Wednesday 31 December 2008

The last day of the year

A busy two weeks, running around, culminating in people and good food.

I did manage one book, from the pile on my floor by the table leg - the books to be read. It includes Ulysses and some Henry James - more than I can chew at the moment. But there was also Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, initially published in 1956. It's slim, he wrote it in nine days, though he says in the introduction that it is a conflation of three earlier short stories, plus some extra bits. The characters are two-dimensional, but the story rings true, it is reality pushed just a bit further than we know it - his own experience of being stopped by a policeman one evening because he and his friend were walking in the street and talking: the policeman wanted to know what he and his friend were doing - the US in the fifties. They had trouble getting rid of him, and he warned them as he left.

Bradbury has a great facility with metaphor, he just writes and writes them, they come pouring out, unexpected, original, striking. In the first paragraph of the first page he is describing our hero, man Montag, burning books with a vengeance using a flame thrower:

"...With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomenous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history...."

And so it goes.

Only a few hours and it's the end of the year... Started Ryszard Kapuscinksi's Travels with Herodotus, (Penguin, 2007) which is instantly surreal - he describes himself, an ignorant young journalist who had grown up under the shadow of Stalin, in thrall to a great curiosity for what lay beyond the frontier - what would be different there? How would it affect him?

He only dared dream of Czecholsovakia, but in the event he was sent to India, via Rome: he knew nothing about these places. His description of Rome on a warm summer night is so immediate that for a moment I slipped into it completely.

His book is a commentary on many things at once - himself as a young naive viewer, the effect of a Communist regime on its citizens, the many other lives he intersects- here is a description of the barefoot man who brings him his tea in the morning - his first day in India in a dubious hotel (bedbugs abounding):

"He placed the tray on the table, bowed, and having uttered not a word, softly withdrew. There was such a natural politeness in his manner, such profound tactfulness, something so astonishingly delicate and dignified, that I felt instant admiration and respect for him".

I love the way he takes the time to describe something properly with a variety of expressions. This book will take a while to be read - not too fast.


Bill said...

Hey. Good to see year the blog lives beyond the hallowed halls of Whitireia!

Michalsuz said...

Hopefully see you tomorrow at Lorraine's.