In need of a palate-cleanser, I switched to Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. I'd heard of West before (she famously had an affair and a love child with H.G. Wells) but this is the first thing of hers I've read.
|Rebecca West, portrait at NPG|
So I rang for my nurse, and when she came I cried to her, 'Switch on the telephone! I must speak to my husband at once. A more terrible thing has happened. The King of Yugoslavia has been assassinated.' 'Oh dear!' she replied. 'Did you know him?' 'No,' I said. 'Then why,' she asked, 'do you think it's so terrible?'
The blend of comedy, observation and premonition are irresistible.
With a memory of other royal assassinations in the Balkans triggering world wars, West made up her mind and told her husband of her plans.
In a panic I said, 'I must go back to Yugoslavia, this time next year, in the spring, for Easter.'
And so she does, husband in tow.
The book is dense, but rewarding. Each page has a hundred references to history, geography, poetry, people - I keep having to put it down to look things up. As a result, I'm savouring it in small bites.