Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hospital canteens and the "duty to protect"

Agnes was gentle and indecisive generally, a dove if ever there was, but had flown out hawkishly over the war. Her brother-in-law had been in his prisons, and, though she would not say what had happened to him there, Agnes thought even war was better than letting such things exist.

But if we remove one tyrant, then why not another, she'd said to Agnes; most of the staff at this hospital could give ample reason for us to go to war with their country of origin - every single one of them, if you asked the cleaners.

True, said Agnes; and maybe that's the way ahead.

-- from "The Phlebotomist's Love Life", in Helen Simpson's collection Constitutional. The driver of the story, and the emotion we're probably meant to identify with, is anti-war rage; but I like the opening up of another option.

Commercial note: On the evidence of Amazon, Constitutional's out in paperback on October 5. I hereby claim to be a month ahead of the curve, rather than eight months behind it.

[Constitutional, by Helen Simpson, London, 2005. Seriously accomplished comic stories. The plots flick round like second-hands, but each has the rest of a clock behind it. Adulterous, au-pair-employing suburban London appears to have literary life in it yet.]

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