Monday, July 26, 2004


"The sort of dream out of which stuff is made." -- Paul Durcan, 'Mr and Mrs Andrews', from Give Me Your Hand.

[Give Me Your Hand, by Paul Durcan, Macmillan, 1994. Poems facing pictures from the National Gallery. Both visually acute -- yes, Mr and Mrs A are "in the Suffolk desert" -- and pleasingly tangential.]

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Illness as metaphor

"Our men could only draw on such funds of nerve and physique, knowledge and skill, as we had put into them... Like the syphilitic children of some jolly Victorian rake, they could only bring to this harsh examination such health and sanity as all the pleasant vices of Victorian and Edwardian England had left them." -- C.E. Montague, Disenchantment.

He's talking about the English soldiers of World War I. Presumably someone has already written the thesis on venereal disease in post-war writing.

[Disenchantment, by C.E. Montague, Chatto and Windus, 1922. Bellelettristic analysis of the psychological impact of the then Great War, by a leading light of the then Manchester Guardian. Overturns several ideas I hadn't even realised were received by then, in a style heavy on everything -- untranslated chunks of Latin, wide literary reference, long flights of rhetoric -- that journalists are no longer allowed to do.  Given that he appears to have spent 1916-1918 as a censor, the propaganda chapter is perhaps particularly interesting.]

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


"The toddler looks up hungrily at his mother; he has finished his stick of sugar-cane, the mangled remains of which lie scattered about our feet. She takes out a banana from her basket, peels it, drops the skin on the floor and presents it to him. A congenial little slum is being created around us. She smiles happily at me." -- Shiva Naipaul, North of South.

The woman has two other children; they are all sitting next to the author on a bus from Malindi to Lamu, in Kenya. 'Congenial' generates as much of the sting as 'slum', you'll notice.

[North of South, by Shiva Naipaul, Andre Deutsch, 1978. Brother of the more famous V.S., and with a similarly forgiving eye. This is a travelogue taking in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. The emphasis is on the risks of being Indian in post-independence Africa. Very fine, very strong; but you would definitely be afraid to eat in front of him.]

First, define your terms

"Nationalism, that specious patriotism of the morally stunted..." -- Louis de Bernieres, Birds Without Wings, chapter 31.

"Guerillas, bandits, brigands or liberating heroes, motivated by hatred and the desire for loot (otherwise known as patriotism)..." -- ibid, chapter 50.

That would be a morally mature hatred and desire for loot, then.

[Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernieres, Secker and Warburg, 2004. Attempted Turkish cover-version of War and Peace, not quite as flawed as it is ambitious; the good bits are very good. Caveat: Both quotes are asides. I capped up the beginnings for aesthetic reasons.]