The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


A review quote - from The Times, no less - on the back of Jamie's Kitchen:
Jamie should be given the Victoria Cross.
What kind of chef is he? Casey Ryback?


On a related theme, for a while you could find at least five novels with "A tour de force - Will Self" somewhere on the cover. I'm convinced he used the phrase in every review he wrote just to see how many lazy publicists would seize on it, particularly after reading J.G. Ballard's claim never to have heard a single cliche pass Self's lips.


From the journal of the brothers Goncourt:
2nd January 1867

A sign of the times: there are no longer any chairs in the bookshops along the embankments. France was the last bookseller who provided chairs where you could sit down and chat and waste a little time between sales. Nowadays books are bought standing. A request for a book and the naming of the price: that is the sort of transaction to which the all-devouring activity of modern trade has reduced bookselling, which used to be a matter for dawdling, idling and chatty, friendly browsing.
This feeling that things are going to the dogs is always with us. From a conversation between Philip Roth and Milan Kundera, different species, same genus:
Roth: Do you think the destruction of the world is coming soon?
Kundera: That depends on what you mean by the word soon.
Roth: Tomorrow or the day after.
Kundera: The feeling that the world is rushing to ruin is an ancient one.
Roth: So then we have nothing to worry about.
Kundera: On the contrary. If a fear has been present in the human mind for ages, there must be something to it.
I read Ignorance by Kundera earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it, which I found surprising given that I got very little out of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Immortality. Also read parts of American Pastoral, my first contact with Roth's fiction, and while I didn't enjoy the novel much, I though the writing was amazing.


From the Goncourt journal again:
16th March 1867

The opening night of Les Idees de Madame Aubray, the first play by Dumas fils I have seen since La Dame aux Camelias. A special audience, of a kind which I have never come across anywhere else. It is not a play that is being performed, it is a kind of mass being celebrated before a pious congregation. There is a claque which seems to be officiating, while the audience writhes with ecstacy, swoons with pleasure, and utters cries of 'Adorable!' at every line. The author writes: 'Love is the springtime, it is not the whole year', and there is a salvo of applause. He goes on, working the idea to death: 'It is not the fruit, it is the flower', and the audience claps more than ever. And so it goes on. Nothing is judged, nothing is appreciated; everything is applauded with an enthusiasm brought along in advance and impatient to express itself.

Dumas has a great gift: he knows how to appeal to his public, this first-night public of whores, speculators, and depraved society-women. He is their poet, and he ladles out to them, in a language they can understand, the ideal of their commonplace emotions. defines claque as:
1.a group of persons hired to applaud an act or performer.
2.a group of sycophants.