Tuesday, 8 March 2011
You know how sometimes you finish a great big meal and all you want is a cup of strong black coffee and an After Eight? After Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin, Carson McCullers' Reflection in a Golden Eye was my After Eight.
It's the exact opposite of Alone in Berlin. It's slim and surreal and sensual, and metaphorically dripping in sweat. Mainly in horse sweat, but also in human sweat. Phew. I felt like I needed a mint julep whilst reading it, and I don't even really know what that is.
Leonora lives on an Army fort in the American Deep South. Her husband, Captain Penderton, doesn't ride horses, or indeed live, as well as her. She throws herself into adventures, such as the affair she's having with her neighbour. Leonora catches the eye of Private Williams, who works in the stable. He begins to let himself into her bedroom at night, where he crouches by her, and watches her sleep. He creeps through the pages of the novel, infusing it with his strangeness.
Meanwhile, Leonora continues to throw herself about on the fort. Here she is organising a huge party with the wife of her boyfriend. The shindig will include an awful lot of meat and booze and a few vegetables:
'Listen!' said Leonora, and her fresh rosy face flamed suddenly with anticipation. 'I just wish you could see my kitchen now. Here's the way it will go. I'm putting in all the leaves in the dining room table and everybody will just mill around and help themselves. I'm having a couple of Virginia hams, a huge turkey, fried chicken, sliced cold pork, plenty of barbecued spare-ribs, and all sorts of little knick-knacks like pickled onions and olives and radishes. And hot rolls and little cheese biscuits passed round. The punchbowl is in the corner, and for people who like their liquor straight I'm having on the sideboard eight quarts of Kentucky Bourbon, five of rye, and five of Scotch. And an entertainer from town is coming out to play the accordion -'
'But who on earth is going to eat all that food?' Alison asked, with a little swallow of nausea.
'The whole shebang,' said Leonora enthusiastically.
I won't tell you what happens at the end. It's too good to ruin. I thought it was the most amazing novel, with a deep sense of sexual menace underpinning a delicate story. But I do wonder if I would have enjoyed it less if I hadn't read it straight after the Hans Fallada. An After Eight can seem really unfulfilling to a hungry person, right? You have to be replete with the meat and veg first before the small dark sliver of rich chocolate does the trick.
I'm hungry now. Off to the kitchen.