I just finished reading Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (you might know him as the author of About a Boy), and there are a few passages I'm still thinking about. One is the thoughts of Duncan, a rather miserable bloke, after he's just cheated on his girlfriend of fifteen years. It strikes me as summing up the problems inherent in living together without vows:
Duncan was sweating, and his heart was racing. He felt sick. Fifteen years! Or more, even! Was it really possible simply to jump from the belly of a fifteen-year relationship into the clear blue sky? Was it allowed? Or would he and Annie be made to attend courses, to see counselors, to go away together for a year or two and explore what had gone wrong? But who would make them? Nobody, that's who. And there was alarmingly little tying him down. He was one of the first people to complain about the increasing encroachment of the state into personal lives, but, actually, shouldn't there be a little more encroachment, when it came to things like this? Where was the protective fence, or the safety net? They made it hard for you to jump off bridges, or to smoke, to own a gun, to become a gynecologist. So how come they let you walk out on a stable, functioning relationship? They shouldn't. If this didn't work out, he could see himself become a homeless, jobless alcoholic within a year. And that would be worse for his health than a pack of Marlboros.
It also illustrates the weirdness of living in a society that legislates everything except morality.
Gosh, Hornby is good. He gets something like that in without seams in the story, with beautiful humor - funny and insightful, just great writing, that.
The other part I'm still thinking about are the thoughts of Tucker Crowe, an artist who was famous once but hasn't written any new songs in about twenty years. He's thinking about why that is, and you get this lovely piece of prose:
The truth about autobiographical songs, he realized, was that you had to make the present become the past, somehow: you had to take a feeling or a friend or a woman and turn whatever it was into something that was over, so that you could be definitive about it. You had to put it in a glass case and look at it and think about it until it gave up its meaning, and he'd managed to do that with just about everybody he'd ever met or married or fathered. the truth about life was that nothing ever ended until you died, and even then you just left a whole bunch of unresolved narratives behind you. He'd somehow managed to retain the mental habits of a songwriter long after he'd stopped writing songs, and perhaps it was time to give them up.
That image of taking everything and putting it into a glass case and looking at it and thinking about it till it gives up its meaning . . . I'm going to be haunted by that image for a long time I think. Feel familiar to anyone else?
Three cheers for Nick Hornby!
Peace of Christ to you,