cover image Notes from Hampstead: The Writer's Notes: 1954-1971

Notes from Hampstead: The Writer's Notes: 1954-1971

Elias Canetti. Farrar Straus Giroux, $23 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-374-22326-7

Canetti is a meticulous writer, and in reading his notes, one can easily see him hovering over a just formed sentence, pencil in hand, wondering whether to cut or to add or to leave well enough alone. The period covered by the notes collected here concerns an important time in Canetti's life. His study of mass psychology, Crowds and Power, appeared in 1960; most of his plays were emerging for the first time; and the travelogue The Voices of Marrakesh and essay collection The Conscience of Words were published as well. Although Canetti's notes abound with oblique references to these works, they also manage to stand alone as exercises in phrasing and as attempts to find and fix his voice as a writer. Aphoristic, fragmentary, laconic, mildly humorous and often finicky, Canetti's ""notes"" are, depending on your taste, either diamonds in the rough or fool's gold. A sampling of the Nietzsche-like maxims gives some sense of what notes for a writer such as Canetti look like: ""She speaks from the navel."" ""Word associations: only interesting if you leave out five of six connecting links."" ""To surround oneself with people in the summer--no war and everyone is alive. A summer in which not one person died. The happy man, piqued by vanity. Now he wants to read and be unhappy."" Reading these notes is like looking through the workshop of a great craftsman: it is a conglomeration of tools, of mishaps and of yet-unfinished gems. (Feb.)