- “Ennis Del Mar wakes before five, wind rocking the trailer, hissing in around the aluminium door and window frames.” Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx.
- “All night long he would walk the ship, from bow to stern, from dusk until quarterlight, that sticklike limping man from Connemara with the drooping shoulders and ash-coloured clothes.” Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor.
- “While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.” The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
- “‘All good things must end,’ said Frances Price.” French Exit by Patrick de Witt.
- “It was love at first sight”. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.
Since I have been immersing myself in Japanese writers recently, I thought I’d have a go at a few haikus:
- Be still; half-close your
eyes, and listen to the sound
of the universe.
2. My hands kneading dough
become your hands in cloudy
puffs of wheaten flour.
3. Fragile spider’s web –
its silken, silver threads a
charnel house of flies.
4. A slimy, silver
trail across my balcony –
well, snails must live too.
5. My face against the
grass, I smell the fecund earth,
watch the insects creep.
6. A homeless man called
out – today I did not eat –
a wail of anguish.
It’s fun to do actually; I enjoyed writing them!
Sadie checked the plates, shifting bits of cheese and cherry tomatoes. She ate a crust of the bread and put the kettle on and then she stood with her ear to the door.
“It’s a grand, wee flat above the shop,” George was saying.
Sadie squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath. Madge was asking how many rooms there were. The kettle hissed behind her and she turned down the gas to hear better.
“And I’d expect a bit of meat, you know, and maybe a drive on a Sunday. You can have that oul car, parked out there, teach Sadie to drive it.”
Sadie raised the gas again. Her hands trembled as she filled the teapot. Calm, she told herself, be calm. But the tray shook when she took in the tea and she couldn’t look at either one of them. The knives and forks clattered and the teaspoons rattled and Sadie couldn’t swallow.
“Have some more bread,” Madge said. “Fill the man’s cup there, Sadie. More cake, George?”
George ate everything he was offered and kept saying everything was lovely and when the last cup of tea had been drained he asked Sadie to come and look at the flat above the shop with him.
“Ah no, George,” she said, and backed towards the kitchen. “There’s too much to do – “
“Go on,” Madge said. “Off you go. Can’t I tidy up? I’m not helpless, am I? Us old people are useful too, isn’t that right, George?”
George agreed with her and offered Sadie his arm. She went with him although she knew the dishes would be sitting waiting for her when she came home and Madge would have had another couple of gins and she`d still have to make her a fry too.
George put the key in the hall door beside the shop and stood back to let Sadie in first.
“It’s up the stairs,” he said.
There was a strange smell, the smell of somebody else’s house. Sadie held the banister and then let go of its stickiness. It would take her a month to clean the place, she thought. She stood in the middle of the living-room and looked at the fawn-coloured floor and the fawn-coloured chairs and walls and the photographs of George’s family.
“Will you sit down, Sadie,” George asked.
Sadie looked at the couch before she sat on it and George sat down close beside her.
“Could you live here, Sadie? With me? What do you say? Will we set a date?”
Sadie couldn’t speak. She hardly knew how she had got herself into this position. She remembered the first night when George had asked her to go for a walk, and after that it had seemed impossible to stop. And she didn’t want to stop really . . . only . . .
She clasped her hands together and nodded once. And then George leaned over and kissed her hard and his hand clamped onto her leg. Sadie let out a squeak and got up, pretending to look at the photographs. George laughed and slapped his two knees.
“You’re the very best,” he said, “you’re a great, wee girl. Look around, Sadie. You can do what you like with the place, make whatever changes you like. I`ve done a lot of work already, replaced all the tiling myself, so I did.”
He got up and led the way to the white bathroom. Sadie stood inside the door and looked at the new electric shower. There was a smell of plaster. George patted everything, the bath, the shiny taps, the cistern, the shelf beneath the mirror.
Sadie put a hand to her forehead. Impossible to think of being here with him, to stand here in her nightdress and clean her teeth and George in his pyjamas – waiting for her to get into the bed – no! no! She wanted to go home, to tell George she had changed her mind, but he had his arm around her, squeezing her shoulder, saying he’d look after her, and her mother.
So, I was looking forward to reading this book as it had been highly recommended, and I did like it, but not as much as I expected. To begin with the main character Cork O’Connor is interesting and likable. He is part American Indian and there are quite a lot of American Indian characters in the book, known collectively as “the people” which interested me very much as I know nothing of their culture.
The story is gripping from the off – incomprehensible murders, a wealthy politician, a crumbling marriage, a sweet love story – and secrets and silence everywhere. An occasional mention of a supernatural element adds to the whole but doesn’t intrude. There’s an easygoing quality as well, and many back stories, but they are so engaging – and easygoing doesn’t mean slow.
However. nearing the end of the book I found that some situations were very contrived to allow the hero to unravel the mystery. Also, the denouement is very drawn out and quite boring. It was disappointing after so good a story.
There isn’t any quotable dialogue here but the pace and shape of the story is good.
Taylor Caldwell – many great big books – “Dear and Glorious Physician” might ring a bell.
Denis Wheatley – quite a few dealing with the supernatural – “The Devil Rides Out” had me terrified for months!
James A Michener – his books were huge; many of them were made into movies; “Hawaii” being one of them. They were huge family sagas, involving many generations.
Wilkie Collins – the first author to write detective stories, notably “The Woman in White” and “The Moonstone”. Himself and Dickens were friends but he has been forgotten now.
James Clavell – I read and loved all his books; they were big books; I mentioned “Shogun” in the Large Books list. But they contained whole other worlds to get lost in and were so readable.
Somerset Maugham – he wrote many books and some became movies too – “The Razor’s Edge” and “Of Human Bondage” come to mind straight away. His short stories were unforgettable.
Graham Greene – again, many of his novels were turned into movies but no one seems to read the books any more, and they were great.
Frank Yerby – historical, colourful, and great fun, set in America’s deep south.
Maurice Walsh – the Irish writer from Kerry, responsible for one famous movie – “The Quiet Man”. It was a short story in a collection called “Green Rushes”. He wrote many books, all very romantic and all set in Ireland or Scotland.
Evelyn Waugh – who wrote “Brideshead Revisited” which was made into that wonderful, beautiful series. He also wrote many very funny books.
Henry James – I love Henry James; he’s old-fashioned of course but the novels are so good. Also made into many films – “Portrait of a Lady” “Washington Square” and “The Turn of the Screw”.
E M Forster – it’s becoming difficult to find an author whose books were NOT turned into movies! I’ll only mention my favourite one of his – “A Room with a View”.
D K Broster – no movies! He was a Scottish writer who wrote a trilogy of historical novels, all set in Scotland – very romantic!
I’ll just mention a couple of romantic novelists from my youth – I’m quite sure today’s young ones would find them hilarious: Denise Robins, Ethel M Dell, Barbara Cartland.
And a couple of detective writers – Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie – does anyone read her books any more? So many glossy movies.
Here’s a list of the 10 largest books on my bookcase:
Shogun by James Clavell
A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell
Hawaii by James A Michener
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
and before you think I only read ancient books . . .
Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Does anyone want to add to the list?
Next time I’ll make a list of wonderful authors no one reads any more – a list of 20 this time.
The fire is nearly out and I’m getting cold. Drinking this brandy is doing me no good now; I could drink two bottles of it and still be sober. It’s Sunday night again – a whole week since I went to bed in peace. I don’t like Sundays – dead days I call them.
I remember I nearly fell that night when I was taking off my trousers but I managed to get myself undressed. The curtains were shut tight and I pulled them open – like sleeping in a godamn tomb with them closed like that. I`ve told her and told her. Sometimes I think she does it on purpose.
It was a calm, quiet night with a bit of a moon and not a sinner about in the street. I stood there looking out the window with not a worry in my head and then I turned to the bed. She was well buried in it and I knew I’d had a bit too much to drink, but a man has to have his bits and pieces and I was going to have my rights anyway.
I footered about with the rubber for a minute and when it was on I wheaked up her night-dress and laid into her. She was holding her breath with her face turned away, holding herself tight and still. I laid in good and heavy and when I was finished I rolled off and gave her a good push. She deserved it, I thought, lying there like that as if I was a stranger. I should have clocked her one but that’s not the way I work. She spun over onto her side and her knees came up and her head went down. She was like a spider, rolling itself up when you touch it and not a sound out of her – waiting for me to go asleep; my eyes were heavy all right. I pushed her a bit more and she curled up even tighter.
“What ails you?” I growled at her.
The bit of a moon was shining in and she was white as a ghost in the bed. I could see she was shaking.
“Sshhh …the child,” she whispered, pointing to the wall.
Child, my arse. A big lump of a fifteen year old sleeping his bloody head off. She was more worried about the neighbours, don’t I know what she’s like? All sweet and good morning, missus. She’d die if they heard anything. However I was too tired to go on with it so I lay down again.
I didn’t feel too bad the next morning, considering . . . There wasn’t much light in the room and the windows were streaming with rain. I thought I’d heard the lifeboat in the middle of the night but maybe I’d only dreamt that.
There she was, moving about quietly, stooped over as usual. She always stoops – she sort of drops at the knees and pokes her head forward like a hen. It’s because she’s taller than me. I hoped she wasn’t sulking. Sometimes she gets in a huff over the drink and there’s no breakfast until I raise my voice.
When she left the room I stretched myself and had a good scratch and went to the bathroom. What has she to complain about? Hasn’t she the biggest house in the whole county and only young Pat to look after besides myself? She says he’s getting stroppy but sure the lad is a teenager; a fine lad too, handsome, and broad for his age. He’ll be like myself one of these days, a brave, fine-looking man. Of course I’m getting a bit heavier now about the neck and shoulders but I can carry that. She’ll have to learn to cope with him and not be whinging to me.
I was moving stuff around in the cabinet, looking for a new blade, when I came across a packet of hair-dye. I took it out and shook it. Notions, I thought. At her age! I nearly laughed, and then I sniffed the air, hoping for rashers.
Pat was down before me with a plateful in front of him, eyes glued to his phone as usual.
“That’s the boy,” I said. “Plenty of grub.”
He flicked his eyes at me, not a word out of him. My breakfast landed on the table and I rubbed my hands together.
“Yum, yum,” I said, just to see the reaction.
She moved away sharpish and didn’t speak. She was eating toast at the work top, her shoulders hunched and the spikes of hair sticking up. I took a gander at the head on her; I suppose you could say she was blonde now. Nobody was going to speak only myself by the looks of it. Well, feck the pair of them. It was a good breakfast, best thing after a feed of drink, a good Ulster fry in the morning.
“Speaking was a habit she’d gotten into years ago, in the distant past, and that she’d stopped she felt no desire to start again. It was pointless anyway – all the blah-blah-blabbing and, still, no one understood each other.”
It was love at first sight.
The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.
Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn’t quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn’t become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.
Each morning they came around, three brisk and serious men with efficient mouths and inefficient eyes, accompanied by brisk and serious Nurse Duckett, one of the ward nurses who didn’t like Yossarian. They read the chart at the foot of the bed and asked impatiently about the pain. They seemed irritated when he told them it was exactly the same.
“Still no movement? the full colonel demanded.
The doctors exchanged a look when he shook his head.
“Give him another pill.”
Nurse Duckett made a note to give Yossarian another pill, and the four of them moved along to the next bed.
Well, you would just have to keep reading wouldn’t you?
“Butter us a slice of bread there, girl, will you?”
Sarah wiped a knife on her skirt, then buttered bread for the three of them. The back door opened and immediately two brown hens stepped inside, squawked and stepped out again when Sarah threw a towel at them. Martin darted in, smiling, showing them the eggs cradled in his jersey.
“Good, good,” Sarah and Barney said together, nodding at their brother.
They looked at each other as Martin carefully set the eggs in a bowl.
“For tea,” he said. “Two each.”
He sat down and ate porridge and bread and butter. Sarah poured strong tea and drank, watching Barney, waiting. Barney finished eating, wiped his mouth and felt in his jacket pocket for the card.
“Look at this,” he smiled at Martin, waving it at him . “Do you know what this is? No you don’t. Well, it’s a postcard. A postcard, Martin. And do you know what it means?”
Martin watched the waving card, smiling because Barney was smiling. He shook his head.
“Well,” Barney began. “Long ago, you don’t remember maybe, there was a little boy used to come here to stay. A little cousin, he was, younger than all of us and we used to play with him and tell him stories.”
Martin listened to Barney, staring into his face, frowning, concentrating, smiling and frowning.
“Well,” Barney looked around for his pipe. “Well, he’s going to come and visit us. Won’t that be nice now?”
Martin’s face began to quiver and squeeze.
“It’s all right, Marty,” Sarah said. “It’s only Dicky bird – you won’t mind Dicky bird.”
Martin nodded and smiled but the tears began to roll and his nose began to drip. He sniffed and cried harder and then he got up and went to the couch and hid his face.
“He’ll cry all day now,” Sarah sighed loudly.
“Godallmighty,” Barney looked at his watch.
“I`ll have to get back – I’ll ask for the afternoon off – and – eh, we`ll . . . “
He waved his hand around at the floor, the dishes in the sink, the shovel filled with ashes on the hearth.
“We’ll – eh – tidy up a bit – for Dicky bird – and food, Sarah! They`ll want to eat. Can you nip down to Higgins` – get ham and a loaf, and . . . a few apples, that should do.”
He buttoned up his jacket with an effort and went out.
Martin was quieter now; his eyes began to close and his thumb went into his mouth. Sarah watched him without speaking. Her hand moved slowly towards her book; quietly she opened it. After a while the book slipped a little and Sarah’s head fell back against the high frame of the chair. A hot, close, muggy silence filled the kitchen and the bluebottle was busy again over the fresh spits of burnt porridge.