Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

‘I am slain,” she cries, “alas! I am slain!” I did not write the line, so I am not responsible for the older woman stating what must already have been obvious. The younger woman screams, not in shock, but in exultation.

The older woman staggers some more, turning now so that the onlookers can see the blood. If we had not been in a palace, then we would not have used the sheep’s blood, because the velvet gown was too rich and expensive, but for Elizabeth, for whom time does not exist, we must spend. So we spend. The blood soaks the velvet gown, hardly showing because the cloth is so dark, but plenty of blood stains the lavender silk, and spatters the canvas that has been spread across the Turkey carpets. The woman now sways, cries again, falls to her knees, and, with another exclamation, dies. In case anyone thinks she is merely fainting, she calls out two last despairing words, “I die!” And then she dies.

* * * * * * * * *

Josh Griffin was racing to beat the news deadline clock with his last story of the week when he heard his name.

It wasn’t in dulcet tones, either. “Griffin – you got a minute?”

Looking up from his computer, Josh zeroed in on his editor, seated in her office, clear across the crowded newsroom. She was wearing her usual scowl as she shuffled a stack of wire copy, confident her minion would jump to attention and present himself before her throne.

Josh felt his heart quicken. Any time Millie String bellowed at a hapless colleague, Josh cringed, knowing his turn would come one day, too. This must be my day of reckoning, he decided.

“I’m on deadline, Millie,” he called, without rising but with a point to the Seiko on his wrist. “Can’t it wait?”

Millie fixed a stare on him and shook her head. “Now,” was all she said.

* * * * * * * * *

Haruo’s room was near the front door. A child’s crayon drawings of “a general” and “a soldier with tulips” were pinned to the wall. In the middle of the room stood a potted fir tree, with braids of golden wire and chains of coloured paper threaded between the branches, topped by snow made of white cotton. It was the Christmas tree Sanshirō had bought for his son just before he had left for his temporary assignment.

But the first thing I noticed as I entered the room was the empty bed of the little master of the Christmas tree standing in front of a small desk in one corner. The blankets had been thrown back and the child who should have been sleeping there was nowhere to be seen. The silver paper stars of the Christmas Tree that had lost its master sparkled as they started to turn and sway in the cold currents of air.

From The Cold Night’s Clearing by Keikichi Osaka

* * * * * * * * *

If I move, even ever so slightly, this stair will creak and they will hear me. They’re all around me and one of them will cry out, that’s for sure. Bound to. Then I’m done for. I’ll never get another chance like this to get away. And I need to get away tonight, come what may. No matter what.

If I turn my head oh-so-slowly to the right and look up, I can see three doors on the first-floor landing above me. All shut. Ainsley is in the room at this end of the landing, closest to the stairs. He’ll be sitting there now, rocking gently back and forth and mumbling to himself. He’s sharper than you’d think, though. If he hears me, he’ll shout out, “Who’s there?” at the top of his thin, whiny voice. And he’ll do it over and over, each time louder than the last.

Sprake is in the middle room. He’ll be staring out of the window across the lawn. Absolutely motionless, he’ll be. I know. I’ve seen him. He sits that way for hours at a time. Like he’s in a trance. If I get out of here, I’ll have to stay round the side of the building to get away. If Sprake sees me he’ll start shouting and banging on the walls with his fists. He turns quickly, that one. He’s mad, proper mad. I’ve even seen him biting his toenails until they bleed.

* * * * * * * * *

From the Archives…

“Well, I’d got to talk so nice it wasn’t no comfort – I’d got to go up in the attic and rip out awhile, every day, to git a taste in my mouth, or I’d a died, Tom. The widder wouldn’t let me smoke; she wouldn’t let me yell, she wouldn’t let me gape, nor stretch, not scratch, before folks -” (Then with a spasm of special irritation and injury) – “And dad fetch it, she prayed all the time!”

* * * * *

The minister gave out the hymn, and read it through with a relish, in a peculiar style that was much admired in that part of the country. His voice began on a medium key and climbed steadily up till it reached a certain point, where it bore with strong emphasis upon the topmost word and then plunged down as if from a spring-board:

“Shall I be car-ri-ed toe the skies, on flow’ry BEDS of ease,
Whilst others fight to win the prize, and sail thro’ BLOOD-y seas?”

(Click for full review)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

The Master of Ballantrae, James in baptism, took from his father the love of serious reading; some of his tact perhaps as well, but that which was only policy in the father became black dissimulation in the son. The face of his behaviour was merely popular and wild: he sat late at wine, later at the cards; had the name in the country of “an unco man for the lasses;” and was ever in the front of broils. But for all he was the first to go in, yet it was observed he was invariably the best to come off; and his partners in mischief were usually alone to pay the piper. This luck or dexterity got him several ill-wishers, but with the rest of the country, enhanced his reputation; so that great things were looked for in his future, when he should have gained more gravity. […] I think it notable that he had always vaunted himself quite implacable, and was taken at his word; so that he had the addition among his neighbours of “an ill man to cross.” Here was altogether a young nobleman (not yet twenty-four in the year ’45) who had made a figure in the country beyond his time of life.

* * * * * * * * *

She told him it had been six years ago that she had stayed a day with the Rasputins while on a pilgrimage to Kiev. It was the busy season, and Rasputin was mostly out in the fields, but he would often run home to check on things, each time trying to get her to kiss him. She resisted, insisting that it was not right, but he told her that “among us spiritual pilgrims seeking to save ourselves there is a type of spiritual kissing, like the way the Apostle Paul kissed St. Thekla.” Karneeva repeated how while climbing up out of the chapel beneath the stables, he had grabbed her and kissed her cheek. It was then Rasputin told her of the appearance of the Holy Spirit. Later that day, Glukhovtsev brought Karneeva and Rasputin together for what the Russians called an ochnaia stavka, a sort of face-to-face confrontation, to try to get to the bottom of her claims. Seated directly across from Rasputin, Karneeva repeated everything she had told Glukhovtsev. To each of her statements Rasputin said little more than “That was all long ago, I don’t recall a thing,” or “I don’t remember a thing from that far back,” or simply “I don’t remember that.”

* * * * * * * * *

I had visited the place several times when the professor was alive, and I was also a student of zoology, especially anthropods, so I should have been quite used to the sight; nevertheless it still gave me the shivers and I was rooted for a moment to the spot. Inside hundreds of bottles lining the walls, eight-legged monsters were running around and spinning their webs. Big Oni-gumo and Joro spiders, yellow with blue stripes; Harvestmen with legs ten times longer than their bodies; Cellar spiders with yellow spots on their backs. The grotesque Kimura spider and trapdoor spiders, Ji-gumo, Ha-gumo, Hirata-gumo, Kogane-gumo; all these different kinds of spider had not been fed for about a month and, having lost most of their flesh, were looking around with shiny, hungry eyes for food. Some jars had not been properly sealed and the escaped spiders had spun their webs on the ceiling and in the corners of the room. Countless numbers of the ghastly creatures were crawling around on the walls and ceiling.

From The Spider by Koga Saburo

* * * * * * * * *

I sauntered through the camp towards my hut. On my left, scattered amongst nim and palm trees and big clumps of hibiscus hedge, were the most important buildings in the camp complex – the garage and workshops, Mallabar’s bungalow, the canteen, the kitchen and storage sheds, and beyond them the now abandoned dormitory of the census workers. Beyond that, over to the right, I could just see, through a screen of plumbago hedge, the round thatched roofs of the cooks’ and small boys’ quarters.

I continued past the huge hagania tree that dominated the centre of the camp and which had given it its name: grosso arvore. The Grosso Arvore Research Centre.

On the other side of the track, opposite the canteen, was Hauser’s laboratory and behind that was the tin cabin he shared with Toshiro. Thirty yards along from the lab was the Vails’ bungalow, not as big as chez Mallabar but prettier, freighted with jasmine and bougainvillea. And then, finally, at the camp’s northern extremity, was my hut. In fact “hut” was a misnomer: I lived in a cross between a tent and a tin shack, a curious dwelling with canvas sides and a corrugated iron roof. I suppose it was fitting that it should go to me, on the principle that the newest arrival should occupy the least permanent building, but I was not displeased with it and was indifferent to what it might say about my status.

* * * * * * * * *

From the Archives…

Imaginings and resonances and pain and small longings and prejudices. They meant nothing against the resolute hardness of the sea…It might have been better, she felt, if there had never been people, if this turning of the world, and the glistening sea, and the morning breeze happened without witnesses, without anyone feeling, or remembering, or dying, or trying to love.

(Click for full review)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….He was an old man, slight, with white hair and bowed head, and with a professional caressing voice. His practice had shrunk, and his bills to Mrs. van Beer were large and paid without question. He was not dishonest or in any way a dishonourable man. Later events threw an unkindly brilliant light upon him. But he was an averagely diligent G.P., with a professional equipment which had been moderately good in 1889, the last year in which he had attempted to learn anything, with failing eyesight and memory and with an increasing difficulty in concentrating. Lack of any other resources forced him to go on practising when he should have retired. He had to live, and for that reason, someone else was to have to die.

* * * * * * * * *

I met Victory Day in East Prussia. For two days it was quiet, there was no shooting, then in the middle of the night a sudden signal: “Alert!” We all jumped up. And there came a shout: “Victory! Capitulation!” Capitulation was all right, but victory – that really got to us. “The war’s over! The war’s over!” We all started firing whatever we had: submachine guns, pistols… We fired our gun… One wiped his tears, another danced: “I’m alive, I’m alive!” A third fell to the ground and embraced it, embraced the sand, the stones. Such joy… And I was standing there and I slowly realised: the war’s over, and my papa will never come home. The war was over… The commander threatened later, “Well, there won’t be any demobilisation till the ammunition’s paid for. What have you done? How many shells have you fired?” We felt as if there would always be peace on earth, that no-one would ever want war, that all the bombs should be destroyed. Who needed them? We were tired of hatred. Tired of shooting.

Valentina Pavlovna Chudaeva, Sergeant, Commander of Anti-Aircraft Artillery

* * * * * * * * *

….Mrs Swettenham was once more deep in the Personal Column.
….Second hand Motor Mower for sale. Now I wonder… Goodness, what a price!… More dachshunds… “Do write or communicate desperate Woggles.” What silly nicknames people have… Cocker spaniels… Do you remember darling Susie, Edmund? She really was human. Understood every word you said to her… Sheraton sideboard for sale. Genuine family antique. Mrs Lucas, Dayas Hall… What a liar that woman is! Sheraton indeed…!’
….Mrs Swettenham sniffed and then continued her reading.
All a mistake, darling. Undying love. Friday as usual. – J… I suppose they’ve had a lovers’ quarrel – or do you think it’s a code for burglars? … More dachshunds! Really, I do think people have gone a little crazy about breeding dachshunds. I mean, there are other dogs. Your Uncle Simon used to breed Manchester Terriers. Such graceful little things. I do like dogs with legsLady going abroad will sell her two piece navy suiting… no measurements or price given… A marriage is announced – no, a murder. What? Well, I never! Edmund, Edmund, listen to this…

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.’

….‘What an extraordinary thing!’

* * * * * * * * *

….He stood at the window with a tumbler of whisky, smoking a cigarette, and watched the last traces of the sun disappear behind the trees of Ludwigkirchplatz. The sky glowed red. The trees looked like the shadows of primitive dancers cavorting around a fire. On the radio, the opening of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture signalled the start of a special news bulletin. The announcer sounded half-crazed with excitement.
….“Prompted by the desire to make a last effort to bring about the peaceful cession of the Sudeten German territory to the Reich, the Führer has invited Benito Mussolini, the head of the Italian Government; Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Great Britain; and Edouard Daladier, the French Prime Minister, to a conference. The statesmen have accepted the invitation. The discussion will take place in Munich tomorrow morning, September 29th…”
….The communiqué made it seem as if the whole thing had been Hitler’s idea. And people would believe it, thought Hartmann, because people believed what they wanted to believe – that was Goebbels’s great insight. They no longer had any need to bother themselves with inconvenient truths. He had given them an excuse not to think.

* * * * * * * * *

From the Archives…

….In those early visits it was as though we were building something sacred. We’d place words carefully together, piling them upon one another, leaving no spaces. We each created towers, two beacons, the like of which are built along roads to guide the way when the weather comes down.

* * * * *

….Already the mountain grass is fading to the colour of smoked meat, and the evenings smell of burning fish oil from lamps newly lit. At Illugastadir there will soon be a prickle of frost over the seaweed thrown upon the shore. The seals will be banked upon the tongues of rock, watching winter descend from the mountain.

(Click for full review)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….…at night, coming down the River Highway, you were caught in a dazzling galaxy of brilliant suns, a web of lights strung out from the river and then south to capture the city in a brilliant display of electrical wizardry. The highway lights glistened close and glistened farther as they skirted the city and reflected in the dark waters of the river. The windows of the buildings climbed in brilliant rectangular luminosity, climbed to the stars and joined the wash of red and green and yellow and orange neon which tinted the sky. The traffic lights blinked their gaudy eyes and along the stem, the incandescent display tangled in a riot of color and eye-aching splash.
….The city lay like a sparkling nest of rare gems, shimmering in layer upon layer of pulsating intensity.
….The buildings were a stage set.
….They faced the river, and they glowed with man-made brilliance, and you stared up at them in awe, and you caught your breath.
….Behind the buildings, behind the lights, were the streets.
….There was garbage in the streets.

* * * * * * * * *

December 25, 1942… Our division no. 333 of the 56th Army occupied an elevation on the approach to Stalingrad. The enemy decided to take it back at all costs. A battle began. Tanks attacked us, but our artillery stopped them. The Germans rolled back, and a wounded lieutenant, the artillerist Kostia Khudov, was left in no-man’s land. The orderlies who tried to bring him back were killed. Two first-aid sheepdogs (this was the first time I saw them) crept toward him, but were also killed. And then I took off my flap-eared hat, stood up tall, and began to sing our favourite pre-war song: “I saw you off to a great deed,” first softly, then more and more loudly. Everything became hushed on both sides – ours and the Germans’. I went up to Kostia, bent down, put him on a sledge, and took him to our side. I walked and thought: “Only not in the back, better let them shoot me in the head.” So, right now… right now… The last minutes of my life… Right now! Interesting: will I feel the pain or not? How frightening, mama dear! But not a single shot was fired…

Maria Petrovna Smirnova, Medical Assistant

* * * * * * * * *

….He had steeled himself just a little for the Jump through hyper-space, a phenomenon one did not experience in simple interplanetary trips. The Jump remained, and would probably remain forever, the only practical method of travelling between the stars. Travel through ordinary space could proceed at no rate more rapid than that of ordinary light (a bit of scientific knowledge that belonged among the items known since the forgotten dawn of human history), and that would have meant years of travel between even the nearest of inhabited systems. Through hyper-space, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time.
….Gaal had waited for the first of those Jumps with a little dread curled gently in his stomach, and it ended in nothing more than a trifling jar, a little internal kick which ceased an instant before he could be sure he had felt it. That was all.

* * * * * * * * *

….Time passed. I acquired a girlfriend, lost her, acquired another, lost her as well. My secret movie script, my most demanding lover, disliked my attempts at these misconceived relationships with human beings, and sulked, and refused to yield up its secrets. My Late Twenties were steaming toward me, and I like a swooning nickelodeon hero lay helpless across the tracks. (My literary parents would no doubt have preferred that I refer, instead, to the climactic railway-tracks scene in Forster’s The Longest Journey.) The Gardens were my microcosm, and every day I saw the creatures of my imagination staring back at me from the windows of houses on both Macdougal and Sullivan, hollow-eyed, pleading to be born. I had pieces of them all but the shape of the work eluded me. At #XX Sullivan Street, on the first floor, with garden access, I had placed my Burmese – I should say Myanmaran – diplomat, U Lnu Fnu of the United Nations, his professional heart broken by his defeat in the longest-ever battle for the post of Secretary-General, twenty-nine consecutive rounds of voting without a winner, and in the thirtieth round he lost to the South Korean.

* * * * * * * * *

….“…they call me Barbecue.”
….“Barbecue? Why’s that?”
….“Oh, you don’t want to hear. It’s a sad story . . . we’d barely rounded that great jut on the French coast when we got shipwrecked. On the island of Ushant, hiding in all them jagged barren rocks from the French troops, having to fend for ourselves on starvation rations till we could hail the next British ship sailing by. What food we had was running low and so, Jim, what could I do but make a sacrifice for my own shipmates?”
….“A… a sacrifice?”
….“We’d saved from the wreck some of my cooking equipment, including a great chopping knife – like this one here. And with the edge of that knife, why, I sawed off my own leg.”
….“S…sawed…?”
….“What else could I do? And then I cooked it.”
….“Cooked…?”
….“The flesh off my calves made a fine pair of fillet steaks. The blood I drained for a kind of sauce. I screwed the marrow out of the bones to make a brand of paté, and I even boiled my bony old foot for soup. And I said to my starving shipmates ‘Take! Eat! This is my body. This is my blood. Which I ask you to eat and drink in remembrance, should I not survive, of your old shipmate John Silver. And d’ye know what happened next, Jim?”
….“What?”
….“Why, they all choked to death on that rotten meat and I got all the good grub to myself. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha-a-a! I’m joking! Jim! Joking! Storifying!”

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Some, no doubt, would simply dismiss it as a by-product of barbarism. Given Russia’s long, heartless winters, its familiarity with famine, its rough sense of justice, and so on, and so on, it was perfectly natural for its gentry to adopt an act of definitive violence as the means of resolving disputes, But in the Count’s considered opinion, the reason that duelling prevailed among Russian gentlemen stemmed from nothing more than their passion for the glorious and grandiose.
….True, duels were fought by convention at dawn in isolated locations to ensure the privacy of the gentlemen involved. But were they fought behind ash heaps or in scrapyards? Of course not! They were fought in a clearing among the birch trees with a dusting of snow. Or on the banks of a winding rivulet. Or at the edge of a family estate where the breezes shake the blossoms from the trees… That is, they were fought in settings that one might have expected to see in the second act of an opera.

* * * * * * * * *

….‘What an exquisite bracelet! May I look at it?’
….It was these simple but ecstatic words, spoken with Madame Lawrence’s charming foreign accent, which had begun the tragedy. The three women had stopped to admire the always admirable view from the little quay, and they were leaning over the rails when Kitty unclasped the bracelet for the inspection of the widow. The next instant there was a plop, an affrighted exclamation from Madame Lawrence in her native tongue, and the bracelet was engulfed before the very eyes of all three.
….The three looked at each other non-plussed. Then they looked around, but not a single person was in sight. Then, for some reason which, doubtless, psychology can explain, they stared hard at the water, though the water there was just as black and foul as it is everywhere else in the canal system of Bruges.
….‘Surely you’ve not dropped it!’ Eve Fincastle exclaimed in a voice of horror. Yet she knew positively that Madame Lawrence had.

From A Bracelet at Bruges by Arnold Bennett

* * * * * * * * *

….Have I been too kind to empire? Perhaps. But there are plenty of works lambasting empires, ferociously portraying their dark and often brutal side. I have tried to show them in a different light. I have tried to suggest that they have been ways of dealing with some of the most difficult and challenging problems of modern states, how to manage difference and diversity. That that may not have been their initial goal, that empires arose for a variety of reasons, is not the point. The fact is that in acquiring and governing empires, the ruling peoples found themselves faced with a series of tasks that they had to solve on pain of the quick dissolution of their states. What I find striking is less the mistakes and occasional brutalities of empire than a remarkable record of success, one that nation-states would be lucky to match.

* * * * * * * * *

….Being Southerners, it was a source of shame to some members of the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings. All we had was Simon Finch, a fur-trapping apothecary from Cornwall whose piety was exceeded only by his stinginess. In England, Simon was irritated by the persecution of those who called themselves Methodists at the hands of their more liberal brethren, and as Simon called himself a Methodist, he worked his way across the Atlantic to Philadelphia, thence to Jamaica, thence to Mobile, and up to Saint Stephens. Mindful of John Wesley’s strictures on the use of many words in buying and selling, Simon made a pile practising medicine, but in this pursuit he was unhappy lest he be tempted into doing what he knew was not for the glory of God, as the putting on of gold and costly apparel. So Simon, having forgotten his teacher’s dictum on the possession of human chattels, bought three slaves and with their aid established a homestead on the banks of the Alabama River some forty miles above Saint Stephens. He returned to Saint Stephens only once, to find a wife, and with her established a line than ran high to daughters. Simon lived to an impressive age and died rich.

* * * * * * * * *

From the archives…

….“Glasgow was home-made ginger biscuits and Jennifer Lawson dead in the park. It was the sententious niceness of the Commander and the threatened abrasiveness of Laidlaw. It was Milligan, insensitive as a mobile slab of cement, and Mrs Lawson, witless with hurt. It was the right hand knocking you down and the left hand picking you up, while the mouth alternated apology and threat.”

(Click for full review)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….With relatively few exceptions, they [Golden Age crime writers] came from well-to-do families, and were educated at public school; many went to Oxford or Cambridge. . . .
….Theirs was, in many ways, a small and elitist world, and this helps to explain why classic crime novels often include phonetic renditions of the dialogue of working-class people which make modern readers cringe. Some of the attitudes evident and implicit in the books of highly educated authors, for instance as regards Jewish and gay people, would be unacceptable in fiction written in the twenty-first century. It is worth remembering that theirs was not only a tiny world, but also a very different one from ours, and one of the pleasures of reading classic crime is that it affords an insight into the Britain of the past, a country in some respects scarcely recognisable today.

* * * * * * * * *

….It had to finish like this. Sooner or later he had been bound to discover what was concealed from other beings – that there was no real distinction between the living and the dead. It’s only because of the coarseness of our perception that we imagine the dead elsewhere, in some other world. Not a bit of it. The dead are with us here, mixed up in our lives and meddling with them…. They speak to us with shadowy mouths; they write with hands of smoke. Ordinary people, of course, don’t notice. They’re too preoccupied with their own affairs. To perceive these things you’ve got to have been incompletely born and thus only half involved in this noisy, colourful, flamboyant world…

* * * * * * * * *

….When we reached the crest of the steep winding brae leading into it, the smoke from the straw chimneys was the only visible sign of life. Otherwise one might have imagined that some terrible scourge had made an end to all the inhabitants and no one had come near the clachan since from a superstitious dread.
….Green hill rising behind green hill – they raised in me a brooding, inherent melancholy. I felt this place had lived through everything, had seen everything, that it was saturated with memories and legends. I thought of it submerged under the sea, of the ocean receding farther and farther from it; of glaciers creeping down the mountains, forming the glens and ravines; of the mountains as spent volcanoes covered by the impenetrable Caledonian forest. And now there was nothing more for it to know and it was waiting for the clap of doom.

* * * * * * * * *

….“There is so much lying going on around that I could scream. All my friends, all my acquaintances, people whom earlier I never would have thought of as liars, are now uttering falsehoods at every turn. They cannot help but lie; they cannot help but add to their own lies, their own flourishes to the well-known falsehoods. And they all do so from an agonising need that everything be just as they so fiercely desire.”

Ivan Bunin quoted in Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

* * * * * * * * *

….“No one’s going to harm a hair on my precious uncle’s head. He’s safe enough. He’ll always be safe – safe and smug and prosperous and full of platitudes. He’s just a stodgy John Bull, that’s what he is, without an ounce of imagination or vision.” She paused, then, her agreeable husky voice deepening, she said venomously, “I loathe the sight of you, you bloody little bourgeois detective.”
….She swept away from him in a swirl of expensive, model drapery. Hercule Poirot remained, his eyes very wide open, his eyebrows raised, and his hand thoughtfully caressing his moustaches. The epithet ‘bourgeois’ was, he admitted, well applied to him. His outlook on life was essentially bourgeois and always had been. But the employment of it as an epithet of contempt by the exquisitely turned out Jane Olivera gave him, as he expressed it to himself, furiously to think.

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Meanwhile Esther was telling us about a friend from preschool who is named either Lisi or Ilse or Else and either took a toy away from her or gave her one, at which point the teachers did either nothing at all or just the right thing, or something wrong; little kids are not good storytellers. But Susanna and I exclaimed That’s great! and Incredible! and How about that! and the relief when she stopped talking brought us closer together.

* * * * * * * * *

….The main aim of detective stories is to entertain, but the best cast a light on human behaviour, and display both literary ambition and accomplishment. [FF shouts: Hear! Hear!] And there is another reason why millions of modern readers continue to appreciate classic crime fiction. Even unpretentious detective stories, written for unashamedly commercial reasons, can give us clues to the past, and give us insight into a long-vanished world that, for all its imperfections, continues to fascinate.

* * * * * * * * *

….I had tried to explain to my mother that it was awful to go so early; that one looked so silly when the field was full of small children. I could not explain that when it was dark a new dignity would transform the fair into an oasis of excitement, so that it became a place of mystery and delight; peopled with soldiers from the camp and orange-faced girls wearing head scarves, who in strange regimented lines would sway back and forth across the field, facing each other defiantly, exchanging no words, bright-eyed under the needle stars. I could not explain how all at once the lines would meet and mingle performing a complicated rite of selection; orange girls and soldier boys pairing off slowly to drift to the far end of the field and struggle under the hedges filled with blackberries.

* * * * * * * * *

With this one it’s all about the images…

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* * * * * * * * *

….There are certain humiliating moments in the lives of the greatest of men. It has been said that no man is a hero to his valet. To that may be added that few men are heroes to themselves at the moment of visiting their dentist.
….Hercule Poirot was morbidly conscious of this fact.
….He was a man who was accustomed to have a good opinion of himself. He was Hercule Poirot, superior in most ways to other men. But in this moment he was unable to feel superior in any way whatever. His morale was down to zero. He was just that ordinary, craven figure, a man afraid of the dentist’s chair.

* * * * * * * * *

….At first Mr Cooke is angry with Isabelle. He wants her to know what she is putting her mother through. When the anger lifts he wishes it back because then he is just terrified. He is so frightened he wants to hold his daughter tight and never let go. Then he just wants to hold her hand, then just to see her. Just to see her. The yearning is worse than the fear. The yearning is a sorrowing ache that burrows deep down into the core of him.
….As the night wears on he gets less and less tired. Mr Cooke knows how men talk about girls. He knows what might have happened to his own Isabelle. Over the long hours of the dark, as all the hope he will ever feel is sucked out through his soles into the wet, treacherous earth, it comes to feel absolutely vital that he find the dancing shoes that she has worn thin with all her dancing.

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….I became aware that our love was doomed; love had turned into a love affair with a beginning and an end. I could name the very moment when it had begun, and one day I knew I should be able to name the final hour. When she left the house I couldn’t settle to work. I would reconstruct what we had said to each other; I would fan myself into anger or remorse. And all the time I knew I was forcing the pace. I was pushing, pushing the only thing I loved out of my life. As long as I could make believe that love lasted I was happy; I think I was even good to live with, and so love did last. But if love had to die, I wanted it to die quickly. It was as though our love were a small creature caught in a trap and bleeding to death; I had to shut my eyes and wring its neck.

* * * * * * * * *

Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen

….At first the Immortalisation Commission was told by Dr Abrikosov that Lenin’s body could be preserved ‘for many, many years’ by refrigeration, if it was kept in the crypt, in a specially designed sarcophagus, at a carefully controlled temperature. But despite the most expensive and sophisticated freezing equipment bought from Germany, within two months there were already dark spots on Lenin’s face and torso and his eye sockets were deformed. The magnates were worried their plan would not work out, particularly as the weather was becoming warmer.
….Towards the end of March 1924 two prominent chemists, Vladimir Vorobyov and Boris Zbarsky, suggested re-embalming the body with a chemical mixture that they said ‘could last hundreds of years’. They had studied the ancient Egyptian techniques of mummification but they could do a lot better ‘and keep Vladimir Ilyich’s body looking natural’. They worked day and night whitening Lenin’s skin and devising the correct embalming fluid, under intense pressure, reporting directly to Stalin and Zinoviev. They experimented on several cadavers of fifty-ish-year-old men brought to them from morgues and scientific institutes in Moscow. After four months they found the correct formula of glycerin, alcohol, potassium acetate, quinine chlorate and another ingredient still strictly secret at the time of writing.

(FF says: I bet it’s beetroot soup…)

* * * * * * * * *

….It hadn’t taken the landlady very long to find out that her lodger had a queer kind of fear and dislike of women. When she was doing the staircase and landings she would often hear Mr Sleuth reading aloud to himself passages in the Bible that were very uncomplimentary to her sex. But Mrs. Bunting had no very great opinion of her sister woman, so that didn’t put her out. Besides, where one’s lodger is concerned, a dislike of women is better than – well, than the other thing.

* * * * * * * * *

….Gordon and Dudorov belonged to a good professional circle. They spent their lives among good books, good thinkers, good composers, good, always, yesterday and today, good and only good music, and they did not know that the calamity of mediocre taste is worse than the calamity of tastelessness. . . .
….He could see clearly the springs of their pathos, the shakiness of their sympathy, the mechanism of their reasonings. However, he could not very well say to them: ‘Dear friends, oh, how hopelessly ordinary you and the circle you represent, and the brilliance and art of your favourite names and authorities, all are. The only live and bright thing in you is that you lived at the same time as me and knew me.’ But how would it be if one could make such declarations to one’s friends! And so as not to distress them, Yuri Andreevich meekly listened to them.

* * * * * * * * *

….When the client came out, I noticed the fake tan on her calves looked a bit streaky, which almost never happens. She either hadn’t noticed, or didn’t mind. She winked at Mum and said, ‘Enjoy tonight – look forward to hearing all about it.’
….Mum says everybody spills out all their news in the Powder Room. She thinks that it’s something to do with lying with a nice white towel under your head and a blanket over your legs and feet. She says everybody feels like a child tucked up safely in bed, mostly because when she raises them up their feet can’t touch the floor anymore and they are warm and safe and so they sing like canaries. They tell her all manner of very personal things. Her way to describe this is womb talk. Some nights she’ll pour herself a glass of wine and say, ‘oh my goodness I’ve had so much womb talk tonight if someone else says menopause or hysterectomy to me I’ll start mixing HRT with the Fakebake.’

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….‘My God!’ exclaimed the prince. From his standing position, he had a better view of the situation. I threw open my door, but before I could move, the man in saffron had stood up. He had wild eyes between dirty, matted hair, an unkempt beard and what looked like streaks of ash smeared vertically on his forehead. In his hand an object glinted and my insides turned to ice.
….‘Get down!’ I shouted to the prince while fumbling with the button on my holster, but he was like a rabbit hypnotised by a cobra. The attacker raised his revolver and fired. The first shot hit the car’s windscreen with a crack, shattering the glass. I turned to see Surrender-not desperately grabbing at the prince, trying to pull him down.
….All too late.
….As the next two shots rang out, I knew they would find their mark. Both hit the prince squarely in the chest. For a few seconds he just stood there, as though he really was divine and the bullets had passed straight through him. Then blotches of bright crimson blood began to soak through the silk of his tunic and he crumpled, like a paper cup in the monsoon.

* * * * * * * * *

Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen

….The public Lenin adopted a highly populist style of politics that would be recognisable – and imitated by many a rabble-rouser – a hundred years later, even in long-established, sophisticated democracies. He offered simple solutions to complex problems. He lied unashamedly. He was never a sparkling orator, as Kerensky and Trotsky were in their varying ways. But he was brilliant at presenting a case in direct, straightforward language that anyone could understand, and explaining how the world could be changed if only people would listen to him and his Bolsheviks… he argued that people had heard too much from experts. ‘Any worker will master any ministry in a few days, no special skill is needed…’

* * * * * * * * *

….His eyes were lifted meaningly to his listener’s face, and in a flash Loreto understood.
….‘Good God!’ he cried. ‘You were a friend of Lilian Hope! You have not been threatened by…’
….‘Yes,’ said Sir George, grimly. ‘I am the next on the list.’
….He drew a fairly large envelope from his breast pocket and extracted some folded papers. They were dingy and faintly yellow; one edge of the paper was jagged where it had been torn from the book, and Loreto immediately recognised these sheets as pages from Lilian Hope’s fatal diary.
….‘Poor Lilian!’ murmured the old man. ‘She was a wonderful creature, and I loved her once, though she never treated me too well. I had her picture – kept it for years, but my wife grew jealous. Poor Lilian! To think that she was in such poverty, and that she died in such a frame of mind!’

From: The Diary of Death by Marten Cumberland

* * * * * * * * *

….She cooked or did laundry and then with the remaining soapy water washed the floors in the house. Or, calm and less flushed, she ironed and mended her own, his, and Katenka’s linen. Or, having finished with the cooking, laundry, and tidying up, she gave lessons to Katenka. Or, burying herself in textbooks, she occupied herself with her own polemical re-education, before going back to the newly reformed school as a teacher.
….The closer this woman and girl were to him, the less he dared to see them as family, the stricter was the prohibition imposed upon his way of thinking by his duty to his family and his pain at being unfaithful to them. In this limitation there was nothing offensive for Lara and Katenka. On the contrary, this non-family way of feeling contained a whole world of respect, excluding casualness and excessive familiarity.
….But this split was always tormenting and wounding, and Yuri Andreevich got used to it as one gets used to an unhealed, often reopening wound.

* * * * * * * * *

….The others went upstairs, a slow unwilling procession. If this had been an old house, with creaking wood, and dark shadows, and heavily panelled walls, there might have been an eerie feeling. But this house was the essence of modernity. There were no dark corners – no possible sliding panels – it was flooded with electric light – everything was new and bright and shining. There was nothing hidden in this house, nothing concealed. It had no atmosphere about it. Somehow, that was the most frightening thing of all. They exchanged good-nights on the upper landing. Each of them went into his or her own room, and each of them automatically, almost without conscious thought, locked the door…

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….The Dean strides a little and pours himself another whisky. “Now, there is another thing, but I really shouldn’t be discussing it with the College servants.”
….“Alright then, Sir. I’ll be on my way.”
….“I intend to discuss it anyway. Sit down.”
….I obediently take a seat on the most humble looking pew I can find, an unsteady wicker affair placed near The Dean’s enormous fish tank. Quite why a man such as The Dean would keep tropical fish is a mystery. Whilst they are known for their calming properties, The Dean is a chap who is far happier being anything but calm. Maybe he shouts at them when there is no one else around.

* * * * * * * * *

Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen

….Lenin instantly understood the importance of the words Bolshevik [majority] and Menshevik [minority]. He never gave up the name for the group that followed him, or the psychological advantage it won. For long periods over the next few years the Mensheviks in fact far outnumbered the Bolsheviks, in Russia and among the revolutionaries in exile, and they were the majority in a series of future votes at various congresses and conferences. Yet they still accepted the name that Lenin had given them and they referred to themselves as Mensheviks. It was their ‘brand’ and Lenin knew how to exploit it. ‘A name he knew was a programme, a distilled essence, more powerful in its impact upon the untutored mind than dozens of articles in learned journals,’ one of his comrades said. It was foolish of the Mensheviks to allow themselves to keep that name permanently. It showed how tactically inept they were. Martov was a decent, erudite, highly clever man but a hopeless politician, no match for Lenin. If Lenin had been the minority he would have changed the name at once to something else – True Iskrists, Real Marxists, Orthodox Marxists, Revolutionary Wing of Social Democracy – anything but ‘the Minority’.

* * * * * * * * *

….Julie had been wrong to get her hopes up. The Evil One had come back even more terrible than before. She didn’t know what he’d been up to while he was away but there was a row of badly done stitches over his ribs encrusted with blood. That couldn’t be healthy.
….Julie hoped it was some girl who fought back hard, did him some damage. If only she’d managed to kill him – but no woman could fight that brute and win. Perhaps someone’s boyfriend or father caught him in the act, ripped him off her, had a weapon.
….She was glad he was hurt, even if he’d taken it out on her this morning. Even if she had a busted lip and a bruised eye, and had to put her cheek against the floor, unable to move for what must have been two hours, it was worth it to savor his fresh wounds. She decided to imagine that whoever did that to him, did it for her. An act of revenge without even knowing it.

* * * * * * * * *

….The night was filled with soft, mysterious sounds. Close by in the corridor, water was dripping from a washstand, measuredly, with pauses. There was whispering somewhere behind a window. Somewhere, where the kitchen garden began, beds of cucumber were being watered, water was being poured from one bucket into another, with a clink of the chain drawing it from the well.
….It smelled of all the flowers in the world at once, as if the earth had lain unconscious during the day and was now coming to consciousness through all these scents. And from the countess’s centuries-old garden, so littered with windfallen twigs and branches that it had become impassable, there drifted, as tall as the trees, enormous as the wall of a big house, the dusty, thickety fragrance of an old linden coming into bloom.
….Shouts came from the street beyond the fence to the right. A soldier on leave was acting up there, doors slammed, snippets of some song beat their wings.

* * * * * * * * *

From the archives…

….I have never understood how any woman can want positive discrimination. In the 1970s the attitude was robust: give us equal opportunities and we will show that we are as good as the men. In the 1990s that became: we can’t manage without special measures to smooth our paths and we want advantages over the men in order to compete…The culture of whingeing grievance is silly and sad. It lets down women and is hardly worthy of the heirs to the suffragettes.

(Click for full review)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….“…I knew there was no point. I could claw at the rock the rest of my life and get no closer. I knew the truth.”
….“And what truth was that, sir?”
….“They were dead. My woman. My children. All the People. They were dead. Buried alive. All four hundred of them.”
….Although virtually everyone in the courtroom – the judges, the rows of prosecutors, the court personnel, the spectators behind the glass, and the few reporters with them – although almost all of us knew what the answer to that question was going to be, there was nonetheless a terrible drama to hearing the facts spoken aloud. Silence enshrouded the room as if a warning finger had been raised, and all of us, every person, seemed to sink into ourselves, into the crater of fear and loneliness where the face of evil inevitably casts us.
….So here you are, I thought suddenly, as the moment lingered. Now you are here.

* * * * * * * * *

….One moment the sun had shone, then we were abruptly thrust into the devil’s playground as the squall hit us like a shield wall. The ship shuddered, water and wind and gloom smashing us in sudden turmoil and Heahengel swung to the blow, going broadside to the sea and nothing I could do would hold her straight, and I saw Leofric stagger across the deck as the stærbord side went under water. ‘Bail!’ I shouted desperately, ‘bail!’ And then with a noise like thunder, the great sail split into tatters that whipped off the yard, and the ship came slowly upright, but she was low in the water, and I was using all my strength to keep her coming round, creeping round, reversing our course so that I could put her bows into that turmoil of sea and wind, and the men were praying, making the sign of the cross, bailing water, and the remnants of the sail and the broken lines were mad things, ragged demons, and the sudden gale was howling like furies in the rigging and I thought how futile it would be to die at sea so soon after Ragnar had saved my life.

* * * * * * * * *

….‘We are slaves because we are unable to free ourselves,’ Herzen once wrote. If there was one lesson to be drawn from the Russian Revolution it was that the people had failed to emancipate themselves. They had failed to become their own political masters, to free themselves from emperors and become citizens. Kerensky’s speech of 1917, in which he claimed that the Russian people were perhaps no more than ‘rebellious slaves’, was to haunt the revolution in succeeding years. For while the people could destroy the old system, they could not rebuild a new one of their own. None of the democratic organizations established before October 1917 survived more than a few years of Bolshevik rule, at least not in their democratic form. By 1921, if not earlier, the revolution had come full circle, and a new autocracy had been imposed on Russia which in many ways resembled the old one.

* * * * * * * * *

….Across the room, near the window, there was a dressing table fitted with an oval three-piece mirror. The mirror was not quite closed; the upper edges of the glass glinted through the cracks like splinters of ice. In front of the mirror rose a small city of bottles: eau de Cologne, perfume sprays, lavender toilet water, a Bohemian glass goblet, facets glittering in the light… a crumpled pair of brown-lace gloves lay withering like cedar leaves.
….A couch and two chairs, a floor lamp, and a low, delicate table were arranged directly under the window. An embroidery frame, the beginnings of a pattern needled into the silk, was propped on the couch. The vogue for such things had passed long ago, but his mother loved all kinds of handicraft. The pattern seemed to be the wings of some gaudy bird, a parrot maybe, on a background of silver-gray. A pair of stockings lay in a heap next to the embroidery. The shocking embrace of sheer nylon and the imitation damask of the couch gave the room an air of agitation. She must have noticed a run on her way out and changed in a hurry.
….Only dazzling sky and a few fragments of cloud, hard and glossy as enamel in the light bouncing off the water, could be seen through the window.

(Nastiness Alert! Don’t be fooled by this quote – the book has subsequently been abandoned for being one of the nastiest little pieces of nastiness I’ve come across in a long time.)

* * * * * * * * *

From the archives…

….The letters told Eilis little; there was hardly anything personal in them and nothing that sounded like anyone’s own voice. Nonetheless, as she read them over and over, she forgot for a moment where she was and she could picture her mother in the kitchen taking her Basildon Bond notepad and her envelopes and setting out to write a proper letter with nothing crossed out.

(Click for full review)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….In my memory they slid from a bank of sea mist, and perhaps they did, but memory is a faulty thing and my other images of that day are of a clear, cloudless sky, so perhaps there was no mist, but it seems to me that one moment the sea was empty and the next there were three ships coming from the south.
….Beautiful things. They appeared to rest weightless on the ocean, and when their oars dug into the waves they skimmed the water. Their prows and sterns curled high and were tipped with gilded beasts, serpents and dragons, and it seemed to me that on that far off summer’s day the three boats danced on the water, propelled by the rise and fall of the silver wings of their oar banks. The sun flashed off the wet blades, splinters of light, then the oars dipped, were tugged and the beast-headed boats surged and I stared entranced.

* * * * * * * * *

….I wanted to ask her then if she did not remember. I wanted to ask if the manner of her death had been erased from her memory, if she lived now as if those things had not occurred.
….Perhaps the days before her death, and the way death was given to her, are nothing in the place where she is. Perhaps the gods keep the memory of death locked up in their store, jealously guarded. Instead, the gods release feelings that were once pure or sweet. Feelings that mattered once. They allow love to matter since love can do no harm to the dead.
….They approach each other, my father and my sister, their movements hesitant. I am not sure that, once they have seen each other, they still see me. I am not sure that the living interest them. They have too many needs that belong to themselves only; they have too much to share.

* * * * * * * * *

….The trains of the London and West Coast Railway run over the lines of another company as far as this town, which should have been reached by the special rather before six o’clock. At a quarter after six considerable surprise and some consternation were caused amongst the officials at Liverpool by the receipt of a telegram from Manchester to say that it had not yet arrived. An inquiry directed to St. Helens, which is a third of the way between the two cities, elicited the following reply:-
….‘To James Bland, Superintendent, Central L. & W. C., Liverpool. – Special passed here at 4.52, well up to time. – Dowser, St. Helens.’
….This telegram was received at 6.40. At 6.50 a second message was received from Manchester:-
….‘No sign of special as advised by you.’
….And then ten minutes later a third, more bewildering:-
….‘Presume some mistake as to proposed running of special. Local train from St. Helens timed to follow it has just arrived and has seen nothing of it. Kindly wire advices. – Manchester.’

From The Lost Special by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

* * * * * * * * *

….By 1921, there were twice as many bureaucrats as workers in Russia. They were the social base of the regime. This was not a Dictatorship of the Proletariat but a Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy. Moscow, in Lenin’s words, was ‘bloated with officials’: it housed nearly a quarter of a million of them, one-third of the total workforce in the city by the end of 1920. The centre of Moscow became one vast block of offices as committees were piled on top of councils and departments on top of commissions.
….Perhaps a third of the bureaucracy was employed in the regulation of the planned economy. It was an absurd situation: while the economy came to a standstill, its bureaucracy flourished. The country was desperately short of fuel but there was an army of bureaucrats to regulate its almost non-existent distribution. There was no paper in the shops but a mountain of it in the Soviet offices (90 per cent of the paper made in Russia during the first four years of Soviet rule was consumed by the bureaucracy).

* * * * * * * * *

….I broke off. He was looking at me with a cold, glassy stare, as no doubt he had looked at the late lions, leopards and gnus whose remains were to be viewed on the walls of the outer hall. Fellows at the Drones who have tried to touch Oofy Prosser, the club millionaire, for a trifle to see them through till next Wednesday have described him to me as looking just like that.
….‘Oh, so that’s it!’ he said, and even Pop Bassett could not have spoken more nastily. ‘I’ve got your number now. I’ve met your sort all over the world. You won’t get any five pounds, my man. You sit where you are and don’t move. I’m going to call the police.’
….‘It will not be necessary, sir,’ said a respectful voice, and Jeeves entered through the french window.
….His advent drew from me a startled goggle and, I rather think, a cry of amazement. Last man I’d expected to see, and how he had got here defeated me. I’ve sometimes felt that he must dematerialize himself like those fellows in India – fakirs, I think they’re called – who fade into thin air in Bombay and turn up five minutes later in Calcutta or points west with all the parts reassembled.

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

.I gave orders that the bodies should remain in the open under the sun a day or two until the sweetness gave way to stench. And I liked the flies that came, their little bodies perplexed and brave, buzzing after their feast, upset by the continuing hunger they felt in themselves, a hunger I had come to know too and had come to appreciate.
.We are all hungry now. Food merely whets our appetite, it sharpens our teeth; meat makes us ravenous for more meat, as death is ravenous for more death. Murder makes us ravenous, fills the soul with satisfaction that is fierce and then luscious enough to create a taste for further satisfaction.
.A knife piercing the soft flesh under the ear, with intimacy and precision, and then moving across the throat as soundlessly as the sun moves across the sky, but with greater speed and zeal, and then his dark blood flowing with the same inevitable hush as dark night falls on familiar things.

* * * * * * * * *

….I watched people pass by, liked the way their voices filled the air, made everything feel whole, and I felt my lips turn a smile as birds jumped over and under tree branches. For a moment I thought of capturing them, placing them in my pigeon aviary in the barn. How lucky they’d be with me to look after them. I thought of Father, my stomach growled hunger and I went to the pail of water by the well, let my hands sink into the cool sip sip. I brought my hands to mouth and began drinking, lapping with my tongue. It was soft, delicate. Everything slowed down. I saw a dead pigeon lying grey and still in the yard and my stomach murmured. I looked into the sun. I thought of Father, tried to remember the last words I said to him. I took a pear from the arbour, walked back inside.

* * * * * * * * *

….Why has the murder of the Romanovs assumed such significance in the history of the revolution? It could be said that they were only a few individuals, whereas revolutions are about the millions. This is the argument of Marxist historians, who have tended to treat this episode as a minor side-show to the main event. E. H. Carr, for example, gave it no more than a single sentence in his three-volume history of the revolution. But this is to miss the deeper significance of the murder. It was a declaration of the Terror. It was a statement that from now on individuals would count for nothing in the civil war. Trotsky had once said: “We must put an end once and for all to the papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life.” And that is what the Cheka [secret police] did.

* * * * * * * * *

.‘If I might make a suggestion, sir?’
.‘Press on, Jeeves.’
.‘Would it not be possible for you to go to Totleigh Towers, but to decline to carry out Miss Byng’s wishes?’
.I weighed this. It was, I could see, a thought.
.‘Issue a nolle prosequi, you mean? Tell her to go and boil her head?’
.‘Precisely, sir.’
.I eyed him reverently.
.‘Jeeves,’ I said, ‘as always, you have found the way. I’ll wire Miss Bassett and ask if I can come, and I’ll wire Aunt Dahlia that I can’t give her lunch as I’m leaving town, and I’ll tell Stiffy that whatever she has in mind she gets no service and co-operation from me. Yes, Jeeves, you’ve hit it! I’ll go to Totleigh, though the flesh creeps at the prospect. Pop Bassett will be there, Spode will be there, Stiffy will be there, the dog Bartholomew will be there. It makes one wonder why so much fuss has been made about those half-a-league half-a-league half-a-league-onward bimbos who rode into the Valley of Death. They weren’t going to find Pop Bassett at the other end. Ah well, let us hope for the best.’
.‘The only course to pursue, sir.’
.‘Stiff upper lip, Jeeves, what?’
.‘Indubitably, sir. That, if I may say so, is the spirit.’

* * * * * * * * *

From the Archives…

.I found each wave, instead of being the big, smooth glassy mountain it seems from shore, was full of peaks and smooth plains and valleys. Very often a school of dolphins appeared among these slopes and summits, giving the impression – thanks to the curved lines of their mouths – that they kept us company, and leaped in and out of the waves, for no reasons except their own pleasure and our entertainment. Sometimes we watched a piece of driftwood, or a tonsured head that turned out to be a coconut, tumble over and over in the swell: no great thing in itself, but in the heat of midday, with a soft wind blowing, and the deck sweetly rolling, enough to induce a kind of trance.

(Click for full review.)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

.Sweet though it was, the perfume of the incense could not disguise the odour of putrefying flesh. And the summer heat was not helping.

.The cadavers were at the back of the room on a long table, surrounded by bowls of fresh fruit, boiled eggs in bowls of rice, dim sum still warm from the steamer, buns, a bottle of chilled white wine running with condensation.

.The guests assembled at the far side of the room, near the door, and the window with a view on to the siheyuan courtyard. In the hutong beyond, children played unaware of the bizarre marriage taking place behind high walls.

* * * * * * * * *

.Whether it was our warmth, and freedom, and our harmless love of God, and trust in one another; or whether it were our air, and water, and the pea-fed bacon; anyhow my Lorna grew richer and more lovely, more perfect and more firm of figure, and more light and buoyant, with every passing day that laid its tribute on her cheeks and lips. I was allowed one kiss a day; only one for manners’ sake, because she was our visitor; and I might have it before breakfast, or else when I came to say ‘good-night!’ according as I decided. And I decided every night, not to take it in the morning, but put it off till the evening time, and have the pleasure to think about, through all the day of working. But when my darling came up to me in the early daylight, fresher than the daystar, and with no one looking; only her bright eyes smiling, and sweet lips quite ready, was it likely I could wait, and think all day about it? For she wore a frock of Annie’s, nicely made to fit her, taken in at the waist and curved – I never could explain it, not being a mantua-maker; but I know how her figure looked in it, and how it came towards me.

* * * * * * * * *

.What did he fancy eating? Because he was on his own, because he could go anywhere at all, he seriously asked himself that question, thinking about the different restaurants that might be able to tempt him, as if he were about to celebrate. First he took a few steps towards Place de la Concorde, and that made him feel a little guilty, because he was pointlessly going further and further away from home. In the window of a butchers’ shop he saw some prepared snails, swimming in parsley butter, which looked as if it had been painted.

.His wife didn’t like snails. He himself seldom ate them. He decided to have some this evening, to ‘take advantage’, and he turned on his heels to make towards a restaurant near Bastille, where they are a speciality.

* * * * * * * * *

.‘I didn’t know the darkness could be so beautiful,’ said Kit, aiming his lens at the horizon.
.As if he had summoned it, at that moment, a hole was torn lengthways through the cloud and the sun was partly visible, a sooty black disc surrounded by a ring of pure light. Kit’s camera clicked and reloaded next to my ear. An ecstatic cheer carried on the strange winds from all around us. There were none of the phenomena I’d hoped for: no shooting corona, no sun leaking through the moon’s craters to create the diamond ring effect, and in a few seconds it was gone, but still I felt changed, as if a giant hand had reached down from the sky and touched me. I was torn between wanting it to be over so that we could talk about it and never wanting it to end. But it did end; the veil pushed east and the colours came back.

* * * * * * * * *

.Chkheidze, the Soviet chairman, was sitting next to the hysterical worker. He calmly leaned across and placed a piece of paper into his hand. It was a manifesto, printed the evening before, in which it was said that the demonstrators should go home, or be condemned as traitors to the revolution. ‘Here, please take this, Comrade,’ Chkheidze said to him in an imperious tone. ‘It says here what you and your Putilov comrades should do. Please read it carefully and don’t interrupt our business.’ The confused worker, not knowing what he should do, took the manifesto and left the hall with the rest of the Putilovites. No doubt he was fuming with anger and frustration at his profound humiliation; and yet he was powerless to resist, not because he lacked the guns, but because he lacked the will. Centuries of serfdom and subservience had not prepared him to stand up to his political masters – and in that lay the tragedy of the Russian people as a whole. This was one of the finest scenes of the whole revolution – one of those rare moments in history when the hidden relations of power are flashed up on to the surface of events and the broader course of developments becomes clear.

* * * * * * * * *

.“So you’re up and about, are you?” she boomed. “I thought you’d be in bed snoring your head off!”
.“It is a little unusual for me to be in circulation at this hour,” I agreed, “but I rose today with the lark and, I think, the snail. Jeeves?”
.“Sir?”
.“Didn’t you tell me once that snails were early risers?”
.“Yes, sir. The poet Browning in his Pippa Passes, having established that the hour is 7 a.m., goes on to say ‘The lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn.’”
.“Thank you, Jeeves. I was right, Aunt Dahlia. When I slid from between the sheets, the lark was on the wing, the snail on the thorn.”
.“What the devil are you babbling about?”
.“Don’t ask me, ask the poet Browning!”

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….As the column approached the Narva Gates it was suddenly charged by a squadron of cavalry. Some of the marchers scattered but others continued to advance towards the lines of infantry, whose rifles were pointing directly at them. Two warning salvoes were fired into the air, and then at close range a third volley was aimed at the unarmed crowd. People screamed and fell to the ground but the soldiers, now panicking themselves, continued to fire steadily into the mass of people. Forty people were killed and hundreds wounded as they tried to flee. [Father] Gapon was knocked down in the rush. But he got up and, staring in disbelief at the carnage around him, was heard to say over and over again: ‘There is no God any longer. There is no Tsar.’

* * * * * * * * *

….At grey of night, when the sun was gone, and no red in the west remained, neither were stars forthcoming, suddenly a wailing voice rose along the valleys, and a sound in the air, as of people running. It mattered not whether you stood on the moor, or crouched behind rocks away from it, or down among reedy places; all as one the sound would come, now from the heart of the earth beneath, now overhead bearing down on you. And then there was rushing of something by, and melancholy laughter, and the hair of a man would stand on end before he could reason properly.
….God, in His mercy, knows that I am stupid enough for any man, and very slow of impression, nor ever could bring myself to believe that our Father would let the evil one get the upper hand of us. But when I had heard that sound three times, in the lonely gloom of the evening fog, and the cold that followed the lines of air, I was loath to go abroad by night, even so far as the stables, and loved the light of a candle more, and the glow of a fire with company.

* * * * * * * * *

From The Valley of Fear:

….And now, my long-suffering readers, I will ask you to come away with me for a time, far from the Sussex Manor House of Birlstone, and far also from the year of grace in which we made our eventful journey which ended with the strange story of the man who had been known as John Douglas. I wish you to journey back some twenty years in time, and westward some thousands of miles in space, that I may lay before you a singular and terrible narrative – so singular and so terrible that you may find it hard to believe that even as I tell it, even so did it occur.
….Do not think that I intrude one story before another is finished. As you read on you will find that this is not so. And when I have detailed those distant events and you have solved this mystery of the past, we shall meet once more in those rooms on Baker Street, where this, like so many other wonderful happenings, will find its end.

* * * * * * * * *

….They were rich, they were ready, they were ravenous for bear. Nine days into their fourteen-day voyage on the Vanir, the most expensive cruise ship in the Arctic, the passengers’ initial excitement had turned to patience, then frustration, and now, a creeping sense of defeat. As sophisticated travellers they knew money didn’t guarantee polar bear sightings – but they still believed in the natural law that wealth meant entitlement. Ursus maritimus sightings very much included.

* * * * * * * * *

From the Archives…

….What did it mean, sitting in that motel parking lot, waiting to see? What did it mean to know she’d been there, maybe just minutes before, she’d been there, so close you could maybe still feel her, hear the squeak of her tennis shoes on the doormat, smell her baby-soft hair. They’d been there, been there behind one of those clotty red doors, and done such things…and now gone. And now gone.

(Click for full review.)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Day after day. Always on the move. My boot heels quite worn away. Wolfmouth only left me alone when I came home at night. Even then he followed me through the hallways, tap dancing up the stairs. He followed me, he follows me. Step scuff smack step, step scuff smack step. Echoing in the stairwell at the end of another long day.
….– The kooks, there are more of them all the time.
….– That’s right, Mrs. Waxman.
….Carrying my groceries past her door. The stink of her cats.
….I hole up, lock the door, fix the chain. Step scuff smack step, shuffling in the hallway. Then, at last, silence. I am not sure if he goes away.

* * * * * * * * *

….As for their commitment to ‘the people’, it was essentially abstract. They loved Man but were not so sure of individual men. M.V. Petrashevsky, the utopian theorist, summed it up when he proclaimed: ‘unable to find anything either in women or in men worthy of my adherence, I have turned to devote myself to the service of humanity’. In this idealized abstraction of ‘the people’ there was not a little of that snobbish contempt which aristocrats are inclined to nurture for the habits of the common man. How else can one explain the authoritarian attitudes of such revolutionaries as Bakunin, Speshnev, Tkachev, Plekhanov and Lenin, if not by their noble origins? It was as if they saw the people as agents of their abstract doctrines rather than as suffering individuals with their own complex need and ideals. Ironically, the interests of ‘the cause’ sometimes meant that the people’s conditions had to deteriorate even further, to bring about the final cataclysm. ‘The worse, the better,’ as Chernyshevsky often said (meaning the worse things became, the better it was for the revolution).

* * * * * * * * *

….Before I realised it, I was crying. People might think I’m homesick, I thought, a hick lugging a huge bag around, sitting there blubbering. Embarrassed, I wiped away the tears, glancing nervously around me, but not a single person was looking at me.
….Right then it struck me: Tokyo was a more wonderful place than I’d ever imagined.
….I didn’t come to Tokyo for the upscale shopping or all the great places to have fun at. What I wanted was to melt into the crowds of people who didn’t know about my past, and vanish.
….More precisely, because I’d witnessed a murder, and the person who committed it had not been caught, what I wanted more than anything was to disappear from his radar forever.

* * * * * * * * *

….For in those days I had a firm belief, as many other strong boys have, of being born for a seaman. And indeed I had been in a boat nearly twice; but the second time mother found it out, and came and drew me back again; and after that she cried so badly, that I was forced to give my word to her to go no more without telling her.
….But Betty Muxworthy spoke her mind quite in a different way about it, the while she was wringing my hosen, and clattering to the drying horse.
….“Zailor, ees fai! ay and zarve un right. Her can’t kape out o’ the watter here, whur a’ must goo vor to vaind un, zame as a gurt to-ad squalloping, and mux up till I be wore out, I be, wi’ the very saight of ‘s braiches. How wil un ever baide aboard zhip, wi’ the watter zinging out under un, and comin’ up splash when the wind blow. Latt un goo, missus, latt un goo, zay I for wan, and old Davy wash his clouts for un.”

* * * * * * * * *

From The Valley of Fear:

….“You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?”
….“The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as…”
….“My blushes, Watson!” Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.
….“I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public.”
….“A touch! A distinct touch!” cried Holmes. “You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself. But in calling Moriarty a criminal you are uttering libel in the eyes of the law – and there lie the glory and the wonder of it! The greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations – that’s the man! But so aloof is he from general suspicion, so immune from criticism, so admirable in his management and self-effacement, that for those very words that you have uttered he could hale you to a court and emerge with your year’s pension as a solatium for his wounded character.”

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

PS If anyone knows what “zame as a gurt to-ad squalloping” means, do tell!

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

In straining every nerve against heretics, More believed he was serving God and Henry equally. He failed to see that, at least where the king was concerned, he was standing on shifting sands. Erasmus, too, was unsympathetic. From his sanctuary in Basel, he fell into a state of denial over the reports he received of Thomas’s behaviour, refusing to believe that the author of Utopia could have taken this turn. Twice Erasmus claimed, inaccurately, that no heretic was put to death while More was lord chancellor. Thomas later put him straight. Writing his own epitaph a year or so after his resignation as lord chancellor, he said he had been ‘grievous to thieves, murderers and heretics’ and wanted all his friends to know as much. ‘I wrote that with deep feeling,’ he told Erasmus. ‘I find that breed of men absolutely loathsome, so much so, that unless they regain their senses, I want to be as hateful to them as anyone can possibly be.’

 * * * * * * * * *

In pursuit of his trophies, the bones or relics of the prehistoric, he had a grave enthusiasm which made you think of an owl pursuing mice. At the same time he prided himself, incongruously one might suppose, upon a more than ordinary knowledge of cocktails. He mixed, for his own benefit and that of his friends, extremely curious alcoholic solutions, which he drank or handed round with a sombre and imposing gravity. After swallowing a few of his own decoctions, he became paler, moister, more vague, until he finally subsided into a state of mental mildew, a dim shimmering on the verge of total obliteration. I suppose the cocktail aspect of Mr Tuffle was really due to a belated feeling of counterpoise, a rather pathetic desire to appear manly. A similar impulse, no doubt, induces curates to brag about the drinking of beer.

* * * * * * * * *

Later, Vera woke to splashing water. In the bathroom, she found her daughter on her knees before the toilet, holding her hair in a loose fist behind her head.

“You stupid child,” Vera said, dropping to her knee beside her. Lydia’s head flopped over the toilet seat. “You stupid child, what have you done?”

“I don’t know,” Lydia mumbled, letting the fistful of hair go slack.

Vera had an urge to shout, but she laid her daughter on the floor and made a pillow from the bath towel. A mother comforts. A mother cleans. A mother gives when any reasonable person would deny. Life might affix any number of labels to Vera – Russian, pensioner, widow, daughter. But when she looked to her washed-out reflection in the bathroom mirror, she saw only Lydia’s mother.

* * * * * * * * *

That was the summer I drifted through the city. Did I already say that? Everything I saw had a subtle but unmistakeable doubleness. Each pace was reminiscent of some previous pace, not just because I knew the streets well and had walked them before, though this was true, but because I’d already taken that particular pace. My present had somehow gone before me and was already irrevocably in my past. All the sounds I could hear, slightly amplified and somehow picked out or defined, were no more than echoes, their presence freakish, their availability to me as exotic as a radio signal from a long-ago war.

Each moment, as I lived it, had already been used up. I could not connect things together. They happened to me, they had already happened to me. The helix that spans from birth to death, the unbroken thread of habit and progress that makes a person a person, a self whole and entire, had become as discontinuous and insubstantial as a chain of smoke rings.

* * * * * * * * *

Various holy men and spiritualists had established themselves in the palaces of Russia’s great and good long before Rasputin came on to the scene. Their success cleared the way for him. He was presented at parties and soirées as a man of God, a sinner and repentant, who had been graced with extraordinary powers of clairvoyance and healing. His disgusting physical appearance merely added piquancy to his moral charms. Dressed in a peasant blouse and baggy trousers, his greasy black hair hung down to his shoulders, his beard was encrusted with old bits of food, and his hands and body were never washed. He carried a strong body odour, which many people compared to that of a goat. But it was his eyes that caught his audience’s attention. Their penetrating brilliance and hypnotic power made a lasting impression. Some people even claimed that Rasputin was able to make his pupils expand and contract at will.

* * * * * * * * *

(NB When quoting from audiobooks, I have to make assumptions about the spelling of names, punctuation of sentences, etc., so there may be some differences from the original text.)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

Listen, nations! The revolution offers you peace. It will be accused of violating treaties. But of this it is proud. To break up the leagues of bloody predation is the greatest historic service. The Bolsheviks have dared to do it. They alone have dared. Pride surges up of its own accord. Eyes shine. All are on their feet. No one is smoking now. It seems as though no one breathes. The presidium, the delegates, the guests, the sentries, join in a hymn of insurrection and brotherhood. Suddenly, by common impulse – the story will soon be told by John Reed, observer and participant, chronicler and poet of the insurrection – “we found ourselves on our feet, mumbling together into the smooth lifting unison of the Internationale. A grizzled old soldier was sobbing like a child… The immense sound rolled through the hall, burst windows and doors and soared into the quiet sky.” Did it go altogether into the sky? Did it not go also to the autumn trenches, that hatch-work upon unhappy, crucified Europe, to her devastated cities and villages, to her mothers and wives in mourning? “Arise ye prisoners of starvation! Arise ye wretched of the earth!”

* * * * * * * * *

The sound of running footsteps made them all start. Then the refectory door opened and the round, freckled face of Sister Belinda appeared. She was breathing heavily, and her veil was crooked, showing short tufts of red hair sprouting around her glowing face like unruly weeds in a parched garden.

“Excuse me, Mother, Sisters,” she said. “But there is a police car waiting at the gate and what looks like the Black Maria behind it. Also, another car approaching from the farm and a uniformed constable coming in via the beach path. It would appear that the filth have us surrounded.”

* * * * * * * * *

The crying sounded even louder out of doors. It was as if all the pain in the world had found a voice. Yet had I known such pain was in the next room, and had it been dumb, I believe – I have thought since – I could have stood it well enough. It is when suffering finds a voice and sets our nerves quivering that this pity comes troubling us. But in spite of the brilliant sunlight and the green fans of the trees waving in the soothing sea-breeze, the world was a confusion, blurred with drifting black and red phantasms, until I was out of earshot of the house in the chequered wall.

* * * * * * * * *

The Utopians dress simply and without ostentation: their clothes are made of undyed wool like the habits of Carthusian monks. And their society is unashamedly patriarchal. Wives act as servants to their husbands, children to their parents, and the young to their elders. Women are treated ‘equally’, but in reality are governed by their husbands. They also work harder – More seems oblivious to this point – since their duties include cooking and childcare as well as manual labour. Even in Utopia, it seems, working women have two jobs.

 * * * * * * * * *

My friend Ellingham has persuaded me to reveal to the public the astounding features of the Reisby case. As a study in criminal aberration it is, he tells me, of particular interest, while in singularity of horror and in perversity of ingenious method it is probably unique.

* * * * * * * * *

I shared a compartment on the night train back with a father travelling to Petersburg with his daughter for her orthodonture work. She’d stumped half the dentists in Moscow, the father explained with obvious delight. The spotlight of paternal pride is fickle and faint, but when it shines on you with its full wattage, it’s as warm as a near sun. My little prodigy. Three drunks flicked over the cabin window. I wanted to be loved as much as he loved his daughter’s bad teeth.

“Go on, show him,” he urged. She gave a great yawn. Her open mouth was a dolomite cavern. Only divine intercession or satanic bargaining could save her.

“Just a little bit crooked,” I said, then gave a wide “Aah” of my own. “Mine are a little crooked too.”

“Mine are in a dental textbook,” she declared. She had me there. Wouldn’t have been older than twelve, and already she’d accomplished more in her life than I had. Rotten little over-achiever!

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

After the first few times, when things had gone wrong, there was no point denying it, the people who’d stayed in the farmhouse had been treated well. They’d been fed, kept warm and safe. After what they’d been through on the journey, the farmhouse really wasn’t that bad.

Warily the woman stepped forward, allowing Cat to take her arm and lead her into the next room, the one where they kept the medical equipment and the records. He breathed an invisible sigh of relief. He’d got quite good at keeping them calm and cooperative.

Of course, they all panicked when they saw the leather straps.

* * * * * * * * *

The dogs were uneasy. Although he spoke to them with more than customary friendliness, and handled them with unwonted gentleness, they still mistrusted him. They nuzzled into his hands, they thrust themselves against his legs, they gazed up at him with affection; but there was always a detectable droop of appeasement, as if they sensed what was in his mind and were afraid that it might at any moment goad him into maltreating them. He was more and more aware of their apprehension, and saw himself, in furious revenge, rising and snatching a switch from the wall, and thrashing them till their noses and eyes dripped faithful blood: they would suffer his maddest cruelty without retaliation. But as he saw himself thus berserk he sat in the box and continued to pat the cringing dogs and speak consolingly to them.

* * * * * * * * *

The oilmen have arrived from Beijing for a ceremonial signing-over of drilling rights. It’s a holiday for them, their translator told me last night at the Grozny Eternity Hotel, which is both the only five-star hotel and the only hotel in the Republic. I nodded solemnly; he needn’t explain. I came of age in the reign of Brezhnev, when young men would enter Civil Service academies hardy and robust, only to leave two years later anaemic and stooped, cured forever of the inclination to be civil or of service to anyone. Still, Beijing must be grim if they’re vacationing in Chechnya.

* * * * * * * * *

All is changed and yet all remains as before. The revolution has shaken the country, deepened the split, frightened some, embittered others, but not yet wiped out a thing or replaced it. Imperial St Petersburg seems drowned in a sleepy lethargy rather than dead. The revolution has stuck little red flags in the hands of the cast-iron monuments of the monarchy. Great red streamers are hanging down the fronts of the government buildings. But the Winter Palace, the ministries, the headquarters, seem to be living a life entirely apart from those red banners, tolerably faded, moreover, by the autumn rains. The two-headed eagles with the sceptre of empire have been torn down where possible, but oftener draped or hastily painted over. They seem to be lurking there. All the old Russia is lurking, its jaw set in rage.

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?