there are three rules for writing the novel.
unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
W. Somerset Maugham
we found a copy of W Somerset Maugham’s The Skeptical Romancer: selected travel writing in malibu, during our recent trip to the Other Coast.
I prefer to wander in old streets at random without a guidebook, trusting that fortune will bring me across things worth seeing; and if occasionally I miss some monument that is world-famous, more often I discover some little dainty piece of architecture, some scrap of decoration, that repays me for all else I lose.
W. Somerset Maugham
well, not Randomly in Malibu, just lying around on the sandy beach, waiting for someone to pick it up – or perhaps abandoned in despair by a screenwriter on-a-deadline, looking for inspiration and finding only distraction, in a cafe near the Pier, where tousled white-blond youths drag their surfboards at a pause in the stop lights.
no – the copy of Maugham was purchased at diesel books, which used to be on the other side of cross creek (near Marmalade, the brunch place where we once saw Kathleen Kennedy yet more often overheard slightly tense conversations about plaid and decorative features in a newly overhauled, once beautiful, Spanish-style hacienda, now richly covered, probably, in brocade like something out of Balmoral) and is now under the cool white stone walkways on the far north side.
here’s a helpful map so you can picture exactly where diesel books is.
we visited a lot of bookshops during our trip – we always do – but we know malibu is where we bought Maugham because we have the bookmark which came as a perforated extra to tear off from the card we bought there (are you keeping up with all this detail? we’re not sure We are – it just flows, sometimes – need to pop to the kitchen-ette to pour more coffee – don’t go away, darlings.)
gosh. that was a lovely sip. did you enjoy yours?
where were we?
so the perforated card had a photograph of Shakespeare & Co on the front (yes, in Paris, yes, we’ve been, no we don’t believe George invited us upstairs to the Hotel Tumbleweed but it is possible, our memories from those far-off-radical-student days of wandering paris with half a baguette, some libations and not much money, are Somewhat Hazy). and, on the back, a deliciously poignant quote from Joan Didion (who does poignancy so heart-breakingly-well):
Another thing I need to do,
when I’m near the end of the book,
is sleep in the same room with it
of course this quote is about Writing a book, not Reading a book (many have imagined the latter which is probably why it makes a Good bookmark).
it’s here: Paris Review, 1978
we Started talking about Maugham and got really off track…….
so we bought Maugham in Malibu and finished reading The Skeptical Romancer in Manhattan (but read most of it at the Hotel Chamberlain, wrapped in a cool towel under the striped shades of the gazebo at the east side of the pool, staying out of the sun when it got too high up in the sky and we feared burning).
in fact the book is quite sun-burned itself – you know how paperbacks get that toasted appearance when enjoyed in the high heat of summer and bits of salted pool water drip onto the pages and cause ripples in the fabric? that’s what our copy is like now. just picking it up makes us remember applying a little more Factor Whatever and sipping some cool, cool glass of water and lying back with a Very satisfied Sigh to read for another hour (the bliss of vacations).
we Hesitate to recommend it because it was written a Long Time Ago when, how can we put this, people (ok, the British) had attitudes towards People of other places that make one squirm and feel Rather upset and pretty angry, actually (especially if one contains the blood of three-waring-nations oneself and is an immigrant to yet another land so feels Part of as opposed to Separate).
so that caveat out of the way (we do mean it – be careful if you attempt to read this book – some of the words and ideas will not be Kind to one’s Modern Sensibility), we wanted to share some of our favourite/favorite/choicest allusions and passages.
shall we read on?
are you snuggled up with a morning coffee or late tea or, if you have the enzyme, a glass of something rather-more-potent?
(adjusts reading lamp)
to set the mood (quote coming up from Maugham’s sojourn in seville) here is a photograph of a shady entrance hall in Madrid (we are sorry we have nothing from Seville but at least it’s the Right Direction).
I had already published a novel and it had had an unexpected success. I thought my fortune was made, and, abandoning medicine to become a writer, I went to Spain. I was then twenty-three. I was much more ignorant than are, it seems to me, young men of that age at the present day. I settled down in Seville. I grew a moustache, smoked Filipino cigars, learnt the guitar, bought a broad-brimmed hat with a flat crown, in which I staggered down the Sierpes, and hankered for a flowing cape, linen with green and red velvet.
P. 145 |
It was heavenly to live in Seville in the flower of one’s youth. I postponed my education to a more convenient moment. The result is that I have never read the Odyssey but in English and I have never achieved my ambition to read A Thousand Nights and a Night in Arabic.
P. 147 |
Later on I joined the Intelligence Department……the work appealed both to my sense of romance and my sense of the ridiculous. The methods I was instructed to use in order to foil persons who were following me; the secret messages in a mysterious fashion; the reports smuggled over a frontier; it was all doubtless very necessary but so reminiscent of what was then known as the shilling shocker that for me it took most of its reality away from the war and I could not but look upon it as little more than material that might one day be of use to me.
P. 147 – 8 |
I went, looking for beauty and romance and glad to put a great ocean between me and the trouble that harassed me. I found beauty and romance, but I found also something I had never expected. I found a new self.
isn’t that glorious?
would you like one more passage?
(flicking swiftly through turned-down-tops-of-pages with a slight, yet attractive, frown)
(looking over at the photo files, looking for a suitable shot)
P. 193 |
As the sun was setting I wandered into the Mosque. I was quite alone. As I looked from one end along the chambers into which it is divided I had an eerie, mysterious sense of its emptiness and silence. I was a trifle scared. I can only put into words that make no sense: I seemed to hear the noiseless footfall of the infinite.
this is not a post about Our interpretations or experiences of both Spain and INDIA but just to say that both have a distinct and rather curious scent-on-the-wind. We found that Spain had a toasty-dark-coffee-charred-meat (the smell of excellent cafes with windows open through tiny twisty winding streets) and INDIA had extreme-heat-sweat-cinnamon-incense.
small observations – but potent, we feel.
so we leave you in India (metaphorically) as we take the book and carefully place it into the Victorian style (glass-fronted, dark wood) cabinet as a “book to keep” (most of our books are donated after reading – we like to share and let go and have Very Little Clutter as people who know us in RL are often shocked to find – “where is everything?!” said someone who visited us recently. “What sort of Everything?” we asked, innocently. “STUFF?” they said, perplexed. “Oh,” we smiled, “we don’t have stuff.” They left, confused. We took a soft pashmina from the side of the sofa and curled up back with the Maugham once more.)
we wish we could have read this to you Out Loud (we have a lovely speaking voice and if you knew us in RL, you know we like to pounce on people, open the moleskine-of-the-moment and say “oh god, can we read you this?”)
maybe one day we will……..
a teamgloria booktime-at-bedtime?
(head slightly cocked sideways and smiling at you via the interweb).
by the way (or “btw” as the Young people say), thanks for all of your emails and notes and comments saying how glad you are that teamgloria is back.
at the risk of being Totally Post-modern: we are too.
we’d missed you.
we’d missed being us.
ok. now That was very confusing.
(potters off to make another pot of half-caf/half-decaf from the French Market in New Orleans.)