Yesterday I read Julien Gracq’s The Narrow Waters thanks to this post at the excellent Vertigo blog. It’s an odd little book: too short, just long enough, direct, elusive, observational, discursive, lyrical… It describes a boat trip on the River Evre which Gracq/the narrator took many times as a child. It really is a description of the things he remembers seeing, what they made him think of and what they foreshadowed, but more to the point the book is a meditation on how memory and perception operate. The idyllic memory is
like a charged religious image, imprinted in us ages ago, where a foreshadowed life can only reveal itself in all its glory on the other side of the ‘obscure corridor’, valley of darkness, or place of exile.
The parallels between a boat trip like this an a walk are obvious; early on, Gracq says:
Why did the feeling anchor itself in me at an early age that if traveling – traveling without any thought of returning – can open doors and truly change one’s life, then that most singular of all forays, an excursion with neither adventure nor unforeseen events that after a few hours finds us home again, right before the gate of our parents’ house, has a more secret magic, like the handling of a divining rod?