LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
I told him we had come to ask his advice.
He took a long time to get to the point. (He’s stupid as well as ignorant). He stared at me and then said to Horatio: Is your friend all right?
Horatio looked at me very angrily.
I said: Is there a problem?
Biggert came towards me… and then he went and threw open the door and stood there looking at me and said: Out. Go on. Hop it.
But there was somebody standing just outside the door as he opened it. And to my inexpressible delight it was none other than Esmerelda! She was as lovely in the flesh as on the screen. Lovelier. She had her face bare of make-up and her hair was wet and tied up in a sort of turban. She had a towel wrapped round her – perhaps it was all she was wearing! – and it was very low over her bosom. Her beautiful face was flushed.
observations: This is an exceptionally confusing and convoluted book, and is obviously fully intended as such by the author. It starts off with an absolutely tremendous section set on a snowbound train: a group of strangers in a railway carriage – things are going wrong – should they abandon the train? They take turns to tell a story to pass the time. Do some of the stories secretly resonate with other passengers? That mysterious castle nearby: does someone on the train in fact know it well? Is one traveller not going to make it through the long walk in the snow? What IS the matter with the young lady?
I’d have loved it if all 300 pages had been about these people – it’s exactly the kind of story I like, and it’s what I expect from Charles Palliser. In a post-Xmas entry last year on his Rustication (that’s the title, not a life event I was marking for him) I described how he writes the kind of book that makes ideal reading on a cold winter’s afternoon. So this one started out as the sum and super-version of that, but turned into something more post-modernist. There are a whole series of sections, each set in a completely different time and place. Elements of the original plot, and characters, and all kinds of betrayals, turn up in each section, with endless parallels and references back. It is very clever and intricate and often very funny. I’m sure it was all beautifully worked out. The section quoted above has an unreliable narrator and – as the reader unbelievingly realizes – shenanigans on the set of a parodic version of the long-running TV police series Taggart (hence above: Biggert). Not only that, but the narrator doesn’t realize that it is fictional, he doesn’t understand the nature of drama and actors, and thinks his city is at the mercy of serial killers and an inefficient police department. I think that joke went on too long, but it certainly raised a smile.
It’s unfair to blame the book for not being what this reader wanted, but perhaps Charles Palliser (completing the post-modernism) could write another version in which we stay with the train people, and their traditional story-telling, and we find out directly what happened to them.
The picture is of some graffiti in Shoreditch, London: the photo was taken by Ms Sara Kelly and shared on Wikimedia Commons.