own wife and lawful children.
To call this love intense would be a massive understatement. To call it rational or sensible would be just plain wrong. To deny it is beautiful would be blind.