Des Lewis - GESTALT REAL-TIME BOOK REVIEWS A FEARLESS FAITH IN FICTION — THE PASSION OF THE READING MOMENT CRYSTALLISED — Empirical literary critiques from 2008 as based on purchased books.
THE LATE BREAKFASTERS by Robert Aickman
PART TWO continued from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/12/03/the-late-breakfasters-robert-aickman/
When I continue reading this book, my thoughts will be shown in the comment stream below…
“Often our present is decided for us by our past.”
A beautifully written chapter, presenting accomplished modern literature of its time with an underlying sympathy for what in 1964 had not even been called ‘gay rights’ and what is now perhaps called something else. Atmospherically, we follow Griselda on the train through South London amid the ‘common’ folk as co-passengers, to the Great Exhibition Hotel near Earl’s Court where she is shown to room 79A. Then, her seeking out one of her socially lofty contacts from BEAMS, Lord Roller who had once seemed sympathetic towards her destiny in job-seeking but not so much, now. Eventually, when pushing against shove, she manages to obtain a further contact, a possible, yet indeterminate, job situated near Seven Kings…
“Griselda was shown in by a sniffing child, fresh from some Essex hamlet.”
Gratuitously, it seems, Griselda rejects the job, as it turned out, at The Bedrock Accessories Supply Company, in a place out of Liverpool Street Station, a sort of urban blend of London and my beloved Essex. A wonderful evocation of place and officious man worthy of an Elizabeth Taylor, the writer, or of an Essex version of a William Trevor, if you can imagine such a beast, and I wonder if Griselda’s instincts (albeit unconscious) were to flee the potential temptations of a winking fourteen year old girl called Maudie (the sniffing child) who later came back, with the hospitality of tea on a tea tray, and make-up now misapplied to her face!
Another completely wonderful chapter, this being one of Aickman’s shorter literarily gem-like ones, whereby we learn that Griselda chanced on serendipity or synchronicity for a job by plumping on a literary bookshop near Piccadilly Circus (around which peccancies have always circulated, I guess) — and immediately received a position from ‘Mr Tamburlane’ who says to her about his reasons for immediately hiring her…
‘It has been the greatest possible joy to me. Such a lovely head, such lustrous eyes: always about the shop. Blessedness, indeed: beata Beatrix, and all that. And don’t misunderstand me in any particular. My homage is entirely aesthetic; wholly impersonal, so to speak. My eros veers almost entirely towards Adonis.’
And he did not ask her for details of her experience nor did she ask him about the wages. And she starts tomorrow.
“But you do not suppose that the present political bacchanal will last many years, I take it?”
But our Griselda had been present at the All Party Dance held at BEAMS, so she was at least semi-expert on the day’s politics, I guess. Meanwhile, she gets a fair wage from Mr T, for such a very amenable bookshop job particularly, but she needs to try and downsize from the hotel to somewhere more humble to live. She confesses to Mr T about the nature of her troubles and her unrequited love, and she is introduced to Miss Otter, an older woman who edits a magazine who may help. And an eccentric indeterminate domestic situation arises that is as perfect as those similar scenes in William Trevor fiction (whose massive canon of countless stories I real-time reviewed during this very difficult year of 2020!). And we now hark back – not to the earlier ‘cold dead crumpets’ – but to much warmer cosier ones, despite Griselda’s initial misgivings…
“The neighbourhood, moreover, seemed unpropitious, at least for crumpets.”
This novel seems, so far, to be two novels, quite different in their own way, with Griselda as the creature straddling them with her own ‘beam’. This second novel is a more normal and, in many ways, better novel than some of the ‘mushy medlars’ in the first one at BEAMS. But it has extra-normal undercurrents that only Aickman can give it, and perhaps William Trevor or even Elizabeth Bowen now roughing it in a block of West London flats instead of a country house. Here, Griselda is facing the airing problems for her wet stockings in such a block of flats and befriending or being befriended by a well-built civil servant called Peggy Potter. Not a second best necessarily but a poignant attachment of necessity. There is, furthermore, an indeterminately light kiss upon each breast of one of these women by the other towards the end of this wonderful chapter that is a very telling parallel of a light kiss upon each breast of a woman at the end of GO BACK AT ONCE! I wonder if this is the first time that this correlation – one that mutually strengthens each other as a synergy – has been noticed?
“People aren’t designed to be happy in isolation like sentries in boxes.”
Griselda meets Kynaston by chance in Regents Street. I can still see him being played by Hugh Grant in some social comedy. They have a chat, licking each other’s wounds, as it were, his Doris said to be seemingly down with TB, Griselda with her TamBurlane. And the bookshop job. And her reputation (of the intolerant times) as a ‘lesbian’. And other fumblings towards their respective third bests in each other, like living together, or perhaps Kynaston sees Griselda as his first best. He mentions working for General Pampero, “The Liberator of Orinoco”, and I wondered if this might be the forerunner of Aickman’s Commendatore Vittore in Trino? Go with the innocuous flow, I say.
Cross-referenced about half an hour later today with XX: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/xx/#comment-1158
And its half crown as, now, below!…
And now to another XX (as chapter no.) and to timely business with a halfcrown or two!…
St Francis and the Birds 1935 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959
“, his eyes directed upwards to a group of swallows swirling after flies, his expression that favoured in coloured representations of the Blessed St Francis.‘Sister, my sister, O soft light swallow,’ quoted Mr Tamburlane, gazing upwards in a warm and gentle rapture,…”
We now reach more mushy medlars of a muddled plot, as Mr Tamburlane – in florid ways I could not have envisaged before – takes Griselda and Kynaston to a remarkable meal in a restaurant, and somehow manages (I think) to inveigle G into accepting K as a future husband, with many poetic references to bridegrooms and happiness, together with travel in a Hansom cab, which makes me think this part is an Aickman co-vivid dream and/or an indeterminate period of time before 1964! A chapter not only with references to half crowns but also many wonderful literary and arty references amid meal menu descriptions. And many other things and people. I was swept off my reading feet!
“Barney flushed; rose to his feet; and took Lotus in his arms. Quite calmly, as it appeared, she bit deeply into his left cheek. Barney’s blood on her big well-shaped mouth made her look like a beautiful vampire.”
I shall leave you to read the context of that!Nothing is signed and sealed till it happens. And the shenanigans in the apartment, in which K originally intended to live with G as husband and wife, forms here the setting of an outrageous domestic situation. But Lotus, if nothing else, is a beautiful young woman. And, after the multi-melodrama of misunderstandings and various comic passions, I somehow gather they are all soon going for a picnic in a day or so?! We shall see.
Is it a coincidence that the names Louise and Lotus have an approximate visual assonance?
XXII, XXIII & XXIV
“I’ve lost the thread.”
“Kynaston and Lotus still walked ahead, their easy efficient movements a pleasure to watch. Had she not known them, Griselda might have taken them for gods descended to Essex earth.”
The day of the picnic, with many characters and events and motives and idiosyncrasies too numerous to describe, characters including Peggy Potter, Lotus, Kynaston and young naturist-leaning Lena with whom Griselda gets lost in Epping Forest (where I, too, have walked.) But I never reached the posh secluded house Lena and Griselda eventually stumble upon… then a remarkable haunting scene or two that compensates for the earlier mushy medlars of muddled comic plot…
“In the sunshine before the porte-cochère, a strange figure sat upon the stones of the drive working. It appeared to be a dwarf. It had very long arms (like a cuttlefish, Griselda thought), very long black hair (somewhat like horsehair), and a completely yellow face. Its ears were pointed, with strands of stiff black hair rising from the top of them. It wore black clothes. Very industriously, despite the great heat, the figure was polishing a large black piece of wood.”
Inside the house, Griselda is asked to preside, amid distant music, over the dying words and death in bed of an old man called Raunds, a name that I recall being connected with the earlier events at BEAMS. This event involves five pound coins being placed on his eyes. And a reference to Venetia, who sounds to me might be one of the many daughters of Vittoria in GO BACK AT ONCE. And there is also a character called Vaisseau.
And there emerges a motto among the dying man’s dying words for our times…
“You do not need to govern yourself, my dear, if you succeed in governing other people.”
NB: There were racial slurs spoken by some of the picnic guests.
XXV & XXVI
The name Raunds might provide the missing link to complete the Circle of Beams to help requite her unrequited love? Meanwhile, Griselda is picked up by someone by the name of Dennis Hooper and, while masquerading as an Anne Musselwhite, she is taken back to his house where a Sardinian maid delivered their food …
“The Sardinian girl entered. She was brown and luscious, and, bearing in mind the characteristics of her people, could not have been more than fourteen. She wore a black satin dress cut alarmingly low, and no stockings.”
XXVII & XXVIII
The Raunds connection proved a cul de sac, and Miss Otter was killed by an accident in the London fog, so her information possibly enabling the requital of Griselda’s unrequited love was thus left undelivered! An indeterminate crime in collusion with Miss Otter is laid at Mr Tamburlane’s door who is taken off to pay his dues, with his leaving the bookshop to Griselda who then goes into a business partnership with Lena. Reluctantly, Griselda agrees to marry Kynaston, and breaks this news to the amenable, busty Peggy Potter…
Herkomer’s portrait of Joseph Chamberlain
“‘Colonel Costa-Rica, darling,’ he said. ‘The Orinocan Commercial Attaché.’”
The Colonel was not the only military officer at the Registry Office, but Kynaston’s dad is also present, an Admiral who had brought ranks of sailors with carbines as a guard of honour for the ‘(un)happy’ couple to negotiate. Many guests we know from earlier, including Kynaston’s ‘ex’, Doris, who meets and then proceeds to leave with Peggy at the end! Another very amusing scene in this chapter as the Registrar seems incapable of abiding by punctuation marks!As you can see this comic book is battling with another sadder, darker Aickmanesque book inside it, a novel battling another novel as in the concurrent XX! (Just remembered that Lena writes novels, too!)
“The ring was much too big for Griselda’s particularly slender finger: it might have been made for a giantess, indeed probably had been.”
XXX & XXXI
“…and they found their way through the fog to a double-feature programme which did not come round again until past nine o’clock.”
“At Lyons, however, the big new Corner House at St Giles’s Circus, the food was, as usual, unlike the food anywhere else, though the ornate building was full of fog, through which the alien waiters called to one another in little-known tongues above the tumult of the orchestra.”
Such events give me glimpses of my boyhood, but on Christmas Day they listen to the King’s Speech. I can’t remember a King’s Speech, only a Queen’s Speech following my memory of her accession marches in London’s 1952. Ironic it is from Spenser’s Faery Queen that Kynaston reads aloud on their wedding night, amid the poignant clumsiness of their physical misunderstanding and an “undertow” of implied non-consummation? But that oversimplifies such a marriage (“: whether she was not in process of restoration against the consequences of losing Louise.”) and Lotus’s escape to Sfax. And oversimplifies the political considerations enunciated by some of the characters in Griselda’s hearing, such as being “…conscious that, far more than any other party, the Labour party gives careful heed to the morals and probity of all it permits to join its pilgrimage.” and expostulating on “Little children exposed naked to the blast of bigotry. Take the mines. Do you know that the faces of miners are black all the time they work? Men born as white as you or I.”
XXXII & XXXIII
‘I think our books are frightful. There’s an entire shelf of Warwick Deeping.’‘It’s right up under the ceiling. No one can see it.’‘And under it Jeffrey Farnol.’‘That’s just old stock.’‘And under that J. B. Priestley.’‘We’ve got to live.’‘I’d rather live honestly.’
Lena does not like the books and thus says she intends to leave the partnership with our Griselda,And she thinks Kynaston is a “Pig, pig, pig”.But does he love Lena, not Griselda? And does Lotus, back from Sfax, somehow love Kynaston in her complex way?But Kynaston’s end lies in a narrative muddle elsewhere…Yes, the wildly incoherent cinematic scene — following a very strange taxi ride by Lena and Griselda to get there — of the ceremony for the President of Orinoco (“He was a commonplace stocky man, in movement staccato from years of watchfulness, and with a head like a small round cannon-ball.”) A variation on the themes of the Commendatore Vittore?Whilst GO BACK AT ONCE verges on greatness, THE LATE BREAKFASTERS verges on inchoateness.
XXXIV & XXXV
“Some of the books he bore away to Griselda’s desk, where he had soon built a substantial cairn.”
The Raunds come round (another Hugo like Cressida’s elsewhere?); an even stranger section than any heretofore, a Gothic Castle whereupon the reader needs a head as big as Horace Walpole’s Otranto/Orinoco helmet to understand it. Other readers of this impossible book gather …
“Rage and contempt were in every face and posture. Griselda had seldom seen any gathering of people so much under the influence of their emotions.”
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