Thursday, January 27, 2011

hollow lands and hilly

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Our host picked three bird-pecked grapefruit off her tree and threw them away into the desert where they're resting now, one after the other on the bare dirt, glowing like Yeats' golden apples, and making me think of Elizabeth Jolley's Lovesong, which uses those two lines about the apples as a lietmotif. The book is arranged like a piece of music, with certain ideas and events recurring like riffs or fragments, these repetitions growing more loaded as other ideas change place around them, throwing their different aspects into relief. Crucial moments in the protagonist's past are hinted at but unexplained, and the lietmotifs seem to provide clues, but the purpose of those clues, the meaning of them, and the deductions we should draw, are obscure. David Lynch works in a similar way. Inland Empire was the last Lynch I saw, and there was a shot of a bedside table lamp, coming back and coming back, burring and buzzing, weirdly ominous. In Jolley a woman picks up and picks up a single eclair until it becomes the most depraved eclair in all literature. Spike Milligan had the notion that you could make a pointless idea funny by repeating it, so he tested it out in one episode of the Goons -- I think Eccles opened a door and said hello, then closed it -- and by the second or third time the audience was laughing. (To do something once is to make it mean something; to do it more than once is to make it mean more.) The repetition of the words "Look" and "Listen" in Evan S. Connell's Compass Rose irritated me, but repetition in Lovesong had me spelled and solemn. What's the secret? Lovesong and Empire are both mysterious; Compass Rose is bustling, extroverted, and bossy. Is tension the answer? The tension of a mystery? The tension of restraint?


  1. Ah, this one is next to my bed ... EJ is mysterious often. But, as you infer, there's something about her prose, something about the tone that captivates (or, as you say, spells) you.

  2. She does so much, so simply. This was one of those times when I was glad I knew something biographical about an author, something about her likes and dislikes, her love of music. As soon as I looked at her books with the idea that they were composed like orchestral pieces rather than ordinary prose narratives (and I think that tendency got even stronger as she went on; in this third-last book of her it's very strong, or maybe lush, dense, are better words than strong; if she'd worked on films instead of books I'd say her cinematography became more romantic; and that Lovesong was made of crimsons and deep blues) the books became even more interesting (the way she will identify a character through a vocal tic, which they'll repeat with variations every time they come in, like the different animals in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf -- here's the Duck motif, here's the Grandfather, here's the Wolf!).