Rest, it seems, is a peculiarly English thing. Restfulness in all its timorous, melancholic glory cushions the indoor lives of Oscar and Dorrie Livingstone, in a peculiarly English way. Not as the accidental sidebar of an otherwise busied existence but as an aspiration, a calling, a rigorous end in itself. Oscar is
…a bulky soft-voiced man with beautifully cared for hands. Something about him broadcasting the resignation of a schoolboy who has to submit to an inspection before he is allowed to leave the house.
All in all they are a placid wistful couple, resigned and melancholy by themselves and for each other. Well fed, well napped, well sheltered they form a restful destination for the nervous, ambitious, insecure and disinclined Rachel Kennedy who would have liked to see herself in this pink shell of kinship and central heating. Miss Kennedy takes up a remote and impassive alliance with Heather, the passive offspring of this mildly inert, mildly well off couple who accommodates her parents imagination by pretending to manage her own clothing shop in London, a Daisy Miller with short hair, unexcitable and worrisome.
She would glide from virginity to matronhood with no sense of a change in her condition. She would duplicate her mother, succeed her, and no doubt become the center of the family circle in her own home with the full approbation of that mother whom she planned so closely to copy… As she sat there emotionless and smiling in the midst of this agitated assembly, she looked like the bride in a Breughel painting, as if she were already at her own wedding breakfast.
Rachel Kennedy lives a perfectly balanced and satisfyingly sombre life, too glad to come to rest at the Livingstone family home, to inhabit the functionary role of ‘friend’, to perform the duties of that functionary, like a glum, gloved observer at a greenhouse of rest. Here she studies English life, exacting a micro-analytics of personality and sensibility and mood as meticulous as a clinical formula.
Jackson slugs a bully and saves a small dog. Hence Jackson, ex military man, ex husband (twice), having been familiar with violence his whole life has now finally found a good use for it. Now on the other side of the law, but otherwise non-localizable: “when he stayed at a hotel, he knew who he was. A guest.”
Tracy is big, post-menopausal, plain, and so indistinct that qualifiers float over the surface of her identity, like flat swabs of paint on a blank canvas.
At school Tracy had always been wary of the domestic science crowd – methodical girls with neat handwriting and neither flaws nor eccentricities. For some reason they were usually good at netball as well, as if the gene that enabled them to jump for the hoop contained the information necessary for turning out a cheese-and-onion flan or creaming a Victoria sponge-sandwich mix.
After she pays $3000 for a small child being dragged around by a street-mother, Tracy buys the kid cotton clothes and uses thought to re-organize her life from the point of view of a small girl.
Two characters in an England out of time, make a decision that makes no sense, and thereby changes the sense of life and everything in it. Two characters that grip us by the throat, and leave us breathless, waiting for the real inside the fiction.
Gwenda gets off the boat at Plymouth, hires a car, looks for village to live in. And finds one: a perfectly charming cottage with aga, a kitchen garden and flowered wallpaper. Gwenda moves in with her rosewood, her mahogany, her papermache, her chintz and all the fabrics of domesticity. She feels from the start that the house and the garden are familiar; she knows in advance where the doors are and where they ought to be, she imagines the wallpaper of a room and then discovers the very same wallpaper in a boarded up cupboard. There is something uncannily familiar about the house from the start.
By the end of the first week she has had one or two hallucinations, and thinks perhaps that she is going mad. She meets Miss Marple who suggests that there may be another way to explain her familiarity with the house. Perhaps she has lived in the house before. Which is of course a perfectly sensible English alternative to Freud: “You are not mad; your house is old, your ancestors are ugly, your hallucinations are memories and best avoided.” But this is impossible. Gwenda is from New Zealand, and she is curious.
What she finds unsurprisingly is murder.
The relentless decomposition of the Oznard family has left Andrew in the position of so many young Englishmen, who had, for the first time in centuries, to feed themselves.
Young Andrew had thus determined from an early age that he was for England and more specifically, that England was for him… What he needed was a decaying English institution that would restore to him what other decaying institutions had taken away….
And what he chose was the Secret Service.
An exact and well cut commentary on the tradition of tailoring and its neo-colonial clientele.
Before Patricia Cornwell, before CSI, did anybody read dead bodies or examine them for traces of their killer? Yes, as it happens. Where there are bodies, there are secrets and where there are secrets, there are readers. Gaudinus the African, for example, who remembers people only by diseases, and greets his visitor from Palermo, the personal secretary and keeper of the King’s royal secrets such:
“Hemorrhoids!!” He said triumphantly, at last. “You had piles. How are they?”
Hemorrhoids distinguishes Mordechai Fils Barachia, who brings news of the murders of children in Henry II’s England. Representing the King of Sicily, Mordechai calls for a medical examiner, a reader and decoder of dead bodies, a Mistress of the Art of the Dead, to go to England and find out if indeed it is the Jews are the murderers of children.
How did Muller know that the text could sound like this? How could he make words talk like this? And yet he does. Muller turns them up and over and around so that each one cries out: Me, look! Listen to me! Hear me. And having been read in such a way, by such a voice, a word, a text, remains unspeakable by any other voice.
One listens half-crouched, head tilted, just a little, toward the machine, the voice, because it is inconceivable or almost inconceivable that this is English. For how can one even open one’s mouth when there is someone who makes English like this, makes English sound like this….
Smiley receives a letter from his ex, reads (“I want to make you an offer which no gentleman could accept. I want to come back to you. I’m staying at the Baur au Lac in Zurich till the end of the month. Let me know.”) and thinks:
“That was Ann. Let me know. Redeem your life. See whether it can be lived again and let me know. I have wearied my lover, my lover has wearied me. Let me shatter your world again, my own bores me. I want to come back to you…..” Let me know.
Posted By: () Date: 02/11/2005 1:05 pm Status: Open