Cold Mountain

Friday, 11 March 2011

laura makabresku

I've been re-reading Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain for the third time over the past few weeks, and I had this overwhelming urge to write about it today. I call Cold Mountain one of my 'colour' books. This may sound a bit odd, and it's a bit difficult to explain, but I'll do my best.

I often link things with specific colours, such as days of the week, or months. For example, Monday is yellow, Tuesday is blue, Wednesday is orange, Thursday is purple, Friday is black, Saturday is white and Sunday is green. When I think of a day, my mind makes an immediate colour association. I've been doing this since I was little and it only became a conscious thing to me when I realised the rest of my family doesn't do it. I've since learnt that it's fairly common, that certain people's brains just associate things with specific colours, the way some people are conversely colour blind. There's a specific term for it, but I forgot what it is.

The strange thing is, when it comes to books, I don't link every one of them with a colour, but only specific ones. The books that have a deep emotional or personal impact on me become associated with colours, while those that I connect with on a primarily intellectual level, don't.

Cold Mountain has a colour palette for me because I found it deeply moving on so many levels. I guess I'm explaining this to you as a way to highlight why I've chosen the specific images for this post. They are rather beautiful, but they are not merely pretty decorations for my words, but a form of expressing to you why I love this novel. Just look at the colours and the tone of the images, and I think you'll know why.

The images are by Laura Makabresku. When I first saw them a few weeks ago I was struck by an uncanny feeling that I saw them before in my mind when reading Cold Mountain. I immediately emailed Laura to ask her if I could feature her images on my blog and she very kindly said yes. Thank you Laura, I really appreciate it, this post would not be the same without your images.

laura makabresku

The only moments of rest were after the supper dishes had been washed and put away. Then Ada and Ruby sat on the porch and Ada would read aloud in the time remaining before dark. Books and their contents were a great novelty to Ruby, and so Ada had reckoned that the place to begin was near the beginning. After filling Ruby in on who the Greeks were, she had begun reading from Homer. (p. 101)

Cold Mountain has a simple plot. It is an Odyssean tale, set in the South of America during the Civil War. What drives the narrative is Ada and Inman's love story told across the expanse of distance and separation. I think one of the reasons why this novel moved me so much is because the characters felt like human beings to me. I felt like I knew them. This is no small accomplishment for a writer. And yet, we learn very little about them through their time together as lovers. It is as yearning individuals that they are shaped as human beings as we catch glimpses of their personal histories through letters and flashbacks. Like the books Ada reads to Ruby, details of their lives come and go as shy guests, imparting a little detail, and quietly departing. It is this careful creation of the immediate present mediated by past and future that renders the novel's structure both intricate and honest.

laura makabresku

Inman had but the back of her head to find Ada by, yet that took only a moment since her dark hair was done up in a heavy and intricate plait of such recent fashion that it was not then known in the mountains. Below where her hair was twisted up, two faint cords of muscles ran up under the skin on either side of her white neck to hold her head on. Between them a scoop, a shaded hollow of skin. Curls too fine to be worked up into the plait. All through the hymn, Inman's eyes rested there, so that after awhile, even before he saw her face, all he wanted was to press two fingertips against that mystery place. (p. 74)

Nevertheless, over all those wasted years, he had held in his mind the wish to kiss her there at the back of her neck, and now he had done it. There was a redemption of some kind, he believed, in such complete fulfillment of a desire so long deferred. (p. 407)

Writing a love story is a tricky and tenuous business. So often, stories such as these collapse into arrays of sexual encounters, in an unbroken assumption that sex not only equals love, but is also the ultimate expression of it. Frazier relies on minuscule details to express love, on those fragile aspects of our bodies rendered inexplicably beautiful through love and desire. He relies on what we make vulnerable to a lover. His love story also relies on subtle comparisons. Here, between the expanse of many pages that mirror the distance Ada and Inman have to cross for a tiny physical encounter, it is the comparison between initial desire and its altered fulfillment.

laura makabresku

His hand at her waist touched the whalebones of her corset stays, and when she took a step back and looked at him, the bones creaked against each other as she moved and breathed. She guessed she felt to him like a terrapin shut up inside its hull, giving little evidence that a distinct living thing, warm and in its skin, lay inside. (pp. 248-9).

His stomach and back still held the press of Ada's palms. And as he squatted there in the dark of Cold Mountain, that loving touch seemed like the key to life on earth. Whatever words were in him that needed saying, they ranked as nothing to that laying on of hands. (p. 404)

Another beautiful comparison. I think this is like the antithesis of the bodice-ripper romance novel. The whalebone corset as evidence of circumstances and culture, the flesh of the palm as a symbol of life and instinct. This may be quite simple, but very few novels can carry such simple meanings effectively. Like Laura's image, which I've chosen for these two passages, there seems to be a dialogue between distance and merging, and it is done so delicately, that I can't help but read these passages over and over again.

laura makabresku

The children were sleepy, and morning would dawn as early and demanding as always. Time to go inside and cover up the coals and pull in the latch. (p. 436)

For such a sweeping story, Cold Mountain attains its beauty through accumulation of unassuming details and a raw honesty to the unpredictability of life and everyday details of existence. Reading this novel is a process of ear-marking every other page, wanting to retain some of the lines you have just read.

All images by Laura Makabresku. Visit her blog and flickr account. Thanks again Laura, you are incredibly talented.

The copy of the book I've quoted from is: Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2003.


Wishcandy said...

I understand what you mean, the name for it is synesthesia. Similar moments happen to me when reading Alice Hoffman novels. Or I'll hear images and taste colors. It's strange but I wouldn't have it any other way.

The way you describe the book is lovely. Next time i'm at the library i'll check and see if they have it.

Also, thanks for using those images. Very poignant and beautiful.

hila said...

synesthesia! of course! thanks, it was driving me crazy trying to remember what it was called. I saw a documentary on it once. It is strange, but I can't imagine living without it.

yes, the images are very beautiful, Laura is truly gifted.

nikaela marie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
avalonne hall said...

I don't know whether I should respond to your comment first or to this amazingly detailed, eloquent and beautiful post about Cold Mountain. Sadly, I have to admit to two things. I haven't seen Cold Mountain and any of Krzysztof Kieślowski's films. I've been meaning to watch his Red, Blue and White series maybe five years ago... but where did the time go? I don't know. I adore Juliette Binoche, so I have no excuse. I'm watching them!

Let me respond to your comment first. Well firstly, I'm a film student and I've loved art history since I first studied it. I am completely enamored by films and art and if I had a choice, I'd be a filmmaker and curator. I do want to start my own cafe gallery someday... but that's another ambition of mine. I guess films inspire fashion and fashion inspire films. I always wanted to be a character in a film and I just viewed my life that way and then exposing myself to all this culture, it has inspired me to dress a certain way. It's not entirely original, I guess there are people out there who are also very inspired by art and films who translate that into their daily outfits.

Thanks for reminding me of Krzysztof Kieślowski, I shall definitely watch his movies this upcoming week and I'll get back to you on that. I will definitely do an homage to his Red, Blue and White series and mention your genius idea! Thank you!

Cold Mountain. Whoa. I never saw it and I've been meaning to see it since it came out in 2003, but I just never saw it. I think I may have watched the beginning of it on the plane, but you know how it goes. You have definitely inspired me to watch it AND read the novel. The passages from the book are so inspiring. I love his writing style. I shall add it to my reading list. I look forward to seeing the color palette and cinematography of the film. I love it when people write so passionately about things that excite and inspire them. I truly feel your passion and love for the novel and movie. It makes the reading experience so much more enjoyable.

I would also love to know why you've made those certain color associations to those specific days.

Monday is yellow, Tuesday is blue, Wednesday is orange, Thursday is purple, Friday is black, Saturday is white and Sunday is green.

I mean I guess yellow is for optimism and Monday is meant to be the first day or rather the first work or school day, so approach it with optimism. I think some people dread Mondays and some look forward to it.

Thanks again for a beautiful post and Laura's photography is stunning.

etre-soi said...

I was reading you and telling myself that I didn't knew this story and that I have a hard time with novels about love but your last phrase just led me to click on your cold mountain link and I found out that I had seen the movie afterall, which indeed I loved it. Your writing is so beautiful that you made me completely "see" anouther cold mountain...I'm putting it on my list !
Laura's photos are amazing; the mood describes the excerpts you wrote so well.

Emily Vanessa said...

Cold Mountain is such a wonderful book, exquisitely written and so moving. Your review does it full justice, written in wonderful prose and as I was reading it, it made me think that I was reading beautiful handwriting in a personal letter like the ones in the second photo. Now I'm simply dying to read the book again and also rewatch the Three Colours trilogy, especially Red with Irène Jacob with her wet hair and grey sweater for the chewing gum advert.

Meg said...

I will reed it,thanks for your sweet suggestion.
Follow me,if u like,on!

Tana said...

Hila, how i love your reviews!!!Awesome. I also love colour association :)
Thank you
have a good weekend

Andrew Lowe said...

Wonderful review and very well written. Fast Company recently did a piece on synesthesia:

Des said...

once again, outstanding analysis.

Deleilan said...

I fear I am not yet ready to take in Cold Mountain, but it has now joined your many recommendations on my to-read list.

Regina said...

Cold Mountain is one book that literally moved me to tears. I reached the end and couldn't stop crying. I love the photos you've chosen to illustrate this posting, especially the first one of "Ada."

nowcraving said...

You're reflection is so well articulated and beautiful that it makes me want to read the book right away! Thanks for the recommendation :)

aldrin said...

I just wrote about synesthesia for one of my interviews. This is uncanny. I love your words, analysis and the chosen images.

Caitlin Rose said...

OH I heard a pod cast on this american life about your condition. I think it's a very romantic condition to have, it's almost supernatural. And I will read this novel, I've been meaning to anyhow. Thanks for the lovely review.

Anonymous said...

thank you very much, darling!

/ Laura Makabresku

lizzie said...

wow..i have never linked things to colors, but i suppose that's a brilliant idea. i've never read cold mountain either and i guess i need to!

Christine said...

What a beautiful way to see things. You have such a talent for expressing your love for one thing by relating it to the sensual qualities of another. Now I must read Cold Mountain!

naomemandeflores said...

I'm overwhelmed by this post. So interesting and complete. Now I'm a little ashamed that I never read Cold Mountain, but I guess it's not too late.

Camila F.

CloudyKim said...

Wow, this sounds like such a good book. I love love stories, but I tend to gravitate towards ones that hold some promise of quirk or mystery. The small, but moving details that you've shared through the passages and your review tell me how special this telling is. I feel like I'd need to read this in the snow... how I wish I could get snowed in again someday (haha, totally naive, I know).

Kelly said...

I do the same thing with numbers (one=white, two=red, three=light blue, four=green, five=dark blue, six=brown, etc....). I've been reading your blog for a little while now and it's just lovely. Thanks for this thoughtful review, the gorgeous images, and the recommendation. I'm reading /Shantaram/ right now but I'll add this to the list at once.

Oh, and a few commenters have asked "why" you have the associations you do with colors and days of the week (as well as books)... I can't answer for Hila of course but for me it's never been a choice and I don't think there's symbolic value tied up in the associations (optimism, etc.). That's just how things register, several levels below conscious access or control.

Kelly said...

oh, and to avalonne---if you watch the kieślowski films I do hope you blog about them! they've been on my "to watch" list for a while now as well and perhaps i'll seize the opportunity this weekend...

avalonne hall said...

To Kelly, I will most definitely blog about the Red, Blue and White films. I can't wait to watch them!

See Hear Say said...

i saw the movie but haven't read the book yet. sad story.. looks like the book is a must read!

Francesca said...

Sometimes i associate days with colors as well! for me, it's a very subtle thing. it'll sometimes apply to certain music, or even just certain notes on the keyboard. but my day colors are very different (which apparently is usual for synesthesia).

i associate monday with nothing in particular, tuesday with yellow, wednesday with a sort of muddied bluish green, thursday often is dark red/burgundy, friday is purple, saturday is definitely blue, and sunday is white.

someone asked about what each color represents in terms of our psychological perception of each day- when it comes to synesthesia or mild forms of it, i believe there isn't a definite association like that. there is no common "yellow for optimism" "blue is sad" "white for purity" etc. It's highly individual and a different type of associative connection that that sort of symbolic analysis.

Tracey said...

I love that you have such strong colour associations with the days of the week ... I think that's absolutely fascinating. I'm going to be thinking about the way that I use and associate colour in my life now! :)

Your post is wonderful, and so eloquently written. Although I must admit that I haven't read or watched Cold Mountain ... though I now feel I must dig out a copy of the book ... those excerpts you've shared are wonderful.

Sometimes a writer shows great skill in saying just enough, rather than describing the unfolding of a love in excruciating detail.

Those photographs are stunning ... I'm off to look at the beautiful work of Laura some more.


Niina said...

Thank you for your post. Perfect reading for Sunday.

About synesthesia. I once tried to do research on the matter for an essay (or perhaps even for master´s thesis) in art history. It´s a tricky subject, yet immensely fascinating. As I came across to it, it seemed the research field was conquered by neurology and synesthesia studies as a medical condition. In addition there were artists to be found which saw it as a possibility to see the world. But for some reason, perhaps because these fields are relatively far away from humanistic disciplines, I could find only little about "common" everyday-life synesthesia quite many have. To me it seems to get closer to semiotics as you explained you feel Cold Mountain to have a certain colour. I quess this colour is sepia from the pictures and here we might have a case of synesthesia backing up a semiotic sign. Sepia is the colour of early photographic prints. Without synesthetic memory (?) or feeling this sign would be quite empty and dull. This is what precisely interests me, the possibilites to experience more wholly, but there isn´t much to rely my suspicion. Oh well, you got me rambling. I apologize the long lines.

Love your words.

Olga said...

After this nuanced and personal description of the book, I feel like reading it myself. I'd like to find the same moments and feelings that you've talked about. I like the way you associate things with colours. When I was little, I told my mom that colours have sounds. She was just about ready to take me to the doctor. Now I know the name for this effect - synesthesia.

nikaela marie said...

i will order this book in at my bookstore.
you so beautifully linked these images with your review.

have you read Micheal Ondaatje?


If Jane said...

oh you must read:
Kandinsky's book Concerning the Spiritual In Art (1910)...!

odessa said...

hila, i have this book and meant to read it. you just bumped it up the top of my list! :)

also, the lines you quoted and the images belong together. just perfect combo. thank you for this great review!

Libby, Vintage Aplomb said...

That's so cool that you have synesthesia! There's a young adult fiction book called A Mango Shaped Space about a girl with Synesthesia, if you're interested!

hila said...

thanks guys! a few of you have asked why I have these particular colour associations, or why these specific colours are chosen, and all I can say is that it's not really a choice. It's not a voluntary action or reaction. It's just a link my brain makes, and I don't think there is any symbolism to the colours I associate with certain things. I wish there was some sort of symbolism though as it would make it more interesting.

Also, I don't voluntarily decide why certain things have a colour. I associate books, films, years, days, numbers, months and cities with colours, while other things don't have a colour. I wish I could explain why.

wishcandy: thanks again for reminding me what it's called!

avalonne hall: thanks for this insight into your photography and work, I'm looking forward to seeing more. In particular, I can't wait to see what you do with Kieslowski's three colours trilogy!

Sofia: thank you! I think you would really like this novel.

emily vanessa: I love that image of Irene Jacob in the film, it's still one of my favourites from any film I've ever seen.

meg and tana: thanks!

andrew: thanks for stopping by! and for the link, I've been reading up on it.

des: thanks des, that's sweet of you to say.

deleilan: let me know what you think when you read it.

regina: I cried too :)

now craving: my pleasure.

aldrin: I'll have to read it then!

caitlin rose: I only wish I had supernatural powers :)

laura: I should be thanking you! it's my pleasure lovely laura.

lizzie: I hope you pick up a copy.

Christine: thanks so much :)

camila: aww, thanks!

cloudykim: I'm dying for snow too - this is probably the wishful thinking of someone who is sick of heat.

kelly: yep, I totally agree, it's the same for me.

see hear say: it was so sad! I cried at the cinema too when I saw the movie.

francesca: how true! there are certain things for me that have a distinctive colour, while others have a variety of tones or an array of colours. I wish there was a way to magically tap into our minds and understand all this on a level that is not simply technical.

tracey: and we've all read those love novels that explore "love" in excruciating detail ;) ha!

niina: oh please, don't apologise! I wish you would undertake this project as I think you're right, it is a subject dominated by the medical profession, but I'm not sure that one discipline can lay claim to a human experience entirely. In particular, what you suggest here is so worth exploring further:

"I guess this colour is sepia from the pictures and here we might have a case of synesthesia backing up a semiotic sign". Thanks for this.

olga: you know, I once read an article in Vogue in which a perfume maker said pretty much the same thing as you when discussing how he creates his perfumes. Uncanny, and beautiful.

nikaela marie: yes I have, and I love his work. I do find his novels emotionally taxing though, sort of like climbing a (metaphorical) mountain.

if jane: thanks for the recommendation, I will!

odessa: thanks! I hope you like it :)

libby: thanks for the tip!

Jessica Sue said...

Thank you for another great book review. I have had Cold Mountain on my to-read list for quite some time now. I'm definitely more excited to read it. I recently read Sixty Lights after reading your review - what a beautiful book.

hila said...

my pleasure, I'm so glad you liked Sixty Lights, it's one of my favourite novels.

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