21 August 2012
Posting an entry at noon — what depravity! I’ve spent the entire morning in a shaded rocking chair, reading Galbraith on the Great Crash. It is one of the most compulsively readable books that I have ever had the pleasure to devour. In the introduction, Galbraith writes of the pleasure that it gave him to write it. “[W]hen I left it with the publisher, I felt that I was saying goodbye to a close and valued companion.” The mordant ironies and understatements that grace almost every page go a long way to dispersing the gloom of the matter at hand.
We are having a very lazy day, by design. Megan decided to try out the market’s online delivery service, so we won’t have to go into the town. Not that I’d mind — I was thinking of going in to fetch a pizza for dinner — but taking the day off is very pleasant. I will take my walk at four-thirty, of course, because that is why I am here: the sea is my spa. I set out yesterday with jangled spirits, and was at first disheartened by the failure of the surf to work its magic immediately. By the time I reached the edge of Lonelyville, though, I could feel my elements righting themselves, rocked gently into place by the monotonous but infinitely varied sound of breaking waves and sweeping water. I didn’t have a single interesting idea, but nor did I expect to; before my mind can turn to good purpose, I have to work off the static and smooth the circuits.
As often happens, I gave two books a chance yesterday, and ended up sticking with Galbraith. The other was Ivo Stourton’s new novel, The Book Lover’s Tale. Stourton’s The Night Climbers was a delightful read a few years ago (I ought to link to what I wrote about it, but I’m taking the day off), and its successor is no less chewy.
Cambridge is a terrible place to begin a romance of this sort, since it allows for the temporary suspension of material concerns and the corresponding elevation of the importance of character. It is supremely easy to sit with a rich and beautiful girl in a spacious thirteenth-century room on a medieval cloister, with the many bells of the city ringing out in the afternoon and a black-tie party to attend in the evening, to take her by the hands and to confess that you have no money, that you are not likely to have any money, at least not at first, and that therefore you can only offer her a life of relative privation. It is equally easy for her, looking at an honest and handsome boy in the golden light of the afternoon that penetrates the ancient stained glass of the lead-latticed windows, to believe the best of herself, to look him in the eye and to say in pure hope and truth that the privations will be as nothing so long as they face them together, before the two of them embrace, make love and head off to a heavily subsidized ball. This insulation from financial circumstances amplifies the hopefulness of youth to the point of distortion. It allows a woman to believe she has paid the price for her beloved, whilst really he is the great lie of our age, an article purchased on credit.
The novel begins with the narrator in a cell, speaking, it would seem, to his solicitor. “But is he a murderer?” asks the copy on the back of the book. You’ve more or less got to go on, just to find out who’s dead. Prose of Stourton’s calibre eliminates any and all resistance.