Saturday, April 29, 2006

Recommended reading

Ghosts by John Banville. (Banville's been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won in 2005 for The Sea.) Not for the faint of heart -- you might even call it intellectual masturbation, as there is nary a plot to be found, but the writing is...well, sublime. Banville appears to be a writer's writer. On nearly every page, I found passages that I wished I had written.

Maybe he and I (or, I and his character) just have the same bleak outlook. Some excerpts:

"I lie for a long time thinking of nothing. I can do that, I can make my mind go blank. It is a knack I acquired in the days when the thought of what was to be endured before darkness and oblivion came again was hardly to be borne. And so, quite empty, weightless as a paper skiff, I make my voyage out, far, far out, to the very brim, where a disc of water shimmers like molten coin against a coin-colored sky, and everything lifts, and sky and waters merge invisibly. That is where I seem to be most at ease now, on the far, pale margin of things. If I can call it ease. If I can call it being." (P. 20)

"From my copious reading...I gleaned the following: I have an habitual feeling of my real life having passed, and that I am leading a posthumous existence. I had burned my boats, the years were strewn like ashes on the water. I was at rest here, in the calm under the great wave of the world. Yes, I felt at home -- I, who who thought never again to feel at home anywhere. This does not mean I did not at the same time feel myself to be an outsider. The place tolerated me, that's all." (P. 25)

"How can these disparate things -- that wind, this fly, himself brooding there -- how can they be together, continuous with each other, in the same reality? Incongruity: disorder and incongruity, the grotesqueries of the always-slipping mask, these were the only constants he had ever been able to discern. He closed his eyes for a moment, taking a tiny sip of darkness. Stay here, never stir again, gradually go dry and hollow, turn into a brittle husk a breath of wind would blow away. He imagined it, everything quiet and the light slowly changing and evening coming on, then the long dark, then rain at dawn and the gull's wing, then shine again, another bright day declining towards dusk, and then another night, endlessly" (P. 43)

For S: "Tea. Talk about tea. For me, the taking of tea is a ceremonial and solitary pleasure...Ithere is the matter of the cup...I love bone china, the very idea of it, I want to take the whole thing, cup and saucer and all, into my mouth and crack it lingeringly between my teeth, like meringue. Tea tastes of other lives. I close my eyes and see the pickers bending on the green hillsides, their saffron robes and slender, leaf-brown hands; I see the teeming docks where half-starved fellows with legs like knobkerries sticking out of ragged shorts heave stencilled wooden chests and call to each other in parrot shrieks; I even see the pottery works where this cup was spun out of cloud-white clay one late-nineteenth-century summer afternoon by an indentured apprentice with a harelip and a blind sister waiting for him in their hovel up a pestilential back lane. Lives, other lives! a myriad of them, distilled into this thimbleful of perfumed pleasure--" (P. 54)

"...And as she talked I found myself looking at her and seeing her as if for the first time, not as a gathering of details, but all of a piece, solid and singular and amazing. No, not amazing. That is the point. She was simply there, an incarnation of herself, no longer a nexus of adjectives but pure and present noun. I noticed the little fine hairs on her legs, a scarp of dried skin along the edge of her foot, a speck of sleep in the canthus of her eye. No longer Our Lady of the Enigmas, but a girl, just a girl. And somehow by being suddenly herself like this she made the things around her be there too. In her, and in what she spoke, the world, the little world in which we sat, found its grounding and was realised. It was as if she had dropped a condensed drop of colour in to the water of the world and the colour had spread and the outlines of things had sprung into bright relief." (P. 147)

Published 1993; edition I reference is Picador, 1998, London

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