Notes to Self – Emilie Pine

While looking at my reading habits over the last few years, I realize I haven’t read too many essay collections (something I need to correct), but I have been quite impressed with the ones I have –Seduction and Betrayal by Elizabeth Hardwick is the one book that comes to mind. Now, I will also add Emilie Pine’s Notes to Self to that meager list.

Notes to Self is a collection of radical, honest and unflinching essays on personal events that marked Emilie Pine’s life – caring for an alcoholic parent, the crippling grief of infertility, taboos around female bodies and sexual violence.

There are a total of six essays in the collection, but for this review, I will focus on the first two essays, which are simply brilliant and worth the price of the book alone.

Let me begin with what to me is the standout piece – ‘From the Baby Years’, a poignant essay on Pine’s emotional upheaval when it dawns on her that she will never experience motherhood. Pine was not always sure she wanted to be a mother though. In her twenties and early thirties, she observed her friends leap into parenthood and witnessed the extraordinary range of emotions they underwent. But she and her partner R weren’t very sure it’s a step they wanted to take. They debated a lot on the pros and cons, and also talked about their lives as people who loved quiet and calm and the space to read and write. For them, this was a rich and fulfilling life and having a child would mean giving up all of that.

But then, one day she accompanies her friend and her child to the park and observes the love between the two. Yearning for that very same bond, Pine decides she wants to be a mother. She manages to convince R, who is still unsure, but they decide to take the plunge.

There is no luck though after a lot of ‘trying’. And thereby begins Pine’s ordeal of closely monitoring her cycles, endless tests and hospital visits to determine the root of the problem. At one point, Pine does become pregnant only to miscarry and she writes about the emotional pain this caused and the ambiguity surrounding it – the foetus was growing, but there was no heartbeat, and under stringent Irish laws, the foetus is prioritized over the mother, so she couldn’t abort it either unless there was more clarity on its status.

All of this begins to take a toll on the couple’s relationship. It comes to a point when they have to decide whether to go in for IVF treatment. And after an important conversation – possibly the most important of their lives – Pine and R decide not to.

I loved this essay for its frank and honest portrayal of the range of emotions that the author felt – the love of a child that evoked the desire to be a mother, difficulty in comprehending what’s going on inside her body, the jealousy she felt when her sister became pregnant, and the grief of realizing that her dream of motherhood will remain unfulfilled.

But what I loved most is how the author came to terms with this fact, displaying hope and courage. Why grieve over something you can’t have, and focus instead on what you do have? Pine realized that she has a great relationship with her partner and why not treasure that rather than going after something that is not likely to happen?

And it hit me. We are growing old together. This is what it will be like as we watch each other age, as our partnership ages. And this unexpected moment made me happier than I could have imagined. I see a life ahead for us, a shared life. A great life.

It is Pine’s way of saying that she chooses to be happy and put these ‘baby trying’ years behind her.

The first essay in the book “Notes on Intemperance” explores the difficult relationship between Pine and her alcoholic father. The essay hits you in the gut right from the first few sentences. Pine and her sister are in an understaffed and poorly managed hospital in Greece, where their father has been admitted for liver failure. Travelling all the way from Dublin, when the sisters find him, “he has been lying in a small pool of his own shit for several hours.”

Pine’s feelings for her father are very complicated. She resents him for his endless drinking during her younger years, and at the same time she knows that when he eventually calls her for help, she will not be able to refuse. Pine’s father manages to pull through, but the author uses this incident as a medium through which to explore the trials of caring for an alcoholic parent – one who does not even grasp the consequences of his actions. And yet she can’t give up caring for him.

But we are not lost, not just yet. Our relationship may be an unyielding kind of story, a chain of unalterable moments, from arguments in bars to vigils at hospital bedsides. But it is also, just as powerfully, an ever-changing conversation between two people, father and daughter, a conversation that we are both grateful is not over.

In Notes to Self, then, Emilie Pine touches upon crucial themes – alcoholism, infertility, taboos around female bodies and female pain – topics which cause emotional disruptions, but which are never part of ordinary conversations lest it gets uncomfortable for the audience. And yet these are necessary conversations and cannot be swept under the carpet. These are essays laced with fearless and astonishing honesty; they reveal devastating truths and dole out dollops of wisdom.

The Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante (tr. Ann Goldstein)

Last year, I read the four Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante and I was blown away. Not surprisingly, the books found a place on my Best of 2019 list, and I was keen to explore some of her standalone works.

The Days of Abandonment was the one that was calling out to me and I also felt it was a perfect fit for “Novellas in November” (#NovNov)

The Days of Abandonment is a vivid, visceral tale of a woman’s descent into despair after she is abandoned by her husband.

From the very first page, Olga (our narrator) is devastated when Mario, her husband, communicates his intention to leave her.

One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me. He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarreling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator. He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice. He talked for a long time about our fifteen years of marriage, about the children, and admitted that he had nothing to reproach us with, neither them nor me.

At the time, Mario does not give any explicit reason, other than the fact that it’s all too much for him and he wants to leave. While Olga is shocked, she also feels certain that this is only a phase – Mario had expressed this very intention many years ago, only to come back to her again.

Olga, meanwhile, must grapple with the day to day life of taking care of her two children – Gianni and Illaria – and their dog Otto, while managing the house and paying the bills. They reside in Turin. At the same time, Olga refuses to accept Mario’s abandonment, and spends every waking moment trying to figure out what went wrong, and what needs to be done so that he comes back. But when she somehow learns that Mario has deserted her for another woman, Olga loses control.

Seething with anger and immense rage, Olga goes on the offensive – she speaks roughly with her friends and acquaintances, hurls abuses and resorts to foul language when interacting with others, and at one time even physically attacks Mario when she spots him with his new love Carla, in a shop.

Thereby begins Olga’s downward spiral into depression and gross neglect. Finding herself standing at the edge of a precipice and staring into an abyss, Olga struggles to adapt to the cruelly altered circumstances of her life.

At times when examining her situation, Olga is haunted by the image of the poverella (poor woman), a dominant presence in her childhood. The poverella in question was also abandoned by her husband and reduced to a state of utter despair, cutting a pathetic figure. Olga, at the time, vows never to slip into the same situation, but in her present sorry state, she can’t help but identify herself with that woman.

As the days go on, completing household chores, performing the duties of a mother, and tackling other practical problems of everyday life begin to take its toll on Olga as she overwhelmingly feels she is trudging through wet cement.

Don’t succumb, I goaded myself. Fight. I feared above all my growing incapacity to stick to a thought, to concentrate on a necessary action. The abrupt, uncontrollable twists frightened me. Mario, I wrote, to give myself courage, had not taken away the world, he had taken away only himself. And you are not a woman of thirty years ago. You are of today, take hold of today, don’t regress, don’t lose yourself, keep a tight grip.

She starts faltering, until one day things simply hit rock bottom. Has Olga reached a point of no return? Or, will she succeed in climbing out of this hole, and clawing her way back?

I was not the woman who breaks into pieces under the blows of abandonment and absence, who goes mad, who dies. Only a few fragments had splintered off, for the rest I was well. I was whole, whole I would remain. To those who hurt me, I react giving back in kind. I am the queen of spades, I am the wasp that stings, I am the dark serpent. I am the invulnerable animal who passes through fire and is not burned.

What stands out in The Days of Abandonment is Olga’s voice – she is brutally frank in conveying her thoughts and feelings, minces no words, and is almost always angry, sometimes uncomfortably so. She is immensely self-aware in a way that is fascinating and compelling. At its core, the novel touches upon the themes of how absurd conventional definitions of womanhood can be, while also highlighting the trials of motherhood. As readers, we are forced to wrestle with our feelings, because while Olga’s neglect of her children in her dark days can be hard to fathom, we also can’t help but empathize with her.

The Days of Abandonment, then, is in many ways an apt title for this powerful novella. On one level, it refers to the obvious fact of Mario leaving Olga. But, on another level, it also conveys a sense that Olga is losing her identity, that her sense of self has merged with that of the poverella, and that there is not much to separate the two women.

The Days of Abandonment is a great entry point for those who have never read Ferrante’s books before and do not want to commit to her Neapolitan Quartet yet, although I do think the latter is much superior.

Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner

Lolly Willowes was the first book I read by Sylvia Townsend Warner and it was a joy. I read it last month but am writing about it now because I have been struggling in general to write. Luckily, my reading has been progressing steadily and that’s a big plus in these trying times.

Lolly Willowes is wonderful tale of a single woman looking to lead an independent life by breaking away from the controlling clutches of her family.

Till her late twenties, Lolly is shown to lead a pretty sheltered life in the country where her father has a brewing business and an estate called Lady Place. While Lolly has two elder brothers Henry and James, it is quite clear from the start that Mr Willowes is attached to his daughter. The eldest son Henry shows no aptitude for running the family business, preferring to practice law in London instead. He soon moves to the city, marries Caroline, establishes a home, and starts a family.

James, though, is interested in brewery and begins to learn the ropes. Eventually, he marries too and along with his wife Sibyl settles down at Lady Place.

Meanwhile, Mrs Willowes passes away, and the running of the household falls on Lolly’s shoulders, which she accepts as a matter of course. However, Lolly shows no interest in marriage whatsoever. On one hand, her father feels guilty that he is not doing his duty in finding a suitable match for her, but he does not want to lose her company either.

With the death of Mr Willowes, Lolly’s idyllic life in the countryside comes to an end. Henry and Caroline decide that she is to come to London and stay with them. A spare room in the house is converted into a bedroom for Lolly and soon she is neck deep in the day to day household chores along with Caroline, shopping and looking after the children.

It is during that phase in her life that a sense of restlessness and foreboding begins to creep into Lolly. A London existence with its grinding routine increasingly depresses her.

She was subject to a peculiar kind of day-dreaming, so vivid as to be almost a hallucination: that she was in the country, at dusk, and alone, and strangely at peace. While her body sat before the first fires and was cosy with Henry and Caroline, her mind walked by lonely seaboards, in marshes and fens, or came at nightfall to the edge of a wood.

Her mind was groping after something that eluded her experience, a something that was shadowy and menacing, and yet in some way congenial; a something that lurked in waste places, that was hinted at by the sound of water gurgling through deep channels and by the voices of birds of ill omen. Loneliness, dreariness, aptness for arousing a sense of fear, a kind of ungodly hallowedness – these were the things that called her thoughts away from the comfortable fireside.

Lolly is now in her mid-forties, feels trapped and stultified, and longs for a change. During one of her shopping trips, she chances upon a flower shop and learns of a village in the Chilterns called the Great Mop. Soon she begins poring over books and maps on the place. It’s a region that tickles her fancy and on a whim she decides to establish herself there and live independently.

The first half of Lolly Willowes proceeds conventionally as Lolly sinks into domestic routines both at Lady Place and in London, her role in both these houses being taken for granted. It’s in the second half that the novel slips into a bit of whimsy and magic as ‘witches’ comes into play, but it’s all quite charming and more importantly Sylvia Townsend Warner pulls it off.

One doesn’t become a witch to run round being harmful, or to run round being helpful either…It’s to escape all that-to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others…

The one big theme in Lolly Willowes is the position of women in society. This novel was first published in 1926 and at the time a woman living by herself was probably unheard of. In the novel, it is expected that when the mother died, Lolly has to manage the household duties and when both the parents are no more, it is assumed that she is now the responsibility of the elder brother Henry. So much so that when she expresses her desire to carve a life for herself on her own in the country, Henry takes it as a personal affront. In those days, the concept of a woman leading an independent life was not the norm – if she was not married, she was expected to stay under her family’s wing.

Lolly refreshingly chooses to eventually defy these conventional societal roles. It’s a statement that even in the mid or late forties, it is never too late for a woman to entirely change her course of life if she really wants to.

I seem to see all over England, all over Europe, women living and growing old, as common as blackberries, and as unregarded…There they are, child-rearing, house-keeping…And all the time being thrust down into dullness…I tell you that sort of thing settles down on one, like a fine dust…

There is a dreadful kind of dreary immortality about being settled down on by one day after another…They (women) are like the trees towards the end of summer, heavy and dusty, and nobody finds their leaves surprising, or notices them till they fall off. If they could be passive and unnoticed, it wouldn’t matter. But they must be active, and still not noticed.

The other interesting fact about the novel is that it was published around three years before Virginia Woolf released one of her famous books – A Room of One’s Own.

In this regard, Alison Lurie in my NYRB Classics edition very aptly states:

Woolf was to make much the same point, saying that if a woman is to be more than a convenient household appliance, if she is to have a life of her own, and especially if she wants to be a writer, she must have freedom and privacy and “a room of one’s own.” She spoke, we know now, for thousands of women then and in years to come. But Sylvia Townsend Warner had spoken for them first.

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is one of those authors whose books I can read only when the timing is right. Years before, I abandoned Mrs Dalloway twice, only to try it much later when I was on a sabbatical. I loved the novel on my third attempt.

Something similar happened with To the Lighthouse. In a previous attempt I had not made much headway, but the current lockdown was the perfect opportunity to give this novel another go. And I loved this one too.

Despite her daunting reputation as a novelist and the perception that her novels are difficult to read, I ultimately found both Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse pretty accessible.

To the Lighthouse is essentially an impressionistic portrayal of the Ramsay family and their circle of friends during a holiday on the Isle of Skye told through various perspectives.

When the book begins Mrs Ramsay’s youngest son, James, who is around eight years old asks Mrs Ramsay whether they can visit the lighthouse. Mrs Ramsay believes the weather will be fine to make this excursion, but Mr Ramsay turns out to be a damp squib. He dashes their hopes stating that inclement weather is bound to make any such trip impossible.

This exchange at the beginning brings to the fore the tensions within the Ramsay family. Young James harbours resentment towards his father (which continues ten years later), and Mrs Ramsay is inwardly unhappy that her husband should be a spoilsport.

This brings us to one of the themes of the novel – the portrayal of a marriage, in this case the dynamic between Mr and Mrs Ramsay.

Mr Ramsay is quick tempered, and worries whether his body of work (he writes philosophy books) will stand up even after his death. He is insecure about being remembered by posterity and constantly craves for reassurances regarding his worth. For this, he more often than not turns towards his wife. To his kids, Mr Ramsay comes across as a tyrant.

Mrs Ramsay is described as a beautiful woman. In a way, she is the life of the assembly of people at their holiday home, the axis around which everything revolves. She is an intelligent woman but resigned to playing second fiddle to her husband, assuaging his moods, which often puts a strain on her. When it comes to their family life, however, she plays a central role, managing her eight children, being on top of household duties and taking care of her guests.

They came to her, naturally, since she was a woman, all day long with this and that; one wanting this, another that; the children were growing up; she often felt she was nothing but a sponge sopped full of human emotions.

It doesn’t mean the marriage is not successful because husband and wife love each other. Yet there are tensions between the two and the individual viewpoints of both Mr and Mrs Ramsay are presented to the reader.

And so she went down and said to her husband, Why must they grow up and lose it all? Never will they be so happy again. And he was angry. Why take such a gloomy view of life? He said. It is not sensible. For it was odd; and she believed it to be true; that with all his gloom and desperation he was happier, more hopeful on the whole, than she was. Less exposed to human worries-perhaps that was it. He had always his work to fall back on. Not that she herself was ‘pessimistic’, as he accused her of being. Only she thought life-and a little strip of time presented itself to her eyes, her fifty years.

Providing another perspective on their marriage outside of the family is Lily Briscoe – a young, aspiring painter who is also one of the guests at the holiday home.

Lily is very unsure of her talent as she frets over the form and composition of her paintings. It doesn’t help that Tansley, another guest, quips about how women ‘can neither paint nor write’.

Always (it was in her nature, or in her sex, she did not know which) before she exchanged the fluidity of life for the concentration of painting she had a few moments of nakedness when she seemed like an unborn soul, a soul reft of body, hesitating on some windy pinnacle and exposed without protection to all the blasts of doubt. Why then did she do it?

When she is not looking after her children, Mrs Ramsay spends her energy match-making and thinking about possible alliances. Mrs Ramsay knows she is beautiful but is also aware that her charms are not for everyone.

She bore about with her, she could not help knowing it, the torch of her beauty; she carried it erect into any room that she entered; and after all, veil it as she might, and shrink from the monotony of bearing that it imposed on her, her beauty was apparent. She had been admired. She had been loved….it injured her that he should shrink. It hurt her. And yet not cleanly, not rightly. That was what she minded, coming as it did on top of her discontent with her husband; the sense she had now when Mr Carmichael shuffled past, just nodding to her question….

The novel also explores the power dynamics between Mrs Ramsay and Lily Briscoe. Mrs Ramsay takes it upon herself to pair up people and in this she attempts to team up Lily with Mr William Bankes – a much older man. Lily does not fall for it and also on her part ponders on the relationship between Mr and Mrs Ramsay and the why the latter doesn’t stand up to him a bit.

There must have been people who disliked her very much, Lily thought – people who thought her too sure, too drastic. Also, her beauty offended people probably. How monotonous, they would say, and the same always! They preferred another type – the dark, the vivacious. Then she was weak with her husband. She let him make those scenes.

To the Lighthouse is made up of three sections. The first section – ‘The Window’ – is the longest; the focal point of which is the time spent by the family and their friends at their holiday home before the start of the Second World War as highlighted above. It ends with a large dinner party organized by Mrs Ramsay – where the various dynamics between the characters come into play – and the announcement of a wedding.  

We then move on to the second section – ‘Time Passes’ – which is peppered with some of the most poetic and beautifully written passages in the novel. The years roll by, the war rumbles on and the Ramsay holiday home gradually sinks into decay. Important developments in the Ramsay family are conveyed in various chapters in parenthesis.

In the third section – ‘The Lighthouse’ – ten years later, the Ramsay family are back on the island again and this time make that much delayed trip to the lighthouse.

One of the questions that many of the key characters ponder over is – What is the meaning of it all?

What does one live for? Why, one asked oneself, does one take all these pains for the human race to go on? Is it so very desirable?

Mr Ramsay does not want his fame to diminish even after his death. Lily Briscoe does not aspire towards such lofty ideals, nor does she appear to have much ambition of being a great painter, although she does brood over the details of the creative processes of painting.

What is the meaning of life? That was all-simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.

In terms of plot, there’s not much that happens in To the Lighthouse, the drama is all internal. Woolf’s writing is gorgeous, whether she is describing the Ramsay marriage, the creative energy of Lily Briscoe and the painting process, the changing of the seasons and the passing of time. The novel is a lovely portrayal of family life, of the love between a mother and her children and the accumulation of moments which leave an indelible mark on the mind.

The Wall – Marlen Haushofer (tr. Shaun Whiteside)

The Austrian writer Marlen Haushofer is not new to me. A few years ago I had read her novel The Loft, which I had loved at the time, but I knew that her best regarded work was the dystopian and feminist classic The Wall. The current lockdown, therefore, seemed like the ideal time to delve into it and what a brilliant novel it turned out to be.

The Wall is a powerful book about survival, self-renewal and the capacity to love.

The narrator is an unnamed middle-aged woman and when the novel opens, she is in an Alpine hunting lodge writing about the two and a half years she has spent in the forest, and the events leading upto it.

I’ve taken on this task to keep me from staring into the gloom and being frightened. For I am frightened. Fear creeps up on me from all sides, and I don’t want to wait until it gets to me and overpowers me. I shall write until darkness falls, and this new, unfamiliar work should make my mind tired, empty and drowsy. I’m not afraid of morning, only of the long, gloomy afternoons.

These events which are recounted in a couple of pages are simply this – the woman accompanies her cousin Luise, her brother-in-law Hugo and their dog Lynx (a Bavarian bloodhound) to spend the summer in the couple’s well-equipped hunting lodge in the Alpine forest. One evening, Luisa and Hugo head down to the village, but our narrator and Lynx stay behind in the lodge. The next day, our narrator realizes that the couple is not yet back which strikes her as quite strange.

While taking Lynx out for a walk, she bumps against an obstruction she can’t see and is stunned.

Fortunately, thanks to Lynx’s obstruction, I had slowed down, for a few paces on I gave my head a violent bump and stumbled backwards.

Lynx immediately started whining again, and pressed himself against my legs. Baffled, I stretched out my hand and touched something smooth and cool: a smooth, cool resistance where there could be nothing but air. I tentatively tried again, and once more my hand rested on something like a window-pane. Then I heard a loud knocking sound and glanced around before realizing that it was my own heartbeat thundering in my ears. My heart had been frightened before I knew anything about it.

She can see on the other side of this invisible wall, and what she notices is alarming. In one of the huts, on the opposite side, the dwellers have been turned into stone. Clearly, an unimaginable catastrophe has struck and the narrator and Lynx have been spared because they were not on the other side when it occurred. In a way, the narrator is possibly the last woman standing although she has not yet grasped the significance of this.

Against such a terrifying backdrop, the rest of the book then is all about how the narrator fights for survival and ekes out a living in the forest.

It is a source of comfort to her that the dog Lynx is by her side, and on one of their expeditions she comes across a cow who has also survived and who she brings back to the lodge.

At this stage, the narrator still harbours hope of being rescued but meanwhile she must adapt to her new circumstances, carry on with day to day living and caring for her animals. And that involves some hard, physical work.

She converts a cabin into a byre for Bella the cow. She learns to milk the animal so that she can feed herself, Lynx and a cat who is also now part of this small, odd family. She manages to find a patch of land where she can grow potatoes and beans. Then there is the hay harvest that she must attend to, chopping and stocking wood supplies for the winter and cooking meals everyday however meager.

These are activities the narrator notes down in her diary, and it becomes a source of the tale that she is writing for the reader.

The work is not easy and the fact that the woman has not done it before makes it all the more harder. But she manages to get it done even when it begins taking a toll on her body.

As you can see, there is not much in terms of plot per se, but The Wall makes for a terrifying and gripping read simply because the woman is in unchartered territory with unknown dangers lurking around and the reader is on the edge wondering how she will make it through.

It’s her love for her animals and her instincts to take care of them that keep her going. But naturally, she is beset by fears and forebodings. And she is also prone to bouts of depression, understandably so, fuelled by her circumstances and also changes in weather that oscillates wildly between periods of calmness and violent storms and cold winters.

There are successes – she helps Bella deliver a healthy calf, the potato field sprouts a good supply of potatoes, which means that she and her animals are never hungry. Plus, she manages to hunt deers too, an activity she loathes and never gets used to, but one which she must carry out to provide meat for the dog.

And there are setbacks too – coming to terms with the loss of some of her animals which inevitably happens despite her best efforts to care for them, and surviving an illness in the dead of winter.

As she is writing her account, the narrator is of course focusing on the physical aspects of survival. But she also talks about the thoughts swirling in her head about life, about caring, the differences between her old life and new, and the meaning of it all. To me, these were some of the most quotable and striking paragraphs in the novel. Here’s one…

If I think today of the woman I once was, the woman with the little double chin, who tried very hard to look younger than her age, I feel little sympathy for her. But I shouldn’t like to judge her too harshly. After all, she never had the chance of consciously shaping her life. When she was young she unwittingly assumed a heavy burden by starting a family, and from then on she was always hemmed in by an intimidating amount of duties and worries. Only a giantess would have been able to free herself, and in no respect was she a giantess, never anything other than a tormented, overtaxed woman of medium intelligence, in a world, on top of everything else, that was hostile to women and which women found strange and unsettling.

The deep bonding with her animals is one of the highlights of the book, so sensitively portrayed. I loved how the narrator had such a wonderful connection with Bella the cow.

I often look forward to a time when there won’t be anything left to grow attached to. I’m tired of everything being taken away from me. Yet there’s no escape, for as long as there is something for me to love in the forest, I shall love it; and if some day there is nothing, I shall stop living.

Loving and looking after another creature is a very troublesome business, and much harder than killing and destruction. It takes twenty years to bring up a child, and ten seconds to kill it.

Despite the bleak circumstances, the narrator’s strength of will to forge ahead is what makes The Wall so extraordinary. At first, she expects to be rescued and go back to her old way of life. But as the seasons roll one after the other and the months turn into years, she comes to terms with her new reality and learns to accept it. The setbacks hurt her deeply but she finds the strength to take it in her stride and look forward to new beginnings.

In the city you can live in a nervous rush for years, and while it may ruin your nerves you can put up with it for a long time. But nobody can climb mountains, plant potatoes, chop wood and scythe in a nervous rush for more than a few months.

I knew The Wall was highly regarded, and I can confirm that it is every bit as good as everyone says it is.