In our new series on favourite books, Maeve Costello’s choice of book is an exploration of the intricacies of love.
Published in 1945, the book is loosely based on Elizabeth Smart’s life and love affair with George Barker, a man with whom she had four children while he was still married to another woman. The subject matter is not ground-breaking by today’s standards, affairs being a common topic found on the shelves of bookstores. However, it isn’t the story of By Grand Central Station that I find captivating, rather Smart’s beautiful and tragic recount of love in all its pitfalls.
Told in ten parts of gorgeously flowing prose, the book is full of raw emotion. The prose follows the mind of the author, within the first few pages, not long after meeting the wife of her lover, she asks herself “Why do I not jump off this cliff where I lie sickened by the moon?”. This is directly followed by the mundane task of serving breakfast to her guests. While the physical world is described in all its horror and beauty, the narrative is driven by the emotional world of its narrator, and how it alters her perception of events.
“While the physical world is described in all its horror and beauty, the narrative is driven by the emotional world of its narrator, and how it alters her perception of events.”
The opening to Part Ten (the final part) is placed separate from the rest of the prose, as for the first time our unnamed narrator, who is presumed to be Smart herself, strikes out in defiance at the world and how it has treated her – “I will not be placated by the mechanical motions of existence”. By Grand Central Station is a work of defiance in the face of all that should crush and conquer the narrator’s soul, from having to face the condemnation of a small town as an unwed mother in 1940’s America, to being destitute on the streets of New York. Smart talks of how she is “more vulnerable than the princess for whom seven mattresses could not conceal the pea,” her dogged perseverance r sees her through it all.
Why ‘By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’ is my favourite book is hard to explain. I accidently happened upon it in a second-hand bookshop last year, and bought it on a whim. I am forever thankful that I did buy it. It now sits by my bedside, becoming increasingly worn each time I read it.