Year 2 / Book 38: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept


38) By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart

So this is about as far from my typical read as it’s possible to get: I picked it up at the trusty Acton Central community bookshelf, partly because the title rang a bell from past studies, and partly because it was thin and short (look, this book a week thing isn’t always a bowl of cherries…). The background to the book is that Elizabeth Smart fell in love with the poet George Barker (first through his poetry and later very much in person), had children with him and what I believe the tabloids would describe as a ‘torrid’ love affair. Affair because, unhappily for Smart, Barker was already married. 

This short book, in poetic prose, reads like a spilling out of incredibly visceral feelings on the page, moving in an instant from the lyrical and high-minded and poetic to the heartfelt and agonised and again on to more literal grounded details. One can’t help feel the rush of emotion coming the reader’s way, and heartfelt doesn’t really do it justice – this is a woman howling into the void, crying loudly at the world and, for a brief period in the middle of the book (corresponding to the height of their affair) in the most passionate and ecstatic reverie.

Of course, whether you get to that point depends on whether the ‘poetic prose’ is to your taste: I found it pretty challenging to wade through at first (it felt a bit like someone from the 1960s suddenly deciding to write like one of the Romantic poets), and some of the sentences are quite special (a few involving cats, caves and sex spring to mind), and it all goes a bit dream catcher and healing crystals for my tastes at times.  And yet, for all that, I found myself responding to the emotion on display as it built up and built up, and there are passages that are incredibly powerful. A little like if you swim through a pool or a river, then you come out having been immersed and changed.

If you like a bit of poetry and florid language along with your heartbreak, this is recommended. If you have just broken up with someone or normally read quite staid non-fiction, then not so much.

Score: 6.5/10

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