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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

"The Panther in the Basement" by Amos Oz

Ostensibly, this is a book about treason. It starts: "I have been called a traitor many times in my life. The first time was when I was twelve ..." Set in Jerusalem, in the last year of the British mandate of Palestine, the year before the state of Israel was created, the narrator and protagonist Proffy is in a pre-teenage gang modelled after the real Israeli freedom fighters; they plan to construct a rocket to blow up the King in London; in his spare time he peeps at the elder sister of his best mate Ben Hur. One night, coming home after curfew, he is arrested by a British soldier who turns out to be a pro-semite and lets Proffy go in return for regular Hebrew lesson. The plot meanders around these points.

The plot is not really the point. The book bursts into being from chapter 18 onwards when suddenly the promises of the prose become full-blown riotously coloured, psychedelic blessings:

Such as these descriptions of temptation:

  • At first the temptations were weak and coy, hardly daring to hint to me what I really wanted. But gradually they became bolder, more explicit, licking at the toes of my sandals, tickling the palms of my hands, calling out to me brazenly, pulling me shamelessly by the sleeve.” (C 18)
  • Temptations are like sneezes, which start from nothing at all, a faint pinching sensation at the base of your nose, and then gradually take over so there's no stopping them. Temptations generally start from a little patrol to check the terrain, tiny ripples of vague, undefined excitement, and, before you know it wants of you, you start to feel a gradual glow inside, like when you switch on an electric fire and the element is still grey but it starts to make little popping noises and then it blushes very faintly and then more deeply and soon it is glowing angrily and you are full of reckless lightheadedness; so what, what the hell, why not, what harm can it do, like a very vague but wild, uninhibited sound deep inside you, coaxing and pleading with you: come on, why not.” (C 18)
  • I found in the dictionary the proper word for this sucking, suckling temptation to cast off restraint and yield to the call of sin: it is ‘seduction’. Like a cross between ‘sedition’ and ‘suction’.” (C 18)

And this wonderful description of the young Proffy savouring cooking smells such as he has never encountered (or even imagined) before: “Seventy-seven years of agony went past, as slow as torture, to the limit of endurance and beyond, and further to the point of despair, and further still till the heart sobbed, before the stock begun to bubble and boil, and the oil began to splutter and spit. Yardena turned the heat down and sprinkled on some salt and a pinch of ground black pepper. Then she put the lid on the pan, leaving a small space for the tantalising vapours to escape ... She waited until the broth evaporated, leaving behind a heavenly thick sauce enfolding the pieces of fried chicken that seemed to have grown wings and become a psalm and a dream. The whole apartment was astonished at the bevy of powerful smells wafting from the kitchen and invading every corner like frantic rioters. Such odours had not been smelled here since the building was built.” (C 20)

Other marvellous moments:

  • I stopped writing because I remembered to get up and close the bathroom door; though it might have preferred to stay open, to judge by the groan it made as I closed it.” (C 2)
  • My father was fond of the word ‘definitely’. And also of the words ‘indubitably’,’ evidently’,’ yes indeed’.”
  • My shirt stuck to my skin with fear. The blood throbbed in my temples and my neck like a tom-tom. Panting and terrified I started running monkey-like, bent double, over fences and through bushes, grazing my knees, hitting my shoulder against a stone wall, catching the turnup of my shorts on a wire fence but not stopping to loosen it: like a lizard shedding its tail I dragged myself free, leaving a tatter of cloth and a shred of torn skin in the fence’s grip.” (C 7)
  • A fighter must be on his guard, especially about against dreaming about Yardena, who, although she was almost twenty, still had a girlish habit of arranging the hem of her skirt after she sat down, as if her knees were a baby that needed to be covered up properly, not too little so as to catch cold and not too much so that it will not be able to breathe.” (C 11)
  • When she played the clarinet it was as though the music came not from the instrument but straight out of her body, only passing through the clarinet to pick up some sweetness and sadness, and taking you to a real, silent place where there is no enemy, no struggle, and where everything is free from shame and treachery and clear of thoughts of betrayal.” (C 11)
  • There's a pit inside the stomach that science hasn't discovered yet, and all the blood drained into that pit from my head, my heart, my knees, and turned into an ocean and roared like the ocean.” (C 20)
  • She suddenly burst out laughing, a wide-open, musical laughter that only girls who enjoy being girls have. And she tried to sweep her cigarette smoke away with her hand, and as though it were a fly.” (C 20)
  • There are manners and degrees of not knowing. Just as a window can be not just open or shut, but half open, or one part can be open and the rest shut, or it can be open just a crack, or be covered with a shutter on the outside and a thick curtain on the inside, for even fastened shut with nails.” (C 21)
Joyously wonderful writing. September 2020; 122 pages

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