Around about quake time I stumbled on William Boyd’s novel Ordinary Thunderstorms, in which the main character – someone just like you or me – ends up living rough in London. Ever since then, the homeless have slowly but surely insinuated their way into my very living room.
And there is no escape, because the subject of homelessness has really hit its straps at this year’s Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012 where book after book has the homeless jumping off the page at me.
In Dark Night: Walking with McCahon, author Martin Edmond - in an attempt to better understand McCahon’s Sydney walkabout - goes homeless for one night in Sydney. It is amazing how compelling it is to read his account of this. You can’t help but wonder how you would cope with a life lived out of a supermarket trolley.
feed a stray cat or fret if Balzac had a cough, but the homeless were as intolerable as vermin.
In Snowdrops by A.D Miller, the homeless have a spectacularly bad deal. Not only is Russia a freezing cold country in which to have no front door to close, but homeless people are often murdered and lie under piles of snow all winter only to emerge like snowdrops in the Spring thaw.
Only Kathy Lette, in The Boy Who Fell to Earth, doesn’t flirt with the topic. But if she had, I bet she’d have made it laugh-out-loud funny.
It is a subject that seems to be in the air right now. So I wasn’t the slightest bit taken aback to open The Press the other day and read of a pensioner who is going to sleep in her car for a week in a show of solidarity with all the Christchurch people who have no homes right now.
It could all be quite depressing – being homeless or feeling homeless. But as a Chinese proverb so succinctly put it:
You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair!