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The Faraway Nearby By Rebecca Solnit (Granta)

Last update - Sunday, December 1, 2013, 15:15 By Metro Éireann

Book Review by Jeanette Rehnstrom

By the time I got around to writing this review, the prolific Rebecca Solnit had already launched a new book, which just goes to show she's not an author who rests on her laurels. But it was The Faraway Nearby that she was promoting when last in Ireland, at the Dublin Writers Festival earlier on this year, and that's the one that concerns us here.
According to the dustcover, this book should be filed somewhere between Memoir and Anti-Memoir, which is another way of the author saying: it is about me, but who is this ‘me’, really? The writer of an anti-memoir is supposed to be wary of the idea of the self as one unified sense of identity that progresses in a straight line, and this is indeed what Solnit seems to discover. The reader actually sees and feels her change as the book goes forth.
The core inspiration for The Faraway Nearby concerns Solnit’s reaction to her ailing mother, which hits a number of nerves for her that she then follows, never letting a meander into seemingly unrelated territories – fairy-tales, jam-making, Iceland, Mary Shelley, Buddhism, Georgia O’Keeffe – stand in her way. She digs into our compulsions towards telling stories, and especially so the stories we spin to become or create ourselves, and wonders about what happens to these stories – and ourselves – when they start to unravel.
Solnit’s mother’s known persona is being picked apart by Alzheimer’s, and the person or persons that emerge from the debris are hard to hold on to in the same way as Solnit had previously done. The grieving of the unforgiving end of both her mother, and her own self eventually, naturally looms large, as Solnit tries to figure out the best way of dealing. She undulates between love and anger, attachment and independence, control and chaos. Always so near yet so far, as the title suggests.
Like in Solnit’s best-known work Wanderlust, here she continues to journey and map her life and/or knowing as a way to light the way forward. Perhaps she depends on her prolificacy as the light needed to continue on, and with doing that she brightens her readers’ journeys too. Solnit is a delight you should take your time out to get to know.

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