Published: Lightning Books (January 2019)
A ‘found novel’
LONGLISTED: OCKHAM NEW ZEALAND BOOK AWARDS
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2017 BY RADIO NEW ZEALAND
Every day for a year, Catherine Chidgey recorded the words and language she came across during her day-to-day life – phone calls, television commercials, emails, radio shows, conversations with her family, street signs and satnav instructions. From these seemingly random snippets, she creates a fascinating portrait of modern life, focusing on the things that most people filter out.
Chidgey listens in as her daughter, born through surrogacy, begins to speak and develop a personality, and her mother slips into dementia. With her husband, she debates the pros and cons of moving to a new town. With her publisher, she discusses the novel she is writing. While, all around, the world is bombarding her with information.
In The Beat of the Pendulum, Chidgey approaches the idea of the novel from an experimental new direction. It is bold, exciting, funny, moving and utterly compelling.
[ JANUARY ]
I think your door is open.
People sometimes hear something but they don’t hear it correctly. How’s wee darling? Did she see the New Year in?
No no no, gentle gentle gentle with the pearls.
Is he playing hard to get? You won’t catch him. He’s stupid but he’s not that stupid. Shall we put you in the chair?
She looks at everything. I don’t know how she looks so long without blinking.
She’ll knock that off there. That’s not going to stay there. Try the other hand.
Some babies at that age really can’t eat. They can still just only have bottles. You’re a show-off aren’t you? Yes, you’re a big show-off. She’s keeping her eye on you, isn’t she? That shortbread was lovely. Did you make it? Oh. Well it just tasted like homemade. When you can buy things as nice as that—I presume you bought it—it’s hardly worth turning your oven on, is it?
So were there lots of admirers talking about the baby paraded at lunch the other day?
Oh yes—how old is she, what’s her name? Yes, they thought she was beautiful. They all like to see something like that, because you know . . .
That was a nice guy at your table, with Gwen. He said she’s got more hair than he does.
Yes he’s lovely. He’s got an artificial leg. He had his leg removed about three years ago. He’s good fun. Gwen’s quite a quiet lady. Les and I have lots of jokes and she joins in, you know. I have a feeling she didn’t have a happy marriage. She’s never quite said, but I think he went to the pub and football and left her alone quite a lot. We have a good table, Les and Gwen and me. There used to be another guy there, but I don’t know whether he’s died or gone upstairs or what’s happened to him but he’s not there, and nobody seems to know. And we’ve now got a lady there who doesn’t even get a joke.
She hasn’t done anything interesting for the last thirty-six hours or so.
Nana’s having a cup of tea. Stop laughing at Nana and eat your carrot. Tea’s so different just made in a cup, compared to sixty cups in a teapot.
Where’s my laptop? I’ll show you some photos Helen posted.
What’s she standing on?
It’s Charlie’s hoverboard.
In the news, a lot of them have been spontaneously combusting. They just burst into flames.
Because there’s videos of them all over the internet. Because of the batteries or something. And there’s videos of people veering out of control and then coming off horrendously. They’re back early from their holiday over there. The neighbours. They were meant to be away for four days and they’ve been away for two. Perhaps they’ll do the lawns. Careful . . . careful . . . gentle! Gentle! Take control of that hand, because it’ll get onto your hair or your pearls and the pearls will be all over the floor in seconds.
Do you want Nana’s pearls? You can’t have them yet. No. You’re supposed to sit down. Bend your knees. Bend your knees and sit down. You’re supposed to be just sitting down quietly. You don’t like me holding on to you, do you? Do you want to go on the floor? Do you want to go on the floor? I’m trying to think how old that is.
That? I thought it was your father’s.
Yes it was. And he came out from Ireland. It would be in the 1890s, before the turn of the century. I think about ’98. Of course Dad had no idea when he came out.
Well he didn’t know how old he was.
You can’t imagine somebody hardly going to school, can you.
Why do you have to go off getting into trouble? Always getting into trouble.
Have you got a problem? Daddy’s got a problem more like.
Rebel with a cause. Her toenails need doing too, Catherine.
They’re so tiny at that age, the toenails, aren’t they. I don’t really want to see her with only four toes. I used to hate cutting your nails.
No need to look worried. Trust me, I’m a professional.
What’s Mummy doing?
‘For those who love books, Catherine Chidgey is a find’
‘A wonderful new talent’
‘Like the whole of Knausgaard’s My Struggle in one entrancing volume’
‘The Beat of the Pendulum is an important and deeply imaginative novel. Chidgey experiments with and opens up new structural territory for what contemporary fiction might be. Readers should be prepared to be challenged; equally, they should be prepared to be thrilled’
‘An interesting literary exercise, not entirely relaxing, fascinating and interesting, but also one of those books that gives you an ‘in’ into a literary circle. Enormously pleasurable’
‘The scenes in which Chidgey spends time with her elderly mother are frequently amusing and often moving, and in them the author’s chosen form aligns perfectly with her material’
Times Literary Supplement
‘Remarkable...The descriptions of her mother’s illness are handled with both grace and a sense of pre-emptive commemoration. The relationship between grandmother and grandchild, one fogging in memory, one coming into memory, is done with admirable and touching truth’
‘A book in an apparent genre of one...Chidgey is a lucid and witty conversationalist, and her artist husband and genial publisher are capable foils. An infant daughter is raised, a mother’s declining health is managed and – with a heroic dose of meta navel-gazing – this novel is written. You’ve likely not ready anything like The Beat of the Pendulum before’
‘I can guarantee you won’t have read a book like this before. What a way to start the new year with a whole new reading experience...quirky, emotional, funny and very touching...oh and the Vengaboys! It’s a weird thing to have stuck with me but I now can’t stop singing the Vengabus song’
‘A number of writers today are trying to capture the essence of modern life in a fictional narrative. There are Ali Smith and Olivia Laing, and this is another novel in that experimental vein which I think is really exciting and interesting’
‘It’s fantastic. Clever, engaging, vivid, surprising. Reminded me of Bloom’s wandering, in parts. The flickering. That quality of the overheard having to stand, without context, even in its occasional banality. And the urgent wisdom’
John Campbell, TVNZ
‘This then, is a close-up view of Catherine Chidgey’s private life, word for word, the minutiae, the nitty-gritty. It’s an account so ‘uncensored’ that we go with her to her cervical smear test and read the fabulous line, ‘Just parting your labia now’... We hear her jokes, her wry, comical misanthropy, her warmth and kindness, her extraordinary patience with her mother.... Nothing wild or extreme happens and yet, with a great degree of wit, inventiveness and lightness of touch, she keeps us engaged, keeps us following...’
‘The Beat of the Pendulum pushes against our notions of form, shape, and shaping. This book interrogates the limits of what a novel can be. Chidgey encourages us to consider how our lives, unvarnished, are story-like: inviting, moving, sweet, sad. In accumulating the moments of her life, Chidgey reveals a deeper story, a story that speaks to all of us’
Maggie Trapp, New Zealand Books
‘Often extremely moving, frequently funny, it also reads as the most intimate autobiographical exposure in New Zealand literature’
‘Being plunged into this cacophony of voices is disorienting yet intriguing, and brings home just how many odd edges a typical novel shaves off reality – odd edges which are still there in Chidgey’s novel’
‘You have to work at it, almost like tuning a radio in and listening to snippets of conversations which slowly reveal the characters of the people you are reading about. Brave, edgy, fearless and bold, it’s unlike any book I’ve ever read’
Read an interview with Catherine Chidgey in Stuff magazine