Doughty In Rye

Over at the indispensable Nigeness, Nige occasionally writes a postage about a fortuitous find in a secondhand bookshop. I thought I would follow his example, for yesterday I was in Rye, and in a tiny bookshop called the Tiny Bookshop I was happy to come upon a 1956 Penguin copy of Passages From Arabia Deserta by Charles Montagu Doughty, for a mere three pounds.


This is an abridged version of Doughty’s best-known work, Travels In Arabia Deserta, which was extolled by The Observer thus: “Charles Montagu Doughty was one of the great men of our day, the author of a unique prose masterpiece. For many readers it is a book so majestic, so vital, of such incomparable beauty of thought, of observation, and of diction as to occupy a place apart among their most cherished literary possessions”.

I have written about Doughty before, with particular reference to his strangely hypnotic prose. Never having had the courage to tackle the Travels in their vast entirety, I shall look forward to reading this abridgement – still over 300 pages.

The Greatest Sentence Ever Written

Nige has been rereading Pale Fire, and has inspired me to begin my own once-per-decade revisit to Vladimir Nabokov’s most magnificent novel. Just as Lolita has the finest parenthetical phrase in all literature – (picnic, lightning) – so Pale Fire contains my absolute favourite sentence. If you have not yet read the book, you should look away now, as they say on television…

In itself, the sentence is unremarkable. But in its context, its placement (at the end of the third paragraph of the Foreword), and its startling, joyous, vertiginous effect, it has no peer.

There is a very loud amusement park right in front of my present lodgings.

Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead


Nige has a postage about Barbara Comyns, which served to remind me that Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead (1954) is one of my favourite novels, and without any doubt the finest book in the popular outbreak-of-ergot-poisoning genre. I have not reread it for years, so have removed it from the shelves in readiness.

Those who like to delve into such things may wish to know that I consider it an important influence on my own scribblings. How could it not be, when, leafing through it just now I note sentences such as:

There was a great smell of mud, and it was the first of June.

We always have cocoa after a thunderstorm.

The village bachelor, drink-sodden Lumber Splinterbones, usually ambled along to Grandmother Willoweed’s birthday party.

Dennis was frightened of cows

and there should now be a question mark to end this sentence on a grammatically sound footing, thus… ?

Enthusiasms, Number Eleven


I must thank my son Ed for drawing to my attention the band Dirty Projectors, which appears to be a nominal vehicle for the musical outpourings of one Dave Longstreth. (It may well be that some readers are already familiar with them/him, but I was not, until this year.) I have been particularly taken with The Getty Address. Here is a description of it: ” Inspired by Aztec mythology, the Eagles, and the 9/11 aftermath, it is a sprawling, layered glitch opera about Don Henley, leader of the aforementioned country/soft-rock group, and it was recorded over the course of almost two years, in three different states, with more than twenty-five people. Dave Longstreth, the principal Dirty Projector, wrote and recorded arrangements for wind septet, women’s choir, and cello octet, digitally deconstructed them, and then sang over the reconstituted parts in order to make these songs.” If that doesn’t sound exciting enough for you, consider this further note, from the Wikipedia: “Although the lyrics have been described as gibberish, the words actually do tell a narrative beginning with Don Henley contemplating suicide, and ending with a new installment of Longstreth’s songs involving brown finches.” I need hardly point out that anybody who writes a series of songs “involving brown finches” is almost certainly a genius.