Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas
Another book (suggested by Ann) which tended to prompt discussion of the history on which it centres - in this case the
Spanish Civil War - rather than of its treatment of those issues or the book as a literary artefact. However, the unusual form of this book
is of great interest both politically and aesthetically.
It is constructed in three parts, the central one taking a different form and voice from those of the two sandwiching it. In the first
part, titled 'Forest Friends', the first-person present-day narrator, who has the same name as the author, disarmingly and wittily recounts
his own failures as both a fiction writer and husband, and relates how, in an attempt to resurrect his earlier career as a journalist,
he ended up interviewing a writer and lecturer who happened to be the son of the famous fascist and writer Rafael Sanchez Mazas,
a founder of the original Falangist movement that first whipped up agitation against the Spanish Republican government in the 1930s.
During the interview, Cercas relates, the son mentioned the fact that in January 1938, as the Republican troops were advancing near
the French border, his father faced a firing squad at Collell but escaped the bullets and fled into the woods, hounded by Republican
militiamen. As he cowered in a gulley, a Republican militiaman came upon him, but called to the others that there was no one there,
and turned away, thus saving his life. Subsequently Mazas was given succour by a group of deserted Republicans, 'the forest friends'.
Cercas relates how, intrigued by this, he became curious about Sanchez Mazas and about the Civil War and its 'horrific stories'
which 'till then I'd considered excuses for old men's nostalgia and fuel for the imagination of unimaginative novelists' - the pain
of the Spanish Civil War, as Ann said, having since been largely buried in Spanish public consciousness. Cercas then relates how
he followed up a series of connections and contacts resulting from a newspaper article in which he had recounted the incident
of the firing squad, ending up speaking to some of those involved, including a son of one of the 'forest friends'. He came, he says,
to understand that the story of the firing squad was well known after the war, when the louche, aristocratic Mazas lived off it as
a famous personality and (inactive) politician. The question that then came to obsess Cercas was whether or not the story was
true, and he reached a point where he knew he had to write a book about it, not a novel, but a 'true tale, a tale cut from the
cloth of reality, concocted out of true events and characters'.
Part Two is different in mode. The confessional mode is dropped, and the section, titled 'Soldiers of Salamis' - a reference
to the outnumbered Greeks who routed the invading Persian fleet in 480 BC, and the title of the book that Sanchez Mazas had told
the 'forest friends' he would write about his time with them, but didn't - takes the conventional academic mode of a history.
Beginning with an incident after the war that was related to Cercas by a son of one of the forest friends, in which Mazas intercedes
on behalf of his imprisoned former forest companions, and hinging on the whole firing-squad and forest-friends episode, it is an
account of the life and career of Sanchez Mazas, an anatomisation of the muddled politics and loyalties of the Spanish Civil War
and its aftermath, and a meditation on the involvement with a violent movement of a cowardly and aesthetically conservative mind.
Part Three reverts to the mode of Part One. Here Cercas relates wryly how he wrote his book about Sanchez Mazas in a heat
of inspiration, and then realised it was rubbish: it was missing something important he couldn't identify. (By now we have realised
that Part Two is indeed the book in question.) Despairing, Cercas returns to his newspaper once more. Once again, a chance interview
he is conducting, this time with the famous and exiled Chilean writer, Roberto Bolano, leads to an unexpected link with Sanchez Mazas
and the firing squad incident: it becomes clear that an old friend of Bolano's could have been one of the Republican soldiers who took
part in the firing squad, a man called Miralles who, unlike the effete Mazas who evaded military action in the war he helped to agitate,
spent the entire war fighting on one front or another. A link with something Cercas was told earlier about the soldier who saved
Mazas's life makes him think, and hope, that this is the very man - and that this is the element that is missing from his book -
and he sets out to find him in his retirement home. But the old man won't admit that he is the same man, and the whole book
must thus end on uncertainty. Yet Cercas is happy: now the otherwise forgotten Miralles, a true 'soldier of Salamis', and his
companions, will 'still be alive in some way'.
Introducing the book, Ann said that she had enjoyed the first part, but when she got to the second part, with its dry historical
account and lists of names unknown to us English readers, she nearly gave up. However, she was very glad she hadn't, as the final
section of the book, which was very moving, redeemed it. Most people nodded agreement, and people commented on the contrast:
the lightness of touch of much of the first and last sections, and the wryly-portrayed relationship between Cercas and his down-to-earth
TV fortune-teller girlfriend who must listen to his writerly woes. (' "Shit!" said Conchi. "Didn't I tell you not to write about a fascist?
Those people fuck up everything they touch!" ') Ann, a historian, was very impressed by the book's central message: that history is
always just a construct built on hearsay and myth and opinion, that the truth is always muddled, or indeed unattainable. I strongly
agreed, since this is my own main obsession as a writer, and felt that the structure of the book makes an important literary point
about the contingency of storytelling - of which, as Ann said, history is just one form, often, as in this case, a desiccated form.
Also impressive is its questioning of what makes a hero - Sanchez Mazas makes a surviving hero of himself after the war by telling
the firing-squad story, but is the hero really the man who let him live, and the ordinary man who has to fight in the war? Are those
whom history holds up as heroes the real heroes? It's impossible, though, to know why the soldier let Mazas live, and as Cercas
and Bolano discuss, is a hero someone who makes a conscious choice in acting bravely, or someone who does so by instinct?
In recording the known facts of history you can't in fact impute motives, and thus can only ever tell a partial story.
The book has been a major success in Spain, and, Ann said, it must of course have had far more resonance for those familiar with the
names of political figures and historical events. (In fact, so divorced were we as a group from Spanish history and Spanish-language
culture, that several people had not heard of Bolano, and for them Cercas's meeting with Bolano inevitably had less resonance than
for those who had heard of or read him). Ann made the point that the book is of course striking, as Conchi's speech indicates, in
focussing on a fascist at a time when Spain's fascist history has been largely buried. It is also remarkable for its depiction of the
political ambiguities of the war, and it was noted that one reviewer commented that it made Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls
'look like play-acting'.
The discussion was then opened out to the room, and Doug and Trevor immediately began an argument about the facts of the Spanish
Civil War, to which the rest of us had to object in order to bring focus back to the book. Doug challenged me on my statement that
the structure of the book, its switching of modes, made an important and resonant literary point. Although he could see what I meant,
he said that surely Cercas could have made the historical section more entertaining, and that, although he absolutely agreed about
the bits with Conchi, which he really enjoyed, and that the end of the book concerning Miralles was very moving, in the middle
section he was frankly bored shitless. Jenny said that it wasn't just the middle section she found difficult and boring - there was the
long section in Part One when Cercas is contacting all those people in order to try and find out the truth about Sanchez Mazas -
all those similar-sounding unfamiliar Spanish names; she kept getting muddled between them all - and that section in Part Three
when Bolano recounts to Cercas at great length Miralles' experience of the campaigns of the war. People generally agreed, and
someone said that their impression while reading Part Two was that the story they had already read about was merely being
repeated in a more boring way. (In fact, we encounter the telling of the story several times, as in Part One we read in full the
article in which Cercas repeats it, and Cercas ponders the variations in the different subsequent tellings he hears from others.)
John, having read the book on a Kindle, made the interesting point that he might have had a better experience of it if he had
read a print copy: he would then have had a better overview of its structure and would have known better where things might
be leading as he read. People also commented on the difficulty of the very long sentences in the non-dramatised sections
(contrasting strongly with the prose and dialogue of the more personal dramatised sections). There was also the fact that the
book is not divided into chapters. I feel that this is a pretty normal convention for a book divided into parts, but most people
found it unusual and that, along with a general lack of paragraphing, it made the book a difficult read. There was speculation
- taking into account Don Quixote and the enormous length of Bolano's books pointed to by John - that lengthiness may be
a general characteristic of Spanish-language writing. We all agreed, however, that the language of this book (which is not
long) was nevertheless beautifully wry and incisive, and the contemporary dialogue in the personal sections very telling of
character and mood, and we were not surprised that the translator, Anne McLean, had won a prize for the translation.
After which, the talk veered unstoppably back onto the issues, and on to the connected but general subject of false memory,
and on from that to child abuse, and on...
The Bridge by Ian Banks
This report written in October:
I've been so busy with my current writing project and the publication of Used to Be, that I haven't at all been keeping up with the reports
of the reading group meetings. I have three to catch up with, so my memory of this, the first (at least two months off now),
is perhaps a bit incomplete.
Clare suggested this novel, a kind of crossover work between the novels with which Ian Banks began his career - not exactly realist,
but more conventionally literary - and the science fiction which after this he began to produce simultaneously under the name Iain M
Banks. Doug had said when the book was suggested that he particularly admired it, but unfortunately he was unable to attend the meeting
at which we discussed it and thus champion it in the face of the more muted reaction of the rest of us.
Clare summed up the events of the book. It begins with a kind of nightmare sequence, told in the present tense and in disjointed
prose with short, one-word sentences conveying crisis and confusion, featuring blood, a huge white cat, a bridge and an impact,
the crashing of a car. There is then a shift to another dream-like sequence with a very different tone, past-tense, distilled, mysterious
and haunting, in which a train leaves a deserted station, whistling off into the dark, and the first-person protagonist sets off too into
the dark on a mysterious quest with a horse and a strangely sealed carriage. On a lonely mountain pass, with room only for the carriage,
he comes face to face with an identical driver with an identical carriage whose actions mimic his own, neither of them able to pass.
We then discover that this is indeed a dream, the dream of a first-person narrator named John Orr who is recuperating after a car crash
but still under the care of doctors in a strange surreal world of an endless bridge on which whole infrastructures and communities have
been built. Later we will discover that, unable in fact to dream, Orr has made up the dream about the horse and carriage, along with
other similar dreams, to keep his doctor happy. We follow events on the bridge, which grow increasingly surreal: Orr is demoted from
his luxury room and stripped of the luxury goods with which he has thus far been provided, and sent to live among workers at a lower
level; strange barrage balloons appear at the side of the bridge erected against sinister invading aircraft, and an aircraft (I think -
my memory is hazy here) crashes into the bridge. There is the resultant crashing of one of the trains that constantly run through
the centre of the bridge, and Orr escapes on another train only to find himself speeding and then rattling through war zones and
apocalyptic landscapes, variously imprisoned and enlisted by different warring factions. About a hundred pages in, this narrative is
punctuated by moments from another: the past-tense, third person account of a working-class student from Glasgow whose father
once took him to look at antique steam trains and who moves to Edinburgh for university and up the social ladder, becoming an
architect married to a middle-class girl from the area and leading a life of material success and fast cars. There is a third narrative,
in which a seemingly different first-person narrator, speaking in demotic Glaswegian and expressing crude primitive desires,
quests, with an argumentative creature on his shoulder, through the familiar but warped landscape of Greek mythology.
Meanwhile, occasional sequences like the first section break through, indicating the mind of someone struggling to
consciousness. As Clare said, these seemingly disparate stories come together at the end, showing that they are all indeed the
dreams, alter-egos or memories of a single architect narrator, once obsessed with the construction of the Forth Railway Bridge,
in a moment of crisis crashing his Jaguar (the 'huge white cat') on the road bridge, and now lying in a coma.
Most of us thought that the psychological insights of the book were interesting and clever - the mirror symbolism of the initial
'dreams' signifying the severing of the protagonist from himself (named Orr and implying an alter ego), the id and the super ego
cleverly melded with the Greek myths that prefigured such notions, the protracted war struggle signifying Orr's resistance to emerging
from the comfort of his coma, and the clever depiction of how our subconscious minds turn both our experiences and words into
concrete symbols. However, as Trevor very strongly put it, if you get the connections at the beginning and understand that everything,
apart from the realist backstory, is the consciousness of a man in a coma, as he and others of us did, then there's no narrative tension.
It's hard to get engaged with the 'real-life' backstory of the architect since, presumably in a deliberate move to show the contrasting
vividness of Orr's coma-induced interiority, it's told in a flat, pedestrian prose; the rest is a virtuoso authorial performance of linguistic
richness and energy, but knowing it's a dream creates a certain detachment from the experience in the reader. To put it more bluntly,
other people's dreams are nearly always boring, simply because they are only dreams.
Some were surprised that people have written PhDs discussing the book. Clare said that she had done some research and had
discovered that there were many points of interest that must be compelling to Banks fans and PhD students, such as the fact that the
surname of a woman on the bridge who is a love interest for Orr is also that of one of the original architects of the real-life Forth rail
bridge, but such connections were of only passing interest to us.
One thing that did attract and intrigue both Trevor and me was the Edwardian character of some of the aspects of the bridge -
the fact, most obviously, that the trains were steam engines - showing that we do not live exclusively in the present and that our
imaginations are formed to some extent from the past. We both found this strikingly psychologically true.
Clare did say that she didn't feel as detached as most of the rest of us did, but, as far as I remember, Jenny said she just couldn't
get on with the book at all.
Christie Malry's Own Double Entry by B S Johnson
A belated report, written in October:
I suggested this metafictive 1973 novel by experimental writer B S Johnson, which has always been important to me (both as a reader
and writer), hoping that the group would like it too but not really expecting them to, since some, Jenny especially, have expressed
a dislike for experimental novels.
To relate the story - in which seventeen-year-old Christie Malry, 'a simple man', decides to get back at a callous profit-obsessed society
that does him down, recording his slights and revenges through a double-entry system of debits and credits learnt at the bank where he
is first employed - is to some extent beside the point, since much of the enjoyment in this novel comes from the mischievous voice of the
author, directed straight at the reader and deliberately revealing the artificiality of his story and dismantling it, openly discussing and
dismissing the conventional mechanics and modes of novel-writing, and finally questioning the whole enterprise of writing a novel in
the first place. In a deliberate subversion of the concept of 'rounded character', Johnson sometimes puts into the mouth of the simple
Christie diction that is clearly his own, so arcane and erudite that the words need to be looked up in the dictionary (and when they are
, are found to be hilariously apt), and Christie's equally 'simple' mother is given a sophisticated formal speech in which, right at the
start of the novel, she writes herself out of it because, basically, Johnson is illustrating, she has outlived her narrative usefulness,
and to resolve her role in the plot in any more conventionally 'realist' way would be dishonest and artificial.
'We fondly believe that there is going to be a reckoning ... when the light of our justification blazes forth upon the world... But we shall die
untidily ... most things unresolved... Even if we understand all is chaos, the understanding itself represents a denial of chaos, and must
therefore be an illusion... My welcome is outstayed'... Christie's mother died.
Johnson tells us that any attempt he makes to characterise Christie's appearance he does 'with diffidence, in the knowledge that such
physical descriptions are rarely of value in a novel... What writer can compete with the reader's imagination!' and so he makes him 'average'
in every physical way in order to accommodate this. However, taking us through the novelist's mental process, he goes on: 'But Christie's
girlfriend! I shall enjoy describing her! Come along, what's your name, let's have your name. It'll come, like everything else. Try.'
In a further rejection of realist fiction, the story itself is deliberately over the top, increasingly and hilariously surreal as Christie avenges
the smallest slights with the most elaborate and excoriating plots that culminate, finally, in mass murder.
When I came to read this novel again for the group meeting - a book that I have acknowledged as having had a profound influence,
along with Grace Paley's stories, on my own more metafictive writing - I found to my surprise that I was slightly less enthusiastic than my
memory of it had made me. While I recognised the first half of the novel with delight, I found that I didn't recognise the ending at all, and
came to realise that I had probably never previously finished it. It's possible that it had so inspired me that I dropped it and went off to
write something of my own, but I also remembered that I'd been reading it on a train journey and the journey had come to an end before
I finished it, and that that journey had set in chain a series of distracting life events that could have prevented me from picking it up
again. In any case, although I found the ending logical - the plot deliberately cut off and the conclusion nihilistic, the author conversing
with Christie and discussing his pointlessness: ' "Christie', I warned him, 'it does not seem to me possible to take this novel much
further" ', and finally, 'Xtie died' (Christie acknowledged as a mere cipher) - I found the nihilism emotionally unsatisfying. This was
perhaps because I knew now that by the time B S Johnson had written this novel he was sensing that he had written himself into a
corner (his novels weren't popular, and his publisher was going cold), and that this led to his suicide very soon afterwards. For this
reason, I couldn't help reading into the ending - and retrospectively by association the whole of the book - a kind of despair about
the novel as a form, which was not something that as a writer I was happy to feel. Possibly also the ideas of the book were now
too familiar to me for it to have the same impact the second time around.
Introducing the book at the meeting, I said this, expecting everyone to be much more down on it than I was. There was a bit of a
silence that I realised was a silence of surprise, and then Jenny, of all people, said, 'I thought it was brilliant,' and there followed a chorus
of agreement from everyone else present (except perhaps John who was the only other person who had read it previously, and who had
had something of the same reaction as me). Ironically, the rest of the meeting consisted mainly of people praising and relishing the book
with an air of defending it from me. People loved the wit, the voice of the author and his deconstructions, and found Christie's story
itself hilarious, Ann and Doug thinking the latter searingly true about work within institutions and organisations, and no one could
understand how a novel that was basically such fun could ever have failed to be popular. Jenny said that she was in fact surprised to
find herself liking an experimental novel so much, and the group discussed why this book should have been so different. Mainly, it was
decided, it was because, in spite of all the deconstructions, there are realist elements: both Christie and his girlfriend 'the Shrike' are
vivid characters depicted in scenes full of relishable physical detail worthy of any realist novel, a paradox which seems to have
confounded some critics, but which, after all, lock you emotionally into Christie's story - B S Johnson's very clever sleight of hand.
The Quiet Soldier: Phuong's Story by Creina Mansfield
Warning: plot spoil.
This was Hans's suggestion, a novel that sets out to supply the lack that some of us had felt when we read and discussed
Graham Greene's The Quiet American, and more: the story of Phuong, the Vietnamese woman fought over in that earlier
novel by world-weary narrator journalist Fowler and the young CIA agent Pyle, in the French-occupied Vietnam of the 50s.
This novel begins in 1967 when the Vietcong are fighting the Americans, and with the emergence
of Phuong from a Vietcong tunnel, a fully trained Vietcong soldier. Within a very short time it is clear that she is a cold-blooded killer for
the cause - a shockingly different figure from the meek and feminine Phuong of the Greene novel. This novel then shows in extended
flashback Phuong's journey from a genteel background destroyed by her elder brother's espousal of the revolutionary cause and arrest,
along with his friend Long and Phuong's elder sister to whom Long is betrothed, and by the famine caused by the World-War 2 machine
of the ruling Japanese. Left destitute and alone, a very young Phuong sets out north with an elderly companion to Ba Ra where the three
were taken, a rite of passage into toughness as they travel on foot and forage for food. Phuong is raped by an attacker and her
companion murdered, and, necessarily trained to kill in self-defence, she becomes a killer herself. From this moment on she will
always carry the ivory-handled knife of her attacker, with which she killed him, ready at any moment to use it, and in this novel she
will be wearing it beneath her ao dai even as she lowers her eyes meekly for Fowler and Pyle. Finally meeting up with her escaped
and much hardened sister and her brother-in-law, she is enlisted as a member of their cell which moves south to Saigon. Here she
is commissioned as an undercover spy in the role of concubine, first to Fowler, who as a loose-tongued journalist not given to
taking sides is a prime source of information, and then, when he appears on the scene, to the CIA agent Pyle in whose death she
will be complicit. One of the fascinations of this for those of us who found it hard to take Greene's narrative attitude to Phuong,
is the physical disgust and even hatred that Phuong feels towards both men in this novel as she submits and ministers to them.
Everyone in the group agreed with Hans that this novel was predicated on a brilliant idea. John and Mark didn't feel the book fulfilled
the promise of the idea, however, as they found the prose repetitive and pedestrian, and John didn't feel that point of view was always
well handled. Most others said that the story was exciting enough to make it a rattling read whatever, and Jenny said strongly that
although she felt the book read like a book for young adults, she had absolutely loved it, and all the time couldn't wait to find out
what happened next. (She was the one person who hadn't read The Quiet American - she hadn't yet joined the group when
we read it.) I said that I had gone back and read The Quiet American again first, in order to not to miss anything of the
comment that this book was making on it. As a result, in spite of my historic objection to Greene's portrayal of Phuong, because
of his superb prose I had to come this book imbued with Greene's portrayal, and my immediate feeling on beginning reading this
book that was that this very different Phuong was simply too far-fetched. Yet as I read on and Mansfield's novel took over, I began
to realise that her premise is excellent, that indeed this version of Phuong is in reality the more likely. I felt that this showed
something very important about The Quiet American and about prose in general: written, as Ann said, from the colonist's
point of view, The Quiet American is culturally suspect, but the brilliance of Greene's prose makes it lethally persuasive.
John said however that reading The Quiet Soldier makes The Quiet American a far less good book for him,
since it made him think how ridiculous it was that in The Quiet American neither Fowler nor Pyle ever suspect that
Phuong is a spy, which in reality she quite likely would be - particularly Pyle, who is an undercover agent himself.
I said that I did feel that The Quiet Soldier would have made a better if perhaps more predictable story if Phuong
had actually killed Pyle (rather than simply being complicit in his murder), as so much is made of her attachment to the knife she carries
(and she is at one point prepared to kill Fowler), and she has so much personally to avenge, but no one else agreed with this.
Jenny said that she would now go and read The Quiet American, and everyone commented that she would not be able to read it
without the filter of this novel. I said that after finishing The Quiet Soldier I had indeed gone back to the beginning of
The Quiet American
, when Phuong is waiting in the shadows as Fowler comes back to his flat and when, we will soon find out, Pyle has already been killed,
and it was impossible not to see her waiting there as a potential assassin.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
I'm afraid this 1965 book didn't manage to compete with Christmas for our group. We met to discuss it in the pub just before
our Christmas dinner, and it turned out that only three of us had read all of it. Ann, Clare, Mark and John had found that it just
didn't engage them enough to encourage them to put aside for it the myriad of seasonal things they had to do, and Jenny hadn't
even tried. I was one of those who read it to the end, but I found it a struggle, and had a singular experience: when Doug first
suggested the book I said I had read it previously - and I believe I had even written about it at some time - but when I came
to read it again for the group I recognised nothing whatever about it, which has never ever happened to me before on a reread.
I was convinced I had been mistaken about having read it until I started to come across pencilled notes in the margin in my own
handwriting. Further, I moaned to John that I still had to finish it, before remembering that I had actually finished it the evening
before as we sat in a cafe. That was just how unmemorable the book was for me.
Hans and Doug, however, were more positive, Doug announcing that this was perhaps the seventh time he had read it, that he still
wasn't entirely sure what it was about, but that he really loved and admired it. It's the story of a young woman, Oedipa Maas, who one
afternoon returns to her California home from a Tupperware party to find she has been made the unlikely executor of the will of a past
lover, real estate mogul Pierce Inverarity. If indeed story is a word that can be applied to the off-beat and sometimes seemingly
disconnected events that follow as she drives south to carry out this duty, becoming involved with ex-child-actor lawyers, a larky
pop group recalling the Beatles or the Monkees, and the mystery of a medieval postal system with the sign of a muted horn,
still apparently existing in an underground form and somehow implicated in Inverarity's vast and complicated estate. Or is it?
Inverarity (note the echoes of verity/truth in the name) has left behind a postage stamp collection which at the end of the book
will become an item in an auction (Lot 49), and appears to hold clues to this, but how can Oedipa be sure that it isn't all a huge
practical joke on Inverarity's part?
There are comic disconnected dialogues and madcap scenes reminiscent of a certain kind of film popular at the time, the sixties,
and characteristic of that era's popular larky view of itself. It's clear that these are intended, paradoxically, to illustrate the serious theme
of the book, that of the difficulties of communication and the impossibility of ever knowing the true significance of things in a culture
in which the social and moral barriers are breaking down. Unfortunately, however, I think it was the fragmented nature that made
the book unmemorable for me, and some in the group found the events silly rather than funny, in particular John, and Mark who was
the most critical of all. The serious purpose is evident in the language, the satirical naming and magnificent long, convoluted
sentences which Doug in particular admired. He said that if he himself had managed to write something as good as the riff
early in the book on the former car-sales career of Oedipa's husband Mucho, then he would die happy:
Yet at least he had believed in the cars. Maybe to excess: how could he not, seeing people poorer than him come in, Negro,
Mexican, cracker, parade seven days a week, bringing the most godawful trade-ins: motorized, mechanical extensions of themselves,
of their families and what their whole lives must be like, out there for anybody, a stranger like himself, to look at, frame cockeyed,
rusty underneath, fender repainted in a shade just off enough to depress the value, if not Mucho himself, inside smelling hopelessly
of children, supermarket booze, two, sometimes three generations of cigarette smokers, or only of dust - [This single sentence
continues for another half-page.]
Everyone agreed that the passage was extremely well written, but some pointed out that its subject was never picked up on again,
was just left dangling and seemed to be there just for its own clever sake - which may have been the thematic point, but was
unsatisfying. There are other sentences that are less easy to read and people expressed irritation at having constantly to go back
and read them over and over again, and that on the whole they had lacked the necessary patience - and I have to say that I found,
particularly in the latter half of the book, that some of the sentences overreached themselves and resulted in clumsiness. (There is
in fact a certain imprecision in the middle of the sentence quoted above, although, as John has said to me, that is perhaps
acceptable for the laid-back, 'psychedelic' literary style of the time.)
Which is all that I can remember was said before we dropped the subject of the book, left it dangling, and larkily went off to our
Christmas dinner in Aladdin's over the road.