SPACE AND SOLIDITY AND SAM
What I like about this image (never having seen the painting, I gotta say image - I'm told that reproductions, no matter how good, never match the original) is that though the subject appears to be the bridge, which is precise and definite and firmly rooted, what takes my attention is the the sky beyond and above it, the way it seems to go on forever, not in spite of, but because
the bridge itself is so limited and particular.
It strikes me as an illustration of what prose can do, when used properly - the right words used with full intent. Have recently begun a book bought ten years ago and by happy indolence neither read nor re-sold nor thrown out, just laid down until one or other of us was ready: Sam Hanna Bell's December Bride
. They made a film of it in 1990
, which I saw at the Filmhouse in the days when just about every film seemed to contain hidden meanings, and if I hadn't fallen slightly for Saskia Reeves at the time, I'd probably never have bought the book. Here's an extract:
'Let us be going now,' said Andrew. The ram was urged to the water's edge and hoisted into the boat. Sarah was snatched up by Frank, and as he stood thigh-deep in the water he turned a little towards Pentland with his burden before he seated her in the stern. Already the two men on the beach were vague and indistinct, and their shouts of farewell came torn and disjointed to those afloat. 'He's a crabbit ould blirt, too,' grumbled the servingman, referring to Andrew, as he and Pentland turned away. But his master only grunted. He was preoccupied with the image of the sturdy, pale, smooth-haired woman in whose company he had been for the past three hours. He remembered Frank Echlin's fingers sunk in her thigh and waist and a tremor ran through him. The slipe [sledge] caught on a stone, and Pentland turned round to look down on the lough. the boat had vanished and the grey fretted water was hardly distinguishable from the rain and mist that swept across it.
Bell's compression of time (something Garner goes on about, but which I'm only now coming to appreciate) in this passage is superb, and he gives you what is required, no more, in the way of description and narrative. In limiting himself he creates space, suggests tension, though nothing very dramatic is happening. Though it may not be evident here, in other parts of the novel the evocation of silence underlying action or behind the dialogue is quite incredible - rather like the sky in the Van Gogh - something they brought out well in the film, as I remember.
A lot of it seems to be written in Scots - but I didn't know that Bell
was born in Scotland, or that his father was manager of the Glasgow Herald - or even of the existence of Ulster Scots
, shame on me. It comes as no surprise, however, that he was a folklorist - from the sounds of it much like Hamish Henderson or David Thomson or George Ewart Evans.