Titles 102, anti romanticism and some extraordinary Sibelius
Tuesday, 26 September 2017
Hmm, my thoughts on a change of title for MEETING ODETTE don't seem to have gone over especially well. TAKING FLIGHT, apparently, sounds like a self-help book and has been used before in fiction, as has FLIGHT OF THE SWAN, which shows up either as a children's book or soppy romance.
I'd like to make one thing clear about MEETING ODETTE. Romance it ain't. And that's the curse of the swan. It's a bit like the moon: an image that in certain kinds of fiction, poetry, popular music etc, has become so overlaid with dubious associations that our preconceptions of it arrive coated in sugar that strikes dead the genuine flavour within the thing itself.
Pretty white swans, aren't they romantic, kissy kissy, hearts and flowers? Oh, no, wait. Swans are dangerous - they can turn jolly nasty if you get on the wrong side of them (a friend of mine was recently sent scarpering away from the waterside by a cross one in Cambridge) and they are large, fierce beings who think nothing of charging at waterbirds smaller than themselves when there's competition for food. They aren't bad creatures. They mate for life and are reputed to pine away without their partner. They are houseproud and family proud - you'll see them even in St James's Park in London out for a swim in a well-organised line, with the cygnets filing along in the middle and a mummy or daddy at either end.
They are beautiful. But their beauty is natural, wild, breathtaking. They don't inspire gloop. They inspire Sibelius's Fifth Symphony. Try the video above of Leonard Bernstein conducting its finale - listen out for the flight of the swans in the horns and the extraordinary change of gear that he brings to the switch of key: you can almost see them soar. (This film is from a concert in which Bernstein conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, in 1966, which was televised. I'll just leave that info there for you to think about.)
MEETING ODETTE is not a romance. If anything it's a rather feminist take on the story of the ballet. How do you know that only a man swearing to love you forever is the only way to break your spell? Just because your enchanter told you that, it doesn't mean it's true - does it?
So...I was coming back to the idea of keeping the title exactly as it is. And then an old friend who is a far more famous novelist than I am got in touch to say he thinks the title a) sounds like 'Meeting a debt', and b) might make the more literarily inclined think I mean Proust's Odette.
It was starting to look like "back to Square One", but I am, frankly, stumped for further ideas. Meanwhile, there's been energetic advocacy from some of you for sticking with it. And unless I find something seriously, vastly better, I probably will.
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