Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Master

The gondola swayed so gently that Henry was not aware of moving in any direction, merely staying still. As her underclothes sank, he imagined that the consignment lay directly beneath them, falling slowly to the ocean bed.

It was only when Tito reached to lift the pole that both of them at the same time caught sight of a black shape in the water less than ten yards away and Tito cried out.

In the gathering dusk it appeared as though a seal or some dark, rounded object from the deep had appeared on the surface of the water. Tito took the pole in both hands as if to defend himself. And then Henry saw what it was. Some of the dresses had floated to the surface again like black balloons, evidence of the strange sea burial they had just enacted, their arms and bellies bloated with water. As they turned the boat, Henry noticed that a grayness had set in over Venice. Soon a mist would settle over the lagoon. Tito had already moved the gondola towards the buoyant material; Henry watched as he worked at it with the pole, pushing the ballooning dress under the surface and holding it there and then moving his attention to another dress which had partially resurfaced, pushing that under again, working with ferocious strength and determination. He did not cease pushing, prodding, sinking each dress and then moving to another. Finally he scanned the water to make certain that no more had reappeared, but all of them seemed to have remained under the surface of the dark water.

-The Master (2004), Colm Tóibín


Monday, August 10, 2009

The Prospector

As far back as I can remember I have listened to the sea: to the sound of it mingling with the wind in the filao needles, the wind that never stopped blowing, even when one left the shore behind and crossed the sugarcane fields. It is the sound that cradled my childhood. I can hear it now, deep inside me; it will come with me wherever I go: the tireless lingering sound of the waves breaking in the distance on the coral reef, then coming to die on the banks of the Riviere Noire. Not a day went by when I didn’t go to the sea; not a night when I didn’t wake up with my back sweaty and damp, sitting up in my cot, parting the mosquito net and trying to see the tide, anxious and full of a desire I didn’t understand.
I thought of the sea as human, and in the dark all senses were alert, the better to hear her arrival, the better to receive her. The giant waves leapt over the reefs and then tumbled into the lagoon; the noise made the air and earth vibrate like a boiler. I heard her, she moved, she breathed.

-The Prospector (1985), J.M.G.Le Clezio


Sunday, August 9, 2009


Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water-- peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-- the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.

--Housekeeping (1980), Marilynne Robinson


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Finn MacCool was a legendary hero of old Ireland. Though not mentally robust, he was a man of superb physique and development. Each of his thighs was as thick as a horse’s belly, narrowing to a calf as thick as the belly of a foal. Three fifties of fosterlings could engage with handball against the wideness of his backside, which was large enough to halt the march of men through a mountain-pass.

--At Swim-two-Birds, Flann O'Brien (1939)


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mr. John Furriskey

There was nothing unusual in the appearance of Mr John Furriskey but actually he had one distinction that is rarely encountered—he was born at the age of twenty-five and entered the world with a memory but without a personal experience to account for it. His teeth were well-formed but stained by tobacco, with two molars filled and a cavity threatened in the left canine. His knowledge of physics was moderate and extended to Boyle’s Law and the Parallelogram of Forces.

--At Swim-two-Birds, Flann O'Brien (1939)