Friday, October 20, 2006

Two brilliant things about marriage, from two new(ish) books

I was enjoying this morning until now. 'Not before breakfast,' I say. I do not add, 'You know I can't handle it this early in the day.' I've added that before; it's only had an intermittent effect. After this long together, both of our heads are filled with such minor admonitions, helpful hints about the other person -- likes and dislikes, preferences and taboos. Don't come up behind me like that when I'm reading. Don't use my kitchen knives. Don't just strew things. Each believes the other should respect this frequently reiterated set of how-to instructions, but they cancel each other out: if Tig must respect my need to wallow mindlessly, free of bad news, before the first cup of coffee, shouldn't I respect his need to spew out catastrophe so he himself will be rid of it?

'Oh. Sorry,' he says. He shoots me a reproachful look.
-- Margaret Atwood, Moral Disorder

Julia believed no outing was worth its while unless it ended up with tea and cake. He knew everything Julia believed. He could have gone on one of those Mr and Mrs quizzes and answered eveything about her likes and dislikes. He wondered if she would be able to do the same for him ...

For Jackson, words were functional, they helped you get to places and to explain things. For Julia they were freighted with inexplicable emotion.

'Afternoon tea' itself, of course, was one of Julia's all-time favourite phrases ('Good enough words on their own, but together perfect'). Afternoon tea usually trailed a few excessive adjectives in its wake -- 'scrumptious', 'yummy', 'heavenly'.

'Warm Bakery Basket' was another of her favourites, as were (mysteriously) 'autumn equinox' and 'lamp black'. Certain words, she said, made her toes 'positively curl with happiness' -- 'rum', 'vulgar', 'blanchisserie', 'hazard', 'perfidious', 'treasure', 'divertimenti'. Certain scraps and lines of poetry -- Of his bones are coral made and They flee from me that sometime did me seek sent her into sentimental rapture. The 'Hallelujah Chorus' made her sob, as did Lassie Come Home (the whole film, title to closing credits). Jackson sighed. Jackson Brodie, the all-time winner of Mr and Mrs.
-- Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn


elsewhere said...

>Don't use my kitchen knives.<

you had me worried there for a moment!

Pavlov's Cat said...

It's pure Atwood -- a sense of lurking if not repressed threat under a normal-seeming sentence. There's a wonderful moment in the same book where two elderly sisters are reminiscing about a Halloween costume -- the Headless Horseman -- that the older one made and wore when she was thirteen, including a grotesque paiper-mache severed head for the Horseman to carry under his arm as per legend. 'I wonder whatever happened to that head,' says the elder elderly sister, fifty years on, going through the hoarded stuff in their mothers' house, and the younger one replies 'Oh, it's still down here somewhere.'

Pavlov's Cat said...

Mother's. They've only got one mother.

Sheesh, and me the apostrophe police.

ThirdCat said...

Even police make mistakes (allegedly).

Ampersand Duck said...

Oh, both of them on my (long) favorite authors list! I've never really recovered from Atwood's short story about her 'fibroid' baby. Keeps me going at very odd times.

redcap said...

I do love Margaret Atwood. She's so marvellously acerbic. Rather like Janet Turner Hospital, but a bit meaner ;)