I still tip toe to the door and watch for my baby son’s breathing. It’s not that I’m paranoid or anything, it’s just something that a lot of new parents do. If I can’t see his chest rising and falling or hear the lovely rhythm of his breaths, I come right into the room and put my palm very lightly against his stomach. The feeling of his quiet breathing is so beautiful. It started me thinking of the books I’ve read in the past where children play a part, and how I would feel on reading them now I have my own son.
One that leaps immediately to mind is Rosshalde. A lot of Herman Hesse fans are not particularly fond of Rosshalde. It’s a quiet tale of an artist and his son, who suddenly becomes gravely ill. It’s not as cool as Steppenwolf, or as intellectual as the Glass Bead Game. Yet, for some reason, I found the moments with the little boy very real and still attach a feeling to them – of sunlight in the drowsy garden and a growing feeling of dread and heaviness around the boy’s illness. I absolutely couldn’t bear to read it now. There was something so terribly real about it.
Oliver Twist is a book I’ve read many times. Children play such a central part in it that I’m curious as to how I would read it now. Would I make it through the birth/deathbed scenes? Or would I be completely susceptible to his lavish sentimentalism? Then I wonder – could I have written Indigo after the birth of my son? No, definitely not. Have I become a pushover when it comes to children in literature? I’m afraid the answer might be yes. What happened to my sense of irony, my detachment when it comes to sentimental scenes of childhood? Gone. All gone.
And I don’t mind at all.