Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil | A review.

So: This is a great book. A non-fiction book that reads like a novel. Everything about it is perfect, for me anyway. The pace, the shape, the characters, the dialogue, the prose. A complete entertainment.

The story is told in the first person by a New York journalist who is spending some time in Savannah. And before I say anything else let me talk about Savannah. I felt as though I was there; I could see and hear and smell everything. Indeed, I felt suffused with Savannah. I read and re-read various pages, trying to fathom how the author made it so atmospheric. Sometimes, you hear about a place being almost a character in a book, and that’s how it is with this one. An old, beautiful, city where the inhabitants feel insulated from the rest of America, and they like things just the way they are.

“It had just rained; the air was hot and steamy. I felt enclosed in a semi-tropical terrarium, sealed off from a world that suddenly seemed a thousand miles away.”

The book is built around a murder and the court case that follows, but in a way, that is just the backdrop for so much more. Jim Williams, the accused man, is wealthy, lives in a fantastic house filled with wonderful furniture and fittings. His conversations with the journalist are so entertaining; if I was in a room with this man, I’d be hanging on every word. He talks about some of the characters who inhabit this hot, steamy Savannah. One such is an old gentleman who walks an invisible dog and gets paid for it. Everyone accepts this as normal, and they speak to the old man as though the dog was real.

And then there’s Luther:

“At other times, Luther pasted the wings of a wasp on top of a fly’s own wings to improve its aerodynamics. Or he made one wing slightly shorter that the other so it would fly in circles for the rest of its life.”

I’ll only mention one more or this review will be as long as a gospel!

Joe Odom: He throws lavish parties which seem to go on indefinitely with music and laughter continuing through the nights. This reminded me of The Great Gatsby until I realised that Joe is a serial squatter. He always seems to find a suitable empty house for his parties; people absent from their homes for a period of time never know that Joe and his friends have been carousing there for months.

And Chablis, a drag artist, reckless and unpredictable. And the voodoo queen, Minerva. Enough!!

The ending is perfect. This is a totally satisfying book. I kept forgetting that it’s non-fiction. I read it on my kindle but I think I’ll have to buy a copy for the bookcase.

From “A Moveable Feast” by Hemingway

When I first read this book, I had never been to Paris; I was enchanted. I had read most of Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald though, and I followed their adventures in Paris with delight. When I did eventually go to Paris, I found that some of the cafés mentioned in the book, were no longer in existence. But of course, I loved it anyway.

Has anyone seen the movie “Midnight in Paris”? It’s a Woody Allen movie and covers the same sort of territory. Any writer, or reader, would love it.

‘It now began to rain heavily and we took refuge in the next village at a café. I cannot remember all the details of that afternoon but when we were finally in a hotel at must have been Chalon-sur-Saone, it was so late that the drug stores were closed. Scott had undressed and gone to bed as soon as we reached the hotel. He did not mind dying of congestion of the lungs, he said. It was only the question of who was to look after Zelda and young Scotty. I did not see very well how I could look after them since I was having a healthily rough time looking after my wife, Hadley and young son Bumby, but I said I would do my best and Scott thanked me. I must see that Zelda did not drink and that Scotty should have an English governess.

We had sent our clothes to be dried and were in our pajamas. It was still raining outside but it was cheerful in the room with the electric light on. Scott was lying in bed to conserve his strength for his battle against the disease. I had taken his pulse, which was seventy-two, and had felt his forehead, which was cool. I had listened to his chest and had him breathe deeply, and his chest sounded all right.

“Look, Scott,” I said. “You’re perfectly O.K. If you want to do the best thing from catching cold, just stay in bed and I’ll order us each a lemonade and a whisky, and you take an aspirin with yours and you’ll feel fine and won’t even get a cold in your head.”

“Those old wives’ remedies,” Scott said.

“You haven’t any temperature. How the hell are you going to have congestion of the lungs without a temperature?”

“Don’t swear at me,” Scott said. “How do you know I haven’t a temperature?”

“Your pulse is normal and you haven’t any fever to the touch.”

“To the touch,” Scott said bitterly. “If you’re a real friend, get me a thermometer.”

“I’m in pajamas.”

“Send for one.”‘

Can’t you just see the pair of them, bickering in their pajamas! Scott, here, reminds me of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory.

If This is a Man | A poem by Primo Levi

This poem is printed at the beginning of Levi’s book, “If This is a Man | The Truce”, which is a truly wonderful book. I re-read it recently and felt I had to share the poem.

You who live safe

In your warm houses,

You who find, returning in the evening,

Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider if this is a man

Who works in the mud

Who does not know peace

Who fights for a scrap of bread

Who dies because of a yes or a no,

Consider if this is a woman,

Without hair and without name

With no more strength to remember,

Her eyes empty and her womb cold

Like a frog in winter.

Meditated that this came about:

I commend these words to you.

Carve them in your hearts

At home, in the street,

Going to bed, rising;

Repeat them to your children.

Or, may your house call apart,

May illness impede you,

May your children turn their faces from you.

From Sea and Sardinia by D H Lawrence | an excerpt

Some days, in an idle moment, I stand at my bookcase and run my eyes over the shelves, and very often I take down this book and open it at random. I have posted excerpts from Sea and Sardinia before, but I find the whole book irresistible so I hope you will excuse another one!

The lovely dawn: lovely pure, wide morning in the mid-sea, so golden-aired and delighted, with the sea like sequins shaking, and the sky far, far, far above, unfathomably clear. How glad to be on a ship! What a golden hour for the heart of man! ah if one could sail for ever, on a small quiet, lonely ship, from land to land and isle to isle, and saunter through the spaces of this lovely world,, always through the spaces of this lovely world. Sweet it would be sometimes to come to the opaque earth, to block oneself against the stiff land, to annul the vibration of one’s flight against the inertia of terra firma! but life itself would be in the flight, the tremble of space. Ah the trembling of never-ended space, as one moves in flight! Space, and the frail vibration of space, the glad lonely wringing of the heart. Not to be clogged to the land any more. Not to be any more like a donkey with a log on its leg, fastened to weary earth that has no answer now. But to be off.

To find three masculine, world-lost souls, and world-lost saunter and saunter on along with them, across the dithering space, as long as life lasts! Why come to anchor? There is nothing to anchor for. Land has no answer to the soul any more. It has gone inert. Give me a little ship, kind gods, and three world-lost comrades. Hear me! And let me wander aimless across this vivid outer world, the world empty of man, where space flies happily.

The lovely, celandine-yellow morning of the open sea, paling towards a rare, sweet blue! The sun stood above the horizon, like the great burning stigma of the sacred flower of day.

Reluctantly I must put the book down now to finish this post. I hope some of you enjoy it as much as myself.

An excerpt from “Walking With Ghosts” by Gabriel Byrne | A Memoir

This is a wonderful book, beautifully written. I have a feeling I’ll be posting more than one excerpt. Here, he is talking about going to dances long ago. The sixties – he’s the same vintage as myself!

“Crowds streaming out of the pubs, some walking or on bicycles; hard chaws in their fathers’ cars leaning out windows with cigarettes, like they were in a film, combing oiled hair into Elvis quiffs and whistling at the girls click-clacking by in short dresses.

On the stage the spangle-suited band, brass flashing, guitars twanging beneath revolving globes that scattered shards of light over the dancers.

Wallflowers looked out with shy, uncertain eyes.

How long had they spent in front of the mirror getting ready and here they sat unwanted, with thumping hearts, yet hopeful they might be chosen, having to look unconcerned when they were not.

I understood them, afraid of being rejected, as I was shoved towards them in a herd of Brut aftershave and Guinness.”

Quotes from A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell.

I first read this book when I was in my forties. It was hard going but I persevered. It was written in 1946, seventy odd years ago, and there will have been many, many changes in thinking since then. But as it’s the early philosophers that interest me, that doesn’t matter too much. Some of the sentences seem peculiar to me but I will leave them as they are.

I am beginning with a quote from Thales who lived, approximately, in 585 B.C. and was one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. He believed that everything was made of water.

“According to Aristotle, he thought that water was the original substance, out of which all others were formed; and he maintained that the earth rests on water. Aristotle also says of him that he said the magnet has a soul in it, because it moves the iron; further, that all things are full of Gods.

The statement that everything is made of water is to be regarded as a scientific hypothesis, and by no means a foolish one. Twenty years ago (1926), the received view was that everything is made of hydrogen, which is two thirds water. The Greeks were rash in their hypotheses, but the Milesian school, at least, was prepared to test them empirically . . .

There are many legends about him, but I do not think more is known than the few facts I have mentioned.

The history of Sparta I found much more interesting, not least because of the movies made about it.

“When a child was born, the father brought him before the elders of his family to be examined: if he was healthy, he was given back to the father to be reared: if not, he was thrown into a deep pit of water. Children, from the first, were subjected to a severe hardening process, in some respects good – for example, they were not put in swaddling clothes (why is that good?). At the age of seven, boys were taken away from home and put in a boarding school, where they were divided into companies, each under the orders of one of their number, chosen for sense and courage.

. . . for the rest of their time they spent in learning how to obey, to away with pain, to endure labour, to overcome still in fight. They played naked together most of the time; after twelve years old, they wore no coats; they were always nasty and sluttish, and they never bathed except on certain days in the year. They slept on beds of straw, which in winter they mixed with thistle. They were taught to steal, and were punished if they were caught – not for stealing, but for stupidity.

Homosexual love, male if not female, was a recognized custom in Sparta, and had an acknowledged part in the education of adolescent boys.

There was little liberty at any stage in the life of a Spartan.”

There is no mention of women in these chapters. Were Spartan girls kept at home to cook and sew? I will try to find out, and I’ll have a look at Plato and Aristotle next.