Tag Archives: time

The Sludge of Time & Damon Galgut’s The Imposter

Here I am reading Damon Galgut’s The Imposter and I came across this passage. It’s a story of Adam, a white South African man in crisis mode, who lost his job and his house, who decides to pick back up writing the poetry he dropped 2 decades earlier. Adam’s younger brother sees him as a charity case and suggests that Adam move out into the boonies and take up residence in a dilapidated house bought years earlier. Surely, with oodles of time on his hand Adam will start churning out some epic verse…? But no, the time weighs heavily and instead of Adam getting lots done, he accomplishes zero… well at least so far.  I’m not done with the book yet, so perhaps things will look up for Adam.

But here’s a great passage about how a lack of demands can have detrimental results, and this quote seemed pertinent to the times:

“In just a few week he had lapsed into inertia. It was very hot; a massive weight of sun pressed down on everything. The light at noon cut human faces to the bone. The effort required, even for simple daily tasks, could seem too much.

He spent hours and hours entirely on his own. In his old life, in the city, everything had been arranged around particular points in the day. Now those points had gone. Not long after he’d arrived he had taken off his wrist-watch and left it somewhere, intending to pick it up later. But there had never been a reason to pick it up.

Time changed shape. Now he could sit and ponder something for what seemed like a moment, but when he came back to himself, several hours had gone by. It happened more and more that whole days disappeared behind him without trace, measured in the atomic drift of dust, the creeping progress of branches as they stretched towards the sun. And the sun itself, in its vast stellar motion, became a blotch of light that moved imperceptibly across the wall. He watched the light move. Or he saw a fig fall from a tree, and it fell and fell without ever hitting the ground.”

Some of us just need things to chew on. Says Nibbles. 

Nibbles

 

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Honeymoon: Patrick Modiano

“When was the turning point in my life, after which summers suddenly seemed to me to be different from the ones I had known up to then?”

In Patrick Modiano’s haunting novel Honeymoon, Jean, a documentary film maker checks into a hotel in Milan. He’s in the bar when he learns that another guest, a woman, committed suicide in her room 2 days earlier. There’s a certain curiosity of course–especially when he learns that she was attractive, French and drank the same drink as him. Later, thanks to a short obituary in the paper, Jean discovers that he knew this woman. Her name was Ingrid Rigaud and Jean met the Rigauds 6 years previously. It was one of those chance encounters that later takes on more significance with time. Jean, down on his luck, was hitchhiking and the Rigauds gave him a lift, took him to stay at their villa, and finally bought him a train ticket home. Jean was 20 at the time with his whole life ahead of him. He didn’t really understand that the Rigauds were damaged people.

Honeymoon

Move forward eighteen years. Jean, now established in his career and married to Annette who is carrying on, none too subtly, with a friend. His career is stale and seems past its peak:

I wanted to tell them that we were too old for the profession that can only be described by the antiquated name of ‘explorer.’ How much longer would we go on showing our documentary films in the Salle Pleyel or in the provincial cinemas that were becoming fewer all the time? When we were very young we had wanted to follow the example of our elders, but it was already too late for us. There was no more virgin territory to explore. 

Jean, obsessed with what became of the Rigauds, has been secretly working on Ingrid’s biography for years. Jean, a man whose films concentrate on explorers decides to disappear from his own life rather as Ingrid disappeared from hers, and he plans to hole up in Paris and complete Ingrid’s biography. He tells Annette and his friends that he’s leaving for Brazil, but he has no intention of taking the flight; instead he stays in Paris and disappears. Well … tries to.

Honeymoon takes the reader into typical Modiano territory. Memory of course, but since this novel is not as opaque as others I’ve read by this author, Time plays a much bigger role. The years are rolled out; the past and present, but there’s this curious sense of overlapping, circles of  time. Jean is twenty when he meets the Rigauds and they were the age he is when he ‘disappears’ from his life. He ‘misses’ Ingrid in Milan by a mere 2 days. Would her suicide have occurred if Jean had run into her? And what about that other occasion when he ran into a solitary melancholy Ingrid in Paris? Could Jean have said anything or done anything to help? In retrospect, he hadn’t even asked pertinent questions. At one point, Jean remembers his time with the Rigauds:

I saw myself again, twenty years earlier. with Ingrid and Rigaud, in the semi-darkness outside the bungalow. Around us, shouts and burst of laughter similar to those now reaching me from the terrace. I was now about the same age as Ingrid and Rigaud were then, and whereas their attitude had seemed so strange then, I shared it this evening. I remembered what Ingrid had said: “We’ll pretend to be dead.”

As so often with a Modiano novel, a telephone book plays a role. A telephone rings in an empty apartment as we call the past.

I’ve read a number of Modiano novels now and IMO this is his finest. It hit a nerve. A friend committed suicide a decade ago and I often imagine myself stepping somehow through the corridors of time to stop her. In this novel, Modiano creates the sense that the departed are there in the next room. We just have to find a way to pass through the door.

I was somewhere else, in another summer, more and more distant, and with time the light of that summer underwent a curious transformation; far from fading, like old over-exposed photos, the contrasts of sun and shade became so accentuated that I recall everything in black and white. 

(I went back and rechecked the gaps between various meetings and they seem correct but the years slide across each other and I may have made an error)

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Time Present and Time Past by Deirdre Madden

Deirdre Madden’s Time Present and Time Past is a quiet, moving novel about the constant presence of time and memory in the lives of two Irish siblings. For once this is not a dysfunctional family, and what a refreshing change it is to read about people who have differences but who still maintain (mostly) healthy relationships in spite of opinions and past history. I’ll get to the one testy relationship later, and it’s by far the best of this excellent novel.

The issue of time appears constantly throughout the novel, and with one exception, it’s never overdone. The characters are members of a Dublin family: middle-aged Fintan Buckley, his wife, Colette, their three children, Fintan’s sister, Martina, Aunt Beth, and Fintan’s irascible mother, Joan. While not a great deal happens in the novel in terms of dramatic plot, instead this is a novel in which memories of the past are in the present as we follow our characters through their daily lives.

time present time pastThe novel begins with this passage:

Where does it all begin? Perhaps here, in Baggot Street, on the first floor of one of Dublin’s finest restaurants on a day in spring. It seems as good a place to starts as any.

This simple passage sets up the idea of the continuum of time, and as we see as the novel continues, the past and even the seeds for the future are here in the present. While the past is with us through memories, the novel hints at an entirely different presentation of time with the past and present right there in front of our eyes, and while we can’t access the past or the future, all three sectors of time are invisibly connected.

It’s spring 2006, and Fintan, in middle age, experiences moments of disassociation–familiar objects seem bizarre; he tunes out of a conversation with someone as he no longer pays attention to the spoken words but instead feels as though he’s “watching a film with the sound turned down.” These incidents involving “hallucinations and strange shifts of perception” open Fintan’s mind to a greater awareness of the past–specifically though an interest in photography.  He become fascinated with a photograph of an unidentified ancestress, and at one point also notes that the sky looks a certain way one day, and “it was also how it would have looked in certain days in the eighteenth century.” The notion of passing time is clear–photographs may “preserve” a moment, but our lives are brief and fleeting.

While Fintan begins to discover the history of early photography, his sister Martina emerges as the second main character in the novel who wrestles with the past but for entirely different reasons. We know there’s some dark secret involving her sudden panicked flight from London years earlier and her return to Dublin. Martina now lives with her Aunt Beth in a wonderful home that seems to exist in some sort of time warp. On the surface, Martina, who owns a small, successful clothing shop seems to be a very collected, organized business woman, but as Fintan notes, “you could spend a lifetime looking at Martina and wondering who she was.”

The quiet joy of this book is in the details of life and family. Fintan and Collette have two sons: Rob, who “while still in his cot [he] had the thousand-yard stare of a hostile banker,” and Niall, a vegetarian with a “highly developed social conscience.” While Niall is “somewhat ascetic,” Rob, who brings home “a succession of trophy girlfriends” develops “expensive tastes and habits.” These early-established differences and behaviours are sign-posts for the future, and in one slightly awkward chapter (the only thing I’d fault in this otherwise exquisite novel), we get a glimpse of the future of this family, post boom.

More than anything else, the members of this average Irish family, for this reader, seemed extraordinarily vivid and quite real. There’s one wonderful scene when Fintan takes his daughter and her friend to the zoo, and collects the other girl from her divorced father–a man Fintan recognizes as being a younger, sadder version of himself:

This is domestic chaos on an industrial scale. He can just about find space on the island for his Pooh mug amidst the wreckage of a week’s worth of rushed breakfast and lousy dinners. The jacket of yesterday’s suit hangs over the back of a chair; the silk snake of the tie lies coiled on the floor beneath it. The apartment is so coolly minimalist in its design, and yet so unrepentantly squalid, that Fintan cannot help but admire the other man for his sheer chutzpah in having comprehensively trashed the place, as a revolt against being forced to live there. Fintan salutes his refusal to be reasonable; his rejection of this chilly box as his home.

The novel establishes Fintan’s relationship with his mother, Joan, fraught with its ritualistic landmines, almost immediately, and we know that there’s more to come. The novel’s finest moment has to be when Fintan visits his mother and he layers the visit with the element of a game, rewarding himself with an “extra cake” if his mother tramples onto already well-abused territory:

“Such flowers! They’re like the sun itself! They’ll light up the room for me.” They exchange pleasantries and small talk as he follows her down the hall to her ground-floor apartment, and he asks himself, as he sometimes does initially when they meet why he had dreaded so much going to see her, although he wonders how long it will be before the first signs of conflict appear. Almost immediately, the slow attrition begins.

“And don’t you have Lucy with you?”

Fintan says no, that Colette has taken her to the hairdressers.

“Well that’s a disappointment, I had been looking forward to seeing her.”

One-nil. As he sits down on the sofa he realises that he is still holding the paper bag with the fish in it, so he hands it to her.

“Smoked salmon. You couldn’t have brought me anything more welcome.”

An equalizer in the second minute. She takes the packet of fish from the bag and waves it at him sternly.

“Now if you could get that son of your to eat some of this, it would do him good. He can’t be getting the protein he needs from those nuts or greens or whatever it us that he lives on.”

Two-one.

That scene, my favourite in the book, is painfully real, yet author Deirdre Madden doesn’t create monsters or villains here (well, ok, one deep in the past); these are moments pulled from life, and later on in that same scene, we see Joan isn’t just a repetitive mouthpiece, she’s intelligent and thoughtful, and quite ready with “gloomy predictions” about Ireland’s future. Because of scenes such as this, the reader is allowed into the lives of some incredibly human characters. I’ve seen reviews complaining about this book in which ‘nothing happens,’ and I’ve seen other reviews praising the book highly. I’m of the latter opinion. This is a graceful tale of the passing of time and the ephemeral qualities to our lives. Madden’s quiet, yet emotionally powerful tale argues that we should cherish every precious second because that moment won’t return again.

Review copy

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