Monday, December 21, 2009

Smell, regional dictionaries and Housekeeping.

Smell is the weirdest sense I think.  It is so deeply rooted in us and so animalistic, and we have such poor language for it, yet smells are so tremendously evocative.

I woke up this morning out of a solid sleep because there was a strong smell in the house I couldn't place.  The man checked the burners were off on the gas stove, but couldn't smell anything.  It was REALLY strong.  Chuck seemed to agree with me, and came out of the bedroom sneezing.

Weird how it woke me up.

Another personal oddity with me is that my smell sensors in my brain seem to be completely dislocated from my language centers.  I can recognise a smell, discuss a smell but invariably I cannot name it.


Oh, and check this out, it is a dictionary of regional American English and better still it provides a map of WHERE a phrase or saying is used.  This is the COOLEST thing!  Sadly they only look at the US but it is still pretty fascinating.

I am two thirds of the way through Marilyn Robinson's Housekeeping.  I am so LOVING this book.  Loving it.  It seems like a book about landscape, and the characters are a thin translucent vehicle for the narrative of the landscape.  She writes incredibly richly and wanders, no rambles through the landscape, exactly in the manner I would in life and how I think.  It works perfectly.  The storyline moves forward within a richly depicted natural world almost devoid of people, and those there are seem mightily inconsequential and small.  The characters remain ephemeral, transient, indifferent and self-contained like barely visible hints of past lives which sounds negative when put boldly, but it makes for a delicately nuanced text that moves like a smooth deep quiet tannin stained river.  Stunning, reflective and refractive providing glimpses of passing stories as you slip along with it.

Loving this book.

A fascinating book, and astonishing as a first novel.

And the ending is perfect.


Jason, as himself said...

Okay, so what was the smell? You never figured it out? Strange...

The Bodhi Chicklet said...

Ah yes...smell. So much can be said, no? Well, actually, no - not for you! I remember erasers we used to get in our Christmas stockings that had a particular smell (a good one) and every now and then it wafts past me but I can never find the source. I work with the most perfumed bunch of men I've ever known. Sometimes it knocks me off my chair and I have to leave the room. Yes, smell is something else! As for Housekeeping, I'm glad you are enjoying it, it got such great review but when I read it, it just didn't "fit" with me. I soldiered on and finished it but felt like I was dangling the whole time never being able to really enter into it.

Anonymous said...

I've been to a wine tasting lesson recently. You'd be amazed at the amount of names that exist for smells and aromas. Maybe you just didn't get a degree in olfactology, that's why you can't put the name on a smell (neither do I, by the way, or not much...)

oreneta said...

ElP, I strongly suspect that the vocabulary for smells is much stronger in French than in English. Honestly. Look at the difference in the cooking and the wines. Cultures name what is important to them, no?

oreneta said...

Jason, the smell was strange, and no we never did figure it out. Maybe the dog was farting??? Always a good excuse.

Bodhi, smell....I love it, just can't name it. Weird. Housekeeping? I don't think it would have been the same book AT ALL if I wasn't the age I am with kids and some life experience. Although (that was weird, I was trying to write Catalan and couldn't come up with the English word!!!)...Encara que....although it is written from the child as narrator, it is written once the child has grown, and that perspective that the narrator has, of looking back, requires a reader who also has a certain amount of life experience and insight into the responses of the characters as they are so subtly played out. Loved it SO much.