A Private Place

“The sudden acquisition of power does not go to the head, but to the groin. In some, it promotes lust; in others, supplants it. Those on whom its effect is purely cerebral may indeed be counted as fortunate.”

‘”I’ve noticed that whenever institutions claim to be confident of anything it means the complete opposite.’”

“’All paradises are there to be expelled from.’”

“It was Ruth’s unwavering belief that people were made to be happy, and that romanticism was responsible for most of the miseries she saw in her professional life.”

“To thoughtful natures, events are like depth charges: the surface is calm, but the shock spreads further.”

“In the beginning, Hart had blundered by addressing them as ‘girls and boys’. He had made references to their being ‘the cream of British children’ – a not unreasonable appellation, considering their school fees were among the highest in the country, but one that gave deep offence. He had even referred to Christianity, which was something only the lower middle classes now believed in…. Evil, if it existed, would be some creeping process, not a single decision. The blotchy faces before him were erupting in violent pustules of crimson and mauve, diseased by hormones as by smallpox. Life was first a coarsening, then a disintegration, Hart thought.”

“The smell of school is polish and piss, Grub thought. At the beginning, it was more polish than piss, at the end, more piss than polish.”

“Tore…was beyond style – or beyond good and evil, which at Knotshead amounted to the same thing.”

“Like an arms dealer, Simon Hart always knew when things were hotting up in some country or other a year before revolution broke out, because he would suddenly be deluged with calls from senior government officials related to the current prime minister, asking him to let their child in without taking the entrance tests.”

“Familiarity breeds sentiment before contempt.”

“Dancing is the only compulsory subject here besides agriculture and sex.”

 “Knotes knew by instinct that it is easier to afflict the comfortable than to comfort the afflicted: the line of those whom it was fair game to persecute was always drawn at their own heels.”

“’Schools make up their mind about you the first week. There are the Lads, or Jet-Setters if you’re a girl, at the top; then the Groovers, the Semi-Groovers, the Semi-Rejects and the Rejects. You and I are Rejects.’”

“’Family is all politics. Everyone hates each other’s guts, if they’re honest… Most brothers and sisters try to top each other, given the chance; you always get the worst wars in countries with big families….People have kids because they go soft in the head, tarts especially. They forget what it’s like to be a kid themselves and want to remember through their own. They don’t want us, not real brand-new people who puke and criticise and tell them to bog off: they want their own frigging innocence back. They want to have their own lives back again, with the bad bits taken out. Quite frankly, they’d be better off with a dog. Parents are a bunch of losers from the word go. Take, and don’t thank them. After all, they got you into this shit-=heap, didn’t they?’”

“Fay had the most tedious and common kind of sensibility: that of being acutely sensitive to her own feelings, and completely blind to others.’”

“The idea that any of their offspring could possibly be accused of involvement in criminal activities caused deep offence, even to parents who believed that property was theft.”

‘“The parents who send their children here must either have complete amnesia about what their own adolescence was like, or else the libido of the giant panda.’”

‘”Were I a woman…I would put off falling in love for as long as possible. It is so very bad for the intellect. Not to mention the rarest of all properties, common sense.”’

A Private Place by Amanda Craig

A Vicious Circle

“They were going to a party, a big party, a party that would later be written up and cried down as a social event. One of the passengers had been invited; the other not. One of the passengers was considered, in certain circles, an important person; the other not. Yet it was this second person who was to change many lives, and most of all her own, because of her presence that night.”

“It was one of the mysteries of Sponge’s life that, though famously unsuccessful with women – and there was scarcely a woman in his circle who had not experienced the notorious ‘Sponge Lunge’ – he also owed his meteoric rise to them.”

“ ‘Novelists,’ said Ivo, ‘are to the nineties what cooks were to the eighties, hairdressers to the seventies and pop-stars to the sixties… Merely, you know, an expression of the Zeitgeist, Nobody actually reads novels any more, but it’s a fashionable thing to be  a novelist – as long as you don’t entertain people of course. I sometimes think,’ said Ivo, his eyes like industrial diamonds, ‘that my sole virtue is, I’m the only person in London who has no intention of writing any kind of novel, ever.’”

“For fifteen years its distressed walls, eccentric chefs and pretty waitresses have passed into urban legend. Actors in West End hits, painters with East End misses, journalists short of a story, models long in the tooth, authors on the razzle, agents on the dazzle, politicians in a frazzle, they all congregate there. It is said that its name was inspired by ‘The Second Coming’; and certainly, if you wish to participate in the millennial whirl of ambition, distraction, vilification and derision that constitutes a certain kind of London life, the Slouch Club can scarcely be bettered.”

 “Ivo knew what song the sirens sang, and was younger than the rock-stars with which he sat. He had heard the voice of London that lives and breathes beneath the rumble of traffic, a voice like the continual high-pitched shriek you hear when you put your head beneath the waves of the sea. It is the sound of millions and millions of creatures living and struggling and dying and being born. It commands those who hear it to eat or be eaten; and Ivo had no intention of becoming anyone’s prey.”

“It is but a glimpse of the world of poverty we can afford this same winter’s evening. It is not a large world, though as it avoids census-takers, it is hard to tell its precise size. Its people are invisible, except when the more desperate or enterprising impinge on the purses of those such as Ivo or Amelia. Relative to this world of ours, it is a very little speck. There is much good in it, and some think it has its appointed place, But it is a world too much wrapped up in hopeless hopes, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds, or see them as they circle round the sun.”

“There was a certain usefulness in having a husband whom most people could barely tolerate: it deflected envy, for one thing.”

“Every profession is an island whose inhabitants earn a precarious living by taking in each other’s washing.”

“Ivo was there to uphold the impression that the Chronicle’s books pages was no merely a small room staffed by two incompetent females and a boulevardier with a second-class degree but an Olympian fortress of considered opinion, from which even a thunderbolt of extreme prejudice was better than none.”

“Very happy or unhappy, people disappear.”

“A hundred years ago, people had perfectly understood that you could die of a broken heart, now they thought you were making a fuss about nothing…Certain kinds of suffering are like radiation: they cause furious growth and mutation of the inner self.”

“Whenever I see a small woman I want to rest my drink on her head.”

“For over a year, the money that had been keeping London in motion had stopped ascending and descending like the handle of a spinning-top. Some said this handle had become too hot, so that it could no longer move smoothly or efficiently; some that it was suffering from metal fatigue. Some that the wrong hands at the Exchequer were pumping it, at the wrong time. Heads rolled, faces changed, knuckles were rapped and reputations plummeted – it made little difference. The great teetotum that had spun serenely on its axis for over a decade began to wobble in wider and wider orbits, crashing into lives that had never before known poverty or unease. The recession had come to London.”

“’Just about the worst thing an artist can do is to try and be a nice person.’

 “Few pretty and privileged young women really understand the essential injustice of biology...For most of her life as a woman, the rules were perfectly clear cut: other women were the enemy, and all love was war. She had rejected feminism, quite openly, as a crutch for the envious and ugly, and regarded married women as holding the upper hand if, unlike her own mother, they had any strength of character. The weaknesses and dependencies imposed by fecundity had never entered into her calculations.”

“The idea that Oxbridge graduates spend their time helping each other is a complete myth, You don’t get in if you’re not fantastically competitive, and the people you compete against are your peers.”

“Hatred bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

“In London, address is destiny.”

Ivo on how to review: "'Skim, my darling, skim…You read the first chapter, the last chapter, and the blurb….That’s why real pros put all their best effort into the beginning and ends of books. You can’t possibly be expected to read every word; reviewers are paid far too little for it to be worth their while…. After all, what is any kind of review but free advertising?’”

A Vicious Circle by Amanda Craig

Love in Idleness

 “Polly was all too aware that much of her time on holiday would be spent doing the laundry and the cooking and the child-care and all the other chores that back in London would be shared with her cleaning lady. A holiday with Theo and the children represented two weeks of domestic and maternal drudgery.”

“He loved Polly while never being in love – a condition he thoroughly disliked as bad for business and destructive of property, stability and conformity. No lawyer, and especially not a partner at Cain, Innocent, could believe in romance.”

‘” It’s like the stage set for Romeo and Juliet,’ said Daniel. ‘I can just picture her there, on that balcony where the Communist Party headquarters are.’”

“’Of course,’ Ivo said, ‘it’s so good to be in the real countryside where happy peasants toil to provide us with massively subsidised virgin olive oil, lifting their hats to wish one ‘buon giorno.’ So unlike the hideous British campagnia, or, for that matter, the American kind, all those endless flat fields of cattle and corn that actually feed people.’”

“Each morning the light came through the slats of the shutters in ripples, and as it washed towards the inhabitants of the Casa Luna it smoothed away memories of the past, It was for this that they had endured long hours in the grey English winter or freezing American climes, for this that they had worked and planned and worked extra hours/ The horrible feelings of stress, tension, anger and frustration that coursed through their veins every day almost unnoticed began to fade.”

‘“Mostly, what people mean by love is laziness.’”

‘“Love always makes a novel second-rate….It’s all biology. If it weren’t for two thousand years of the Christian tradition we wouldn’t think of pretending otherwise…Romance is the true opiate of the masses.’”

‘“It’s the remarkable thing about academics: they look at Shakespeare and always see their own faces in him.’”

Love in Idleness by Amanda Craig

In a Dark Wood

The book, her book, was bound in black, with the words North of Nowhere indented in worn gold on the spine. Dirty and dusty, the boards loose under the cloth, it resembled a kind of withered bat. I looked at it with vague distaste. Then, almost as if it had come to life, it slithered out of my grasp, bounced, and splayed open. I picked it up. I didn’t know then how dangerous fairy tales can be.”

“My body had taken on a life of its own, in which it wept while I remained an embarrassed parent, unable to control its excesses.”

“I had been much more in love with my wife than she with me, that was all. Somehow, you were supposed to be ashamed of this, as though love were a perpetual jostling for the roles of pursuer and pursued. As if it didn’t take more courage to admit that someone held your hopes of happiness in their hands. As if it were a choice.”

“Actually, I had once liked Bruce.  He’d always seen the latest plays and films, never had an original word to say about any of them, but exuded an air of pleasantness that, coupled with all his money, passed for charm, He read the papers and knew interesting people, he played poker and had a rich, catarrhal laugh that spoke of life time of scoffing pate de foie gras to the sound of trumpets,.. The best screen actors, I kept being told, are those who don’t bother to work out what they’re supposed to be feeling and thinking, but who just say their lines. It’s the same, apparently, in life.”

“Some people, perhaps those with more dignity and less rage gnawing at the roots of their being, are nicer as failures, For me, it was like descending a deep pit that had no bottom.”

“All age is a kind of tiredness, I think. When you’re young, the lines never show. Every morning you wake unmarked, wiped clear by sleep. One day, though, you see lines that itch, as though some crumb of existence has been creased into your skin. They can never be smoothed away, and after a while you forget that this heavy, irritable feeling wasn’t always there.”

“What frightened me most was, I could no longer believe in my own life as a story. Everyone needs a story, a part to play in order to avoid the realization that life is without significance. How else do any of us survive? It’s what makes life bearable, even interesting. When it becomes neither, people say you’ve lost the plot. Or just lost it.”

“‘If you read fairy tales carefully, you’ll notice they are mostly about people who aren’t heroes. They don’t have special powers, or gifts. Often they are despised as stupid, They are bullied, beaten up, robbed, starved. But they find they are stronger than their misfortunes.’

 “That is the worst thing about despair: it is not constant, any more than love is.”

“I wondered why so many women fail to recognises that, as in restaurants, it is the absence of irritants as much as the presence of attractions that counts.”

“I knew exactly when the fever had struck. O had been reading Hamlet in an English class at school. Everyone else stumbled, puzzling over the strange words. Then it had been my turns, and the language had suddenly woken in me, so that my heart and lungs and tongue and throat were on fire. Later, I understood that this was why people spoke of Shakespeare as a god. At the time, I felt like weeping. Somebody had released me from dumbness, from utter isolation. I knew that I could live inside these words, that they would give me a a shape, a shell. I had no idea, then, that I would never play Hamlet…. I’m an actor, and in a good year I earn eleven thousand pounds for dressing up as a carrot.”

“It’s not by accident that people talk of a state of confusion as not being able to see the wood for the trees, or of being out of the woods when some crisis is surmopunted. It is a place of loss, confusion, terror and anger, a place where you can, like Dante, find yourself going down into Hell. But if it’s any comfort, the dark wood isn’t just that. It’s also a place of opportunity and adventure. It is the place in which fortunes can be reversed, hearts mended, hopes reborn.”

In a Dark Wood by Amanda Craig

Hearts and Minds

 “But this city is a world of its own, a country within a country. People are used to taking the old and making it news; and used, too, to taking the new and making it old. Every glass of water from its taps, it is said, has passed six times through the kidneys of another, and every scrap of its land has been trodden on, fought over, dug up and broken down for centuries.”

“Iryna is like Adam Smith’s invisible hand: she does it all, then disappears.”

‘”Outside this country, and also in it, are millions and millions of people who would kill to have what you do here,’ she says. ‘They are clever, fantastically hard-working and they are all learning English. When you grow up, you’re going to be competing with them for places at university, and for jobs…If you don’t get good marks. You’ll never go to university, and if you don’t go to university, you’ll end up flipping burgers.’”

“‘I am a Jewish mother. My dying words will be, “Put a jumper on.”’

‘”You know the only rule you need to know to get on in this country? ‘Never complain, never explain.’”

‘”I’ll tell you the difference between our countries. Americans think life is serious but not hopeless; the English that life is hopeless but not serious.’”

“Nobody here automatically locks their car door as soon as they get in; you can walk around at night without being mugged, you don’t need to live in a compound just in case you’re burgled. In South Africa everyone knows someone who’s been burgled, and everyone knows someone who was murdered. Even now, London is a city that seems innocent and fearless.”

“It’s so easy to believe that others deserve their fate, and the fact was that if nobody bothered to help other people then the worst would always happen… She stares out of her window at the busy street, where the British go about their daily business, taking it for granted that they will never be arrested for not voting the right way, praying the right way, dressing the right way or for belonging to a different tribe. Unlike Polly’s clients, they will not be raped, or see their children hacked to pieces, or everything they possess stolen. They will take freedom with their daily bread, and never think to thank those who guard their civil liberties.”

“Sometimes, Job has a vision of English banknotes flying in a steady stream, out of this small terrier-shaped island and over to the sad elephant’s head of Africa.”

“Everything at the AA Carwash is sunk in age and decrepitude, apart from its staff, who are young. The oldest person there is probably Job himself, and he is only twenty-two. …It was a mystery to Job why anyone should prefer human beings rather than the drama of big, whirling blue brushes that descend and ascend mechanically onto a car. Yer not only are people better cleaners, they are cheaper. They cost less than a machine, for they earn two pounds an hour, performing the same repetitive motions until they get deported, get sick, or move on.”

“They do not speak of the past, though last summer when they stripped off their ash-coloured overalls to work naked from the waist up, Job had seen that at least three others bore, like himself, the marks of torture on their torsos. They have been carved like trees, and like trees they have endured.”

“Home for Job is now a tiny room with only a sink to drink from and wash in, and the noise of police sirens and traffic wailing and sighing in the continuous sussuration below. Damp blooms on the walls, outlining new continents – as if those who live here, in the perpetual stench of urine, beer, sour milk and cinders, need any more reminders of what they have lost.  Job’s own room is sib-let from another foreigner, in a kind of food-chain of privation and opportunism. There is a whole family next to Job, sleeping on a floor that is all heaving, twanging mattress...Intimately acquainted with each other’s bowel movements and cooking smells, his fellow tenants mind their own business, and when they pass each other silently on the stairs or in the corridor they keep their heads down. They bang on his door when he shouts out from his nightmares and he bangs on theirs if they quarrel or fail to quieten a baby, but otherwise they pretend not to exist, which is another polite English fiction.”

“Like a pantomime horse, the Rambler is divided into a front half (devoted to politics) and a back half (devoted to the arts). These maintain a sense of mutual loathing, yoked together by mutual dependency.”

“They might watch American movies, wear American clothes, even read American books but Bush and the Iraq War have made actual American people social lepers; she only has to open her mouth in some places to feel a wave of loathing directed at her. Katie is weary of pointing out that at least half her countrymen detest their President even more than Europe does, but it’s no good. Those charming children’s books which had lured her to this country are full of locked doors and barriers, and it does not escape her that such doors often demand that you change in some way in order to gain entry.”

“It’s unthinkable, now to live as her parents had done, going to work from nine to five and enjoying the benefits of the newly-formed health and education services. What paradise it had seemed! Now, in order to pay their exorbitant mortgages, and ever more exorbitant fuel prices, British adults have to work long hours – the longest, it is said, in Europe… Everyone they know, everyone they see, is just like them, living in houses like these, reading the same papers, seeing the same films and TV programmes and plays, buying from the same shops and sending their children to the same schools; and they think it will go on for ever, either ever-mounting property prices cushioning them. But it can’t. She looks out at the frosty darkness, and shivers.”

Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig