Archive for August, 2007

Tourmaline

I say we have a bitter heritage, but that is not to run it down. Tourmaline is the estate, and if I call it heritage I do not mean that we are free in it. More truly we are tenants; tenants of shanties rented from the wind, tenants of the sunstruck miles. Nevertheless I do not scorn Tourmaline. Even here there is something to be learned; even groping through the red wind, after the blinds of dust have clattered down, we discover the taste of perfunctory acts of brotherhood: warm, acidic, undemanding, fitting a derelict independence. Furthermore, I am not young.
There is no stretch of land more ancient than this. And so it is blunt and red and barren, littered with the fragments of broken mountains, flat, waterless. Spinifex grows here, but sere and yellow, and trees are rare, hardly to be called trees, some kind of myall with leaves starved to needles that fans out from the root and gives no shade.
At times, in the early morning, you would call this a gentle country. The new light softens it, tones flow a little, away from the stark forms. It is at dawn that the sons of Tourmaline feel for their hertage. Grey of dead wood, grey-green of leaves, set off a soil bright and tender, the tint of blood in water. Those are the colours of Tourmaline. There is a fourth, to the far west, the deep blue of hills barely climbing the horizon. But that is the colour of distance, and no part of Tourmaline, belonging more to the sky.
It is not the same country at five in the afternoon. That is the hardest time, when all the heat of the day rises, and every pebble glares, wounding the eyes, shortening the breath; the time when the practice of living is hardest to defend, and nothing seems easier than to cease, to become a stone, hot and still. At five in the afternoon there is one colour only, and that is brick-red, burning. After sunset, the blue dusk, and later the stars. The sky is the garden of Tourmaline.

More Stow. And, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful openings to any novel ever written.

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August 16, 2007 at 9:04 am Leave a comment

The Suburbs of Hell

This poor little blog has been neglected due to holidays and sickness and frantic catching-up on work, but as this novel is work, I thought I could justify five minutes of general musings. Another Randolph Stow, published in the early 80’s. It’s the last novel he published, in fact. Though I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping he has another one tucked away in his mind, just waiting for an excuse to be written. That’s the way he does things. A bit like Mozart, he has the whole thing in his head before he starts. And then he just writes it out in four weeks flat. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

The Suburbs of Hell is a murder mystery set in a coastal town in East Anglia. I read it several years ago and remembered it very fondly, particularly the dialogue and the incredible way he catches accents and turns of phrase. Stow really listens to the way people talk, and he is a master craftsman. But I’ll have to say, that although the novel is very impressive, I was a bit disappointed on a second reading. It is more like a short story than a novel, and you have to read it slowly. It is scary, and the characters he creates are wonderfully tangible, but you never discover a motive for the killings. I think I just don’t quite get it. Maybe when I’ve written about it some more I’ll change my mind about it. Stow says he intended it as a modern ‘Pardoner’s Tale’, so maybe if I reread Chaucer’s story it will give me some clues (it’s a very hazy memory at the moment). It’s also peppered with quotes from Beowulf about ominous monsters and imminent death. A very strange book. I’m just not quite sure what to make of it.

August 16, 2007 at 8:21 am 2 comments


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