Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About "The Adorations"--And Much More

About The Adorations:


Inspired stylistically by such writers as Mikhail BulgakovRobert Musil,  Vladimir NabokovJaroslav Hacek, and James Joyce, and thematically by my lifelong interest in the Catholic religion, the monstrous and incredible life of Adolf Hitler, and the endlessly fascinating history of France–specifically, that dreadful period from 1940 to 1944–I started The Adorations soon after my novel Killoyle was published but before its companion The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad came out. In an alternating series of now-desultory, now-manic intermissions between jobs, I spent about ten years writing the book, which evolved into two books, or rather one book inside another, a double-decker along the lines of Nabokov's The Gift. I have always loved true originality in writers, technical wizardry in the service of literature, and the concept of the novel as a finely tuned machine. I made my own contribution to such literary mechanisms with the imitation footnotes in the Killoyle novels, in which I see narrative and sub-narrative working together like the cogs and gears in a watch. A natural progression from that point is the "double-time" structure of Adorations, whereby the time frame of one narrative predates that of the other at the beginning but gradually catches up as we progress from 1907 to the present: an additional technique to challenge me, and the reader. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Boozy Gus Meets the Archangel!


Mystics mystify me, as I suppose they do most ordinary mortals, so when I became one myself I was quite shocked, as if two distinct, opposing personalities had taken up residence behind my bluff, unremarkable exterior. One personality, the normal one, ate and drank and taught classes at Farel College, wrote the odd poem, worried sporadically about heart palpitations, acid indigestion, joint aches, eye inflammations, bronchitis, etc., and taught his students, sometimes indifferently, sometimes well. This fellow could be found most Wednesdays and every Saturday at his customary table in the Café Lyrique, working his way through a demi of Fendant and the latest London Book Review or TéléGuide or Le Monde Littéraire.
The other chap was the newcomer, the seer of visions, and he was above, or beyond, the merely physical. He, or rather his vision, manifested himself one breezy September night on the Corraterie, Geneva’s Bond Street or Faubourg St. Honoré. I (containing both these personalities) was on my way to visit Giulia in her charming garret room in the Bohemian district of Carouge, in the south of the city. Giulia was a law student at the University. She was from Parma, a lithe Emilian with limbs of ivory and an apple-round bum to die for. Trust fate or the Almighty, then, to interject the sacred into my profane life, that evening; for not only was I in a state of erotic eagerness, I was well-wined and -dined within the butter-yellow walls of the dear old Café Lyrique (once, by the way, the watering hole of, alliteratively if not chronologically, Lamartine, Lenin and Liszt), a favored eatery of mine on weekdays when the yearning took hold for mignons de bœuf or magret de canard. Memory serves up perch from that night, along with a side of sweet pommes d’Argovie and bitter Guy Gax, the novelist, a friend—or enemy, I’d never figured out which (I know now)— since the third year at World Academy, where we met during an arm-wrestling match in the lunch room. We went to England together in ’69 and did our military service together in the Engadine, back in ‘74—when one inebriated summer’s day he and I, mere corporals, aimed a bazooka at the wrong barn, flushing out chickens and an irate cow, and that night dressed as captains and celebrated the survival of the livestock with a slap-up dinner at the Süsswinkel restaurant in Chur and charged it all to the Federal Armed Services. Upshot: ten days in the cooler and demotion to soldat. My military career, for which I never cared a fig anyway, suffered greatly, and I was given an invalid’s dispensation in ’78 (chronic flat feet). . .
     Anyway, the subject at hand that night was a resolutely unmystical one, nothing more elevated than the latest shenanigans of a) Katia, Guy’s ex-wife and b) Guy’s publisher La Maison de l’Herbe (none of these proceedings excessively oiled, maybe an open carafe of your standard Fendant de Sion)—and BANG, there was the Archangel Michael, awash in shimmering light, hovering inside two concentric luminous circles of gold and trailed by sparkles like Tinkerbelle, right there on the Corraterie. I (or should I say the other Gustave, newly arrived?) recognized him at once. He was unmistakably the same chap Pope Gregory had seen atop Castel Sant’Angelo: his sword, which he held up, then slowly sheathed; his bright blue shield; his halo, discreet but penetrating, like the dome light in a Mercedes; and cinematic, California-lifeguard good looks. He was smiling blandly. The wings, too, were a dead giveaway. He folded them neatly. He was formal and reasonably polite; I, likewise. The exchange went, approximately, thus:
        “Good evening, Gustave Termi. Do not be afraid.” His voice was mellifluous yet mechanical, with a hint of the robotic; his speech unaccented, as if he’d learned the language from Linguaphone tapes.
      “Ah, good evening. I am not afraid.”
      “You are a man.”
      “That I can hardly deny.”
      “With bestial lusts and the soul of a hazzan.” (His Hebrew was better than his French. This means “cantor” in the ancient language of the Jews.)
      “Rather, with the soul of a man, a mere mortal, a thinking reed.” I was in good Pascalian form, although I didn’t care for that reference to bestial lusts.
      “But room for God therein.”
      “Oh, yes, room for God. And the other one, alas.”
      “To whom we refer, allusively, as the Adversary,” and here he made an extraordinary putty-face, widening his eyes and lengthening his nose and cheeks into a lupine muzzle, a touch of the werewolf chilling even to a lifelong fan of horror flicks—”but never by any other name.” I was duly warned, and vowed never to practice in my shaving mirror.
      “No, never,” said I.
      His face collapsed into bland Rivieran handsomeness.
      “This is the first visit, Gustave,” he intoned, like Marley’s Ghost to Ebenezer, or Ezekiel to William Blake. “There will be more. Be prepared.” With that Boy-Scout exhortation, he vanished—or, to be more precise, he rose off the ground a little higher (he’d been floating about a half-meter above) then dissolved into a white cloud, like Mr. Tidy in the detergent commercial. All the while, by the way, people were strolling along the street, a drunk was bawling, cars and tramcars were going by, a mild breeze (it was June) was wafting scents of an early-summer city night (tree blossoms, frites, car exhaust, the river nearby); clearly, nobody else had heard or seen a middle-aged man conversing with an armed and hovering archangel, nor even that same middle-aged man gabbling at the empty air . . .well, I’ve read enough theology and sci-fi, good and bad, to have a stab at the reason. It’s something to do with Time, our master, being Their slave, and a little zone of non-Time being created around the angel and me, muddling everybody else’s receptors for the nonce. (It muddled mine. For the duration of the encounter I felt on the verge of a momentous stammer, with a touch of nightmarish immobility.)

            I worked out that Time theory on my way home, and let me add that I was in no mood for further lucubrations on the subject, not until I’d had a couple of stiff Ricards and watched a reassuringly boring political program on FR3 during the course of which no mention was made of archangels, visions or anything remotely otherworldly (or interesting).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

He's Feeling Better Now


From The Adorations:

But now things were better. Things were taking shape, in a way. He was making a reasonable wage from his postcards; people were listening to what he had to say; and, oddly, his health was rather good. He was sleeping well, for a change. All kinds of ideas were forming in his brain. There were moments of clear-eyed and absolute triumph, when he was walking along (say) the Hoher Markt, or the Graben, and a Baroque cloud formation would catch his eye and a ray of light would pick out some distant cupola or attic window as if God Himself were plucking at his sleeve; and at such moments he knew beyond any doubt that his destiny was to...that he had a Destiny, anyway, whether in the sweet, decaying capital of the Habsburgs or elsewhere, abroad, or in the vast marches of Pomerania or Prussia, as a Napoleon of great armies, a King Frederick of philosophy, a Goethe of art and romance. 

The irony, of course, was his current station in life, and the concomitant contempt with which he found himself treated by cafe managers, paint salesmen, policemen, theatre ushers (like that nitwit at the Opera the other night) and their kind. Sometimes it was too much to bear, and he turned on people in the street, screaming obscenities, fits of anger that left him feeling drained and self-defiled. Still, these diatribes jolted his housemates into paying attention, and no one disturbed him behind his corner partition unless invited. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Patrick Leigh Fermor's "The Broken Road"


One is tempted to say that Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died in 2011 at the age of ninety-six, was "The Last of the Great English Adventurers,” or rather, the "Last of the English Scholar Warriors." But both species are so endemic to the scepter'd isle that, as long as there is an England, there will be loyal subjects yearning for the trackless steppe and the limitless horizon. In the twentieth century alone, there were, to name but a few, John Cornford, who died in the Spanish Civil War; Robert Byron, the author of the travel classicThe Road to Oxiana; Redmond O'Hanlon (who despite his sonorously Irish name is English through and through), author of Into the Heart of Borneo; James Morris, later Jan, author of Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere; and scholar-adventurer Xan Fielding, a friend of Leigh Fermor's who, Leigh Fermor said, was "a gifted, many-sided, courageous and romantic figure, at the same time civilized and bohemian."
You could have no better description of Leigh Fermor himself. (Read the rest here.)

The Happy Couple

Daughter Maggie and son-in-law Jonah, freshly minted spouses dancing the night away at Buck Hill Resort in Burnsville, Minnesota, where a good time was had by all. Even I got onto the dance floor and flailed my limbs wildly, to the rhythms of a very good local band. Beer and wine flowed and the colored scarves of Irish (and Polish and German) laughter filled the air. Off to a fine start.