Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Aidan Higgins

Among the many short works of fiction I've been reading lately have been some stories from Flotsam & Jetsam, by Aidan Higgins, the Irish writer. This is one of the books I acquired in the Big Dalkey Get mentioned previously. I read the first couple of stories and have been admiring his use of the language.

Here are some samples, all from the story "In Old Heidelberg". First:
A weak light left much of the face in shadow. A stiff crown of hair stood on end as though meditations of an intense and pious nature had been rudely interrupted. The face below showed neither surprise nor pleasure. It might have belonged to a disobliging churchman from a bygone time. A person, moreover, whose chief characteristic seems to be one of waiting and who, whether priest or defunct, is obliged to regard the living with a certain amount of apprehension, and almost resentment, as if by living they delayed the Judgement Day -- as in a sense indeed they did.
And here, describing the work of Irwin, a painter (with links to Wikipedia articles for those art-related items I had to look up):
Delicate colours emerged as though wrung out from their darker background [...] bemused little faces picked out of the surrounding dark by his brush and patience, fainter and more hopeless than the prisoners wilting under endless litigation in a canvas by Forain.

He first laid down a foundation of black and out of this primeval bog, in a month or two of excavating, a misted scene at last emerged -- grey, bled-off, revolving slowly within the frame, colourless as a dream, an image of the caul itself, a thin piping out of the utmost darkness. And it was on these Zöllner's Patterns of paint and canvas that he hung, when his strength was up to it, his better fancies.
And, on the death of Irwin's father:
So they found him, spilling from the oven, survived by wife and son. As it happens that in the marches of history that a people, lacking a voice, lose themselves and are forgotten, so he had been forgotten.

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