My birthday has been heralded by something weird — a kind of odoriferous spirit (dumb and invisible) that’s attached itself to me like an aromatic shadow. At first I mistook it for nothing more than the scent of wet hawthorn. On its own this is a sad enough perfume, but the hawthorn has brought with it a strange musty smell that isn’t confined to Hawthorn Close but follows me everywhere I go. It walks down the street with me and accompanies me into other people’s houses (and then leaves again with me, there’s no shaking it off). It floats along the school corridors with me and sits next to me on buses — and the seat remains empty no matter how crowded the bus gets.
It’s the fragrance of last year’s apples and the smell of the insides of very old books with a base note of dead, wet rose-petals. It’s the distillation of loneliness, an incredibly sad smell, the essence of sorrowfulness and stopped-up sighs.
Thanks for all the suggestions yesterday! This, from Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet, is close to the book-pinnacle of what I mean (the music-pinnacles vary, but Purity Ring, Shrines and Goldfrapp, Tales of Us are my two right now).
Of course, this passage — one of my favorite in any book — is undercut for this purpose by the fact that the author gently makes fun of it a paragraph later (the protagonist, Isobel, is a moody 16, and when she tries to explain this no one has the faintest idea what she’s going on about; of course, then Atkinson un-makes fun of it a chapter or so on.) It’s also undercut by the fact that this takes place on April 1. Personally I think the aesthetic matches fall — and the book in general — more than April, but for sticklers, an actual autumn passage:
There’s more to photosynthesis that meets the eye really, isn’t there? I’m thinking this as I walk along Chestnut Avenue on the way to the morning bus. It’s the basic alchemy of all life — the gold of the sun transmuting into the green of life. And back again — for the trees on Chestnut Avenue have turned to autumn gold, a treasure of leaves drifting down on the pavements. Everything in the whole world seems capable of turning into something else.
Wait, this is When Will There Be Good News/Life after Life Atkinson? Dang, I need to read this (I really like her already).
(also Goldfrap yesssss)
I’m a sick man… I’m a spiteful man. I’m an unattractive man. I think there’s something wrong with my liver. But I understand damn all about my illness and I can’t say for certain which part of me is affected. I’m not receiving treatment for it and never have, although I do respect medicine and doctors. What’s more, I’m still extremely superstitious — well, sufficiently to respect medicine. (I’m educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious.) Oh no, I’m refusing treatment out of spite. That’s something you probably can’t bring yourself to understand. Well, I understand it. Of course, in this case I can’t explain exactly to you whom I’m trying to harm by my spite. I realize perfectly well that I cannot “besmirch” the doctors by not consulting them. I know better than anyone that by all this I’m harming no one but myself. All the same, if I refuse to have treatment it’s out of spite. So, if my liver hurts, let it hurt even more!
I’ve been living like this for a long time — about twenty years. I’m forty now. I used to work in a government department, but I don’t work there anymore.
Fyodor Dostoevsky - Notes From Underground (via psychoneurogenesis) (tr. Ronald Wilks)
- this has always been one of my favourite openings in literature
- and now it is a GPOY
- particularly the last two sentences, which are now frighteningly accurate
- I have apparently aged into Severus Snape (at least I have the nose for it)
What would it be like
to live in a library
of melted books.
With sentences streaming over the floor
and all the punctuation
settled to the bottom as a residue.
It would be confusing.
A great adventure.
from “Villette,” Charlotte Brontë
"Happiness is the cure—a cheerful mind the preventive: cultivate both."
No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure. Happiness is a glory shining far down upon us out of Heaven. She is a divine dew which the soul, on certain of its summer mornings, feels dropping upon it from the amaranth bloom and golden fruitage of Paradise.
"Cultivate happiness!" I said briefly to the doctor: "do you cultivate happiness? How do you manage?”