Sunday, April 21, 2013

Missile command

Ford Madox Ford, on the usefulness of books: Books can be useful from so many points of view. In my early days, for example, I used to use the Encylopedia Britannica as a trouser-press and certainly the house that was without it was to be pitied. Books are also very useful for pulping; bibles and other works set over the heart will deflect bullets; works printed on thin india paper are admirable if you happen to run out of cigarette papers. Their use for that purpose is in fact forbidden in France where there is a tobacco monopoly. In fact, if you are ever without a book you are certain to want one in the end. For the matter of that, my grand aunt Eliza Coffin used to say: "Sooner than be idle, I’d take a book and read." According to her the other uses of books were (1) for the concealing of wills (2) for the ditto of proposals of marriage by letter; (3) for pressing flowers; (4) folios piled one on the other will aid you to reach the top row in the linen cupboard; (5) they have been used as missiles, as bedsteads when levelly piled, as wrappings for comestibles; (6) as soporifics, sudorifics, shaving paper etc. Via—who else?—Levi.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hollow men

The great Devin McKinney reviews Jake Arnott's The House of Rumour for Critics at Large:

Engrossing as pure story, the novel is also an education, as the broad outlines of World War II and the ensuing half-century are reconfigured in and by the voices of people whose split decisions nudged the levers of history, or whose visionary hunches foretold its outcomes....[R]eading the novel, I thought of Robert Anton Wilson (especially Masks of the Illuminati, which germinates from similar principles), James Ellroy (American Tabloid, in its interconnections and narrative density), Thomas Harris (canny prose incorporating deep research into language, history, art, science), and David Thomson (Suspects and Silver Light, novels built from the secret parts of familiar, albeit fictional, lives). 

[...] Yet Arnott’s mesh of fantasy and fact holds together as a novel. He makes scenes live, both in their moments and as parts of a whole. He has no trouble slipping into his characters’ skins, transmitting empathically from their often lonesome, disturbed interiors. His Ian Fleming is a mesmerizing creation. As the MI5 agent tasked with, among other things, investigating the Hess premonition, Fleming also lives out a tormented dynamic with his never-named “other self . . . the hollow man of his imagination” – he who will, after the war, emerge as James Bond. This cold, deadly cipher, “the empty hero of Fleming’s private narrative,” is the void into which Fleming can deposit his own depths, themselves empty of any passion save masochism. More than brilliant, it is revelatory, even moving, of Arnott to depict Bond as his creator’s tortured and torturing doppelgänger, the cruel Quilty to Fleming’s suffering Humbert. (And upon meeting the aged diabolist Aleister Crowley – England’s most notorious hedonist, tapped by MI5 for his insight into Nazi occultism – Fleming finds the prototype of Le Chiffre, Blofeld, Goldfinger: Bond’s fat, grinning supervillains!)

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