With the London Film Festival over, what have I been doing?
Between films I picked up on my pile of Scandinavian Thrillers, so I have been catching up with Liza Marklund’s heroine journalist, crime reporter Annika Bengtzon in Lifetime and The Long Shadow. These are two books that really need to be read in the right order, since one is definitely a continuation of the same story.
I also got to grips with the latest Håkan Nesser Inspector Van Veeteren mystery – The Weeping Girl. Although The Chief Inspector has retired to run a bookshop, his protégé Ewa Moreno still refers mentally and practically to his methodology to help solve the latest crime, and so far he has also appeared towards the end of the book to discuss outcomes and deliver his verdict. I also picked up another Nesser called Münster’s Case, but this turned out to be a new translation of a previous novel that I had already read, big disappointment!
At home I have been re-reading Aldous Huxley’s pre-war, pre-Mescalin novels Chrome Yellow, Point Counter Point and Eyeless in Gaza. Written before the start of World War II, but when its shadow adumbrated the whole of Society, these novels have a frenetic gaiety that is hard to imagine.
Society, the Upper and growing Middle class, seems to spend time in cocktail bars, at parties and private dinner-dance concerts, a milieu with which Huxley was intimately familiar. Eschewing the Bohemianism of The Bloomsbury Group, Huxley nevertheless accepted hospitality from Lady Ottoline Morrell at Garsington Manor, where he worked as a farm labourer after Oxford, being unfit for military service on account of his eyesight; undoubtedly while there he met the many luminaries who spent time there: Bertrand Russell, Clive Bell, Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey et al. Therefore, I suppose, it is hardly surprising that the mise-en-scene of his first novel to be published, Chrome Yellow is without question, Garsington, and in all probability, the characters are caricatures at the very least of his host and hostess.
Eyeless in Gaza is somewhat different, the first of Aldous Huxley’s defiantly pacifist novels, it is of its time, a novel of ideas, highly intellectualised, and not consecutive in any real sense of the word, we zig-zag from the tortured childhood of Anthony Beavis, motherless, bereft and coldly raised by his father to his own difficult and tortured relationships at School, College and in Society; throughout his life and in a series of accidental meetings he reconnects with old school friends and enemies: the stutterer Brian Foxe, aka Horse Face and the egregious Mark Staithes and women, Mary Amberley and Mrs Foxe, Brian’s mother. Interspersed with the anecdotes that constitute the narrative, are scribblings in Anthony’s diary or notebook (since it cannot strictly speaking be called a diary), and it is in these passages that we discover the intellectual musings of the author, the crowded ideas of the novel.
These novels are possibly dated, but impossibly brilliant. Aldous Huxley was the scion of one of the most highly regarded families in England, synonymous with the intellectual aristocracy. His grandfather, Thomas Huxley, was an associate of Charles Darwin, his mother was the niece of the poet/philosopher Matthew Arnold, and he was the nephew of Mrs Humphrey Ward. Early life was fraught with disaster, his mother died of cancer when he was thirteen, he was sent two years later to Eton and there contracted an eye infection that impaired his vision for the rest of his life, his elder brother, Trevenen, committed suicide in 1914, thereby robbing Aldous of his closest, most understanding relative.
These personal events are closely mirrored in Eyeless in Gaza, and no doubt contribute to the cynicism, bitterness and despondency in his novels.