Sunday, 10 October 2010

"Filthy Luck"

Dorothy could emit, at any hour of the day or night, a waterfall of debutante chatter (...) 'I'm desperately well, thanks, how are you?' (...) It was some time before she was to put her head round Jane's door and announce, 'Filthy luck. I'm preggers. Come to the wedding.'
(Muriel Spark, 'The Girls of Slender Means')

Writing a historical novel is a great excuse for re-reading old favourites - in this case, The Girls of Slender Means and any Graham Greene novels that feature raids and rationing. The downside: why would anyone want to write another 1940s novel set in London after reading Spark and Greene? They've said it all, and so well.

The awful thing about a raid is that it goes on: your own private disaster may happen early, but the raid doesn't stop. They were machine-gunning the flares: two broke with a sound like cracking plates and the third came to earth in Russell Square; the darkness came coldly and comfortingly back again.
(Graham Greene, 'The Ministry of Fear')**

Hmm. Well, neither Greene nor Spark wrote about conscientious objectors, so I can always tell myself I'm filling a gap in the market.

**(Incidentally, Greene writes about this feeling in at least two books, The Ministry of Fear and The End of the Affair. Norman Mailer describes a similar moment in The Naked and The Dead. There is that sense of outrage and incomprehension that the raid - or battle - simply goes on even after the protagonist has been hit. To those who experience it, the feeling is often worse than the moment of terror itself. The human mind somehow expects stress and tension to be followed by reprieve, and finds it absolutely unbearable when this doesn't happen. It's almost as if our minds were built to cope only with a typical narrative arc: ie Hansel and Gretel escape from the witch's hut and are safe... rather than stumbling across another witch, and another, and another.)

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