Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fourteenth Sunday Salon: 10.09

Eventually went back to bed after reading 40 pages. One of the most interesting parts so far has been the evocation of English public school. 'Public school', of course, is a strange term, certainly in the UK, because the schools are anything but public. Attendance at one of these places requires a hefty fee (although there are scholarships for some). Hodmandod Senior went to quite a well-known public school in north London, but he was a day boy. Gregory Norminton, in SERIOUS THINGS, describes life as a boarder.

It is a strange combination of the Dickensian (a Main corridor which is a 'Third World hotel of wooden partitions', a red stairwell so that they felt like 'corpuscles in some inner organ or artery') and the carefully selected modern (the floor of this red stairwell is of 'sticky polythene'). The behaviour too represents this dichotomy (long-established rituals of 'fagging' are enacted by boys wearing personal stereos); as does the language of the narrative (the bricks 'proved to be frangible' while the boys tried to 'freak each other out' with talk of the fag test). I remarked on this to Hodmandod Senior at breakfast and he says that is exactly what it was like: the old and the new clashing together: Latin inscriptions disappearing under a palimpsest of penknife graffiti' and at the same time contrails of aircraft cut the sky.

There is a very strong sense of foreboding building throughout the first chapter and just before it gets too much the chapter ends and the reader is taken from 'Then' (the mid- nineteen eighties) to 'Now' (presumably twenty years later) when the mature Bruno Jackson unfortunately encounters one of his former school-mates and is therefore reminded of a mysterious (so far) but obviously very unpleasant incident.


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