Nine Avenues

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Folded Word is proud to announce NINE AVENUES by Guy Cranswick. This short story collection explores the intricacies of relationships from multiple angles with both traditional and experimental forms. We hope you’ll savor the voice in this collection, with all its tones and flavors, as if listening to classical guitar while sipping a complex red wine.

Cheers,
J.S.

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Reason

Here are some excerpts from stories in Nine Avenues which explore reason, rationality, ideas and the mind.

The one necessary element that I sought was intelligible explanations that are credible, in order to improve my understanding. With that credo as my guide and compass I continued.
The religions, sciences and philosophies have become my library. I had not progressed into fiction or poetry as they seem to occlude understanding, to feed desires, unrealistic and impractical activity and unrequited wishes: the sensations, all of them personal, simple and childish. My ambition was to avoid those things, and be more resolute in the aim of rationality. Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I am pompous, but the aim seems right to me.
In quick succession I read through the other great theisms of humanity and gleaned that we share a more or less common description of the deity. Turning to science I was engrossed by geology, biology and physics; the outer worlds, those true to factual depiction, measured, known: but all too incredible for this fact to be fiction in the mind of a conceited writer. The size, the speed, the immensity of what we inhabit, and the scale of our own small selves adjusts any meaning of what we are. Forgive my tone, that is, of speaking on behalf of everyone; it is the product of absorbing religion and science in varying proportions. It has given me the idea of omnipotence, that I know everything; and what I do not know, I will surely know at a fixed time in the future. It makes a man self-satisfied by the acquisition of knowledge, like a cat after its meal. “Transcendence”

Sitting outside with an ice bucket and a full bottle I give the time over to loss, to mayhem; I like it, I mean I do like it, to be gone. Some people hold that the drink makes for smarter thought, and therefore able to see things more clearly, even see into people, but it only ever seems that way, and at the time. As it is with music and that is better and more powerful with the aid of some tune. Sad is best, it purifies all that we wish to be as a sympathetic person; or then a dance to evoke vitality and muscle. At once all human. Maybe I got my father’s ear for sound, not just music, but any sound. The music plays louder but is drowned in the ears by the drink. Numb. But on, on: with wild flaying called dance and then the floor appears at a fingernail’s space away, and any memory of how it happened has passed into the night. Mostly there is the talk, the truth, which has to be identified despite the fumbling for the correct word, the sentences gurgle, but what does it matter, there has never been such clarity in the head, it is radiant. And now, later, when the whole thing is over, now it comes back in slow passages because everything is in its right place, it seems so convincing; truth has been talking. “Dictionary”

And she looked at him and said it. One word. That he no longer could trust her. A sentence. She said it as if another had failed her before. A measure of music that returns. She says it in a tone of sadness. It is her destiny. To watch him walk away. All of them. This man. And the ones before. In this room he said nothing. Before the trust was broken. Their words weigh less now. Not dependent on the other. Their words mortify. They fly untethered. Liberated. Unlocked by the other. His eyes roam the floor. He wants to escape. She wants him gone. In that he confirms her word. Departed. In the sound. He moves to leave. She will not stop him. She says she will not endure this any longer. He hears and swallows. To think of the right words. But say nothing. He hears her again. There is nothing he can do. Apart. She had made certain of it. She examines his face. He gives her nothing. Wooden stare. A face of no one. Anyone in the street. A frozen day face. He despairs of her. He asks himself questions. Were the things he said in the past true? Not true now. Is he himself now? That is over. Not ever now. He stares back at her. This woman is without hope. She is a carcass. They sense this passing. This ending. And she will not deny it too. Ended. Later, alone, in a chair, emptiness is stark. Clearer. Emptiness in the silence. He will hear it clearer then. He will know it better then. “Heard”

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Character/Caricature

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Everyone has a handful of favorite characters; whether they are deep and sensitive or humorous. There is no science on this and our view on characters has changed enormously. We look at Shakespeare’s characters and believe they are good because they are realistic. In his day the character were seen as types and not approximate to a notion of realism or naturalism.

For me the best characters are nuanced, complex: they are believable by their depth, and their faults, all which are several and small. They are truly subjective creatures. But they are not necessarily realistic, say, in the way that TV and soap opera renders character. The weakest are typically blockbuster movie characters, really just caricatures – as they are exaggerated and unsubtle.

Dickens’s characters have always seemed to me slim stereotypes, but Balzac’s more diverse and intriguing, certainly his women are more vital than the Englishman’s.

Probably the most difficult are the every woman (man) type, not only to make sufficiently interesting but also to be appealing for a reader. These characters speak about most people. In a few of the stories on Nine Avenues characters like these are voiced.

In “Transcendence” a husband, a very ordinary man in his own words thinks about some very large abstract ideas and how they might help him understand the world. Likewise, the narrator in “Becoming” has failed to make much of anything in his life and he has come to accept it and as a consequence it has made him somewhat passive. The man in” And Then” is morally compromised; he takes the easy options and hopes to avoid the adult decisions. These men will not appeal to some readers because of their failures, but they seem to me the most interesting characters.

The Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler created a memorable and strong character in Barney Panofsky, far from perfect, but a burbling torrent of words and jokes, an ideal creation in a book. His moral weaknesses are the things that make him human, although he is only a series of words and phrases.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Belles-lettres

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In one of his last interviews Christopher Hitchens was asked for his view on the distinction between journalism and creative writing. It was a question predicated on the difference between his work, and that of his friends, the novelists: Ian McEwen and Martin Amis.

He said it was the music, which he qualified as being present in a novelist’s work but which is absent, or at such a low volume as to appear absent, in journalism and non-fiction.

That judgment may be too sweeping; and his comments were in an interview, so they were without the benefit of deeper consideration. In any case music: the raw musicality of language is something that runs in and through any language; it gives it cadence and emphasis; it is one of the most difficult aspects to master in a foreign language and it is something that powerful writing possesses. Music can never be entirely absent because every utterance has a musical signature.

Even so, Hitchens was a very good writer and he knew his trade. The apparent foregrounding of musical qualities in language is something that poetry, and some prose, have in abundance. It cannot be as present in more workaday genres, not in English anyway. If it is it then classed as pretentious, which covers just about anything undesirable. French has the capacity to run to belles-lettres, even in journalism, and it’s a quality in that written language which is verbose and pompous.

When comparing fiction with non-fiction, it is the creative work that offers its tune more overtly to the reader. Well, it ought to, but not in all cases which makes it rather impossible to claim it as a universal fact. There are any number of well-known books which suggest the author saw words on the page, but never heard them. And there some enduring works that are tone deaf.

Whether its a measured fact or not, a musical essence is intrinsic to strong writing.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

How it all began, How it all ended

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With “Nine Avenues” there are three major pieces that develop vistas and delve into character through the story.

Imagine being stuck in an airport during a heavy blizzard. Then, from nowhere, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, from years and years ago bumps into you. As if for no reason you had to talk to this person and all the memories of how you had once been together, and how it ended fell out of your memory. “Then Silence” is about two people who meet in odd circumstances. The awkwardness, the polite conversation, the filling in of the years, and the differences of lives from then and now touch both people. There is something else too and that is the realization of how much they had loved each other. But once the airport is cleared of the blizzard they must go their own ways and resume their separate lives.

The opener, “Written” is about a man, the narrator, as he settles into his new house, although it is very old and in bad condition, in a part of a town that has seen better days. As he steadily repairs the house he discovers the neighborhood and builds new connections. It has the feeling of the passing of a day, but mixed with new chances to be taken on the next morning.

The mènage á trois has been a stock of drama and movies. There is an unsettling conflict between three people with their own interests. “And Then” is about a man who meets another woman and they begin an affair; his wife suspects but knows the marriage is all but over anyway. This story allows each person to speak in their own voice, to say what they see and how they feel. The overlap between the personal realities is contrasting and shows that love is sometimes a very hard bargain.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Arguments, balderdash, commentary, discussion

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Some excerpts which debate ideas.

Sitting outside with an ice bucket and a full bottle I give the time over to loss, to mayhem; I like it, I mean I do like it, to be gone. Some people hold that the drink makes for smarter thought, and therefore able to see things more clearly, even see into people, but it only ever seems that way, and at the time. As it is with music and that is better and more powerful with the aid of some tune. Sad is best, it purifies all that we wish to be as a sympathetic person; or then a dance to evoke vitality and muscle. At once all human. Maybe I got my father’s ear for sound, not just music, but any sound. The music plays louder but is drowned in the ears by the drink. Numb. But on, on: with wild flaying called dance and then the floor appears at a fingernail’s space away, and any memory of how it happened has passed into the night. Mostly there is the talk, the truth, which has to be identified despite the fumbling for the correct word, the sentences gurgle, but what does it matter, there has never been such clarity in the head, it is radiant. And now, later, when the whole thing is over, now it comes back in slow passages because everything is in its right place, it seems so convincing; truth has been talking. “Dictionary”

The one necessary element that I sought was intelligible explanations that are credible, in order to improve my understanding. With that credo as my guide and compass I continued.
The religions, sciences and philosophies have become my library. I had not progressed into fiction or poetry as they seem to occlude understanding, to feed desires, unrealistic and impractical activity and unrequited wishes: the sensations, all of them personal, simple and childish. My ambition was to avoid those things, and be more resolute in the aim of rationality. Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I am pompous, but the aim seems right to me.
In quick succession I read through the other great theisms of humanity and gleaned that we share a more or less common description of the deity. Turning to science I was engrossed by geology, biology and physics; the outer worlds, those true to factual depiction, measured, known: but all too incredible for this fact to be fiction in the mind of a conceited writer. The size, the speed, the immensity of what we inhabit, and the scale of our own small selves adjusts any meaning of what we are. Forgive my tone, that is, of speaking on behalf of everyone; it is the product of absorbing religion and science in varying proportions. It has given me the idea of omnipotence, that I know everything; and what I do not know, I will surely know at a fixed time in the future. It makes a man self-satisfied by the acquisition of knowledge, like a cat after its meal. “Transcendence”

And she looked at him and said it. One word. That he no longer could trust her. A sentence. She said it as if another had failed her before. A measure of music that returns. She says it in a tone of sadness. It is her destiny. To watch him walk away. All of them. This man. And the ones before. In this room he said nothing. Before the trust was broken. Their words weigh less now. Not dependent on the other. Their words mortify. They fly untethered. Liberated. Unlocked by the other. His eyes roam the floor. He wants to escape. She wants him gone. In that he confirms her word. Departed. In the sound. He moves to leave. She will not stop him. She says she will not endure this any longer. He hears and swallows. To think of the right words. But say nothing. He hears her again. There is nothing he can do. Apart. She had made certain of it. She examines his face. He gives her nothing. Wooden stare. A face of no one. Anyone in the street. A frozen day face. He despairs of her. He asks himself questions. Were the things he said in the past true? Not true now. Is he himself now? That is over. Not ever now. He stares back at her. This woman is without hope. She is a carcass. They sense this passing. This ending. And she will not deny it too. Ended. Later, alone, in a chair, emptiness is stark. Clearer. Emptiness in the silence. He will hear it clearer then. He will know it better then. “Heard”

All excerpts ©2015 Folded Word All Rights Reserved

Live and Direct

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How people talk changes in odd but distinct ways. Here are some writers in their own voice.

I can recall the thrill of founding this recording of Beckett, which was a voice I had known for a while and always wondered what it was like. The distinctive lisp and here he is a very old man but there are flashes of the energy, the humor, as he reviews the direction of a play.

When I discovered Moravia in Italian I was drawn to his clarity, the logic of Italian is precise and Moravia was a great exponent. Here he exhibits all of his style, the long thoughts and the qualifying clauses, bring it together in almost classical form.

Like her erstwhile partner, Sartre, De Beauvoir is imperious to age and here impatient and firm, very Parisian and with a voice much younger than her years. It is not immediately connected to her work, not the fiction anyway; perhaps the polemical works.

By contrast Anne Sexton appears noble and confident but it is a performance. She is reading her own work and not extemporizing of which there are other recordings. It’s as if there are two operations going on at once. In a similar vein Plath’s voice has what seems to be tragic quiver of self-realization.

A big surprise was Virginia Woolf’s only voice recording from 1937. The thing that I listened for was any similarity between the speech and her written text. The recording was a one of those educational talks the BBC would give at the time. She was talking about craft, and words in particular, so it was not an ad hoc talk and that made the connection with her speech and text more of a puzzle. Her radio talk was somewhat similar but was steady, stilted and dignified as though edited by someone less attuned to rhythm. It contained many of the mannerisms of its time; the accents and stresses of a bygone age.

If Woolf was a bit disappointing, hearing Faulkner at Virginia in 1958 with his lilting Southern tenor was exciting as it contained, in parts, the strain of some of his characters. His answers to students’ questions were interesting but the voice of the man was sharply evident, not constrained to be different in a formal lecture setting. It was on the same flight of discovery that I came across Shelby Foote’s interview on meeting Faulkner. His own speech was so distinctive, almost a stereotype but with a great musical cadence to it that this prose (which I have not read) would have an almost somnolent quality.

And to close on a fine and rich poetic voice. Robert Graves reading one of his poems. His voice seems to have so much depth, it’s a voice from another era, of course, but one that I have always liked, along with his reading of his poem, The Foreboding. And there is a small part of it Nine Avenues. Just a fragment, but one that I have absorbed and is now mine own.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Characters and Doubles

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Behind the Scenes of Nine Avenues

The stories within Nine Avenues were written over a four year period and quite early on coalesced into ideas which could form a collection. As such many of the stories form doubles, the one side of a story counter-posed to the other.

If You Wear That Dress was written first and in that story of yearning and desire, it seemed clear to me that time, distance, love and the loss of love were ideas I wanted to write within. I wanted to go over those themes like a symphonic movement because the sound of the words would be engaging. I do not explore ideas like a scientist and produce a result; there is nothing discoverable or measurable here—it is just the sum of the experience and the words. Transcendence takes the purely rational, the abstract and examines it in the mind a man who has had a long and happy marriage. Logic and emotion are balanced against each other.

In the shorter pieces, such as Talking and Letters, the characters address each other over great distances either through voice or text. In Spoken and Heard, the approach is stylistic as “Spoken” is one sinuous and repetitive nightmare; the other story, “Heard,” has been described as haiku on crack. Both depict the same thing as seen by different people.

It is that subjectivity that is most interesting and almost necessarily how one person relates to another. In Flights in Airless Space and The Nine Avenues, three sets of different characters come together. In Flights, it is a hotel room over the period of many years; in The Nine Avenues, it is along a highway. There are trysting lovers, married people attempting one last time to be in love again, parents observed starkly by their children. There are lonely men in cars escaping from some bad place and in the disjuncture of time, the characters and their world become sharper in heavier contrast.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Misheard

In fiction what can be understood is typically drawn around relationships. Below are some excerpts from Nine Avenues which blend the mental and emotional conflict over understanding.

Sitting outside with an ice bucket and a full bottle I give the time over to loss, to mayhem; I like it, I mean I do like it, to be gone. Some people hold that the drink makes for smarter thought, and therefore able to see things more clearly, even see into people, but it only ever seems that way, and at the time. As it is with music and that is better and more powerful with the aid of some tune. Sad is best, it purifies all that we wish to be as a sympathetic person; or then a dance to evoke vitality and muscle. At once all human. Maybe I got my father’s ear for sound, not just music, but any sound. The music plays louder but is drowned in the ears by the drink. Numb. But on, on: with wild flaying called dance and then the floor appears at a fingernail’s space away, and any memory of how it happened has passed into the night. Mostly there is the talk, the truth, which has to be identified despite the fumbling for the correct word, the sentences gurgle, but what does it matter, there has never been such clarity in the head, it is radiant. And now, later, when the whole thing is over, now it comes back in slow passages because everything is in its right place, it seems so convincing; truth has been talking. “Dictionary”

The one necessary element that I sought was intelligible explanations that are credible, in order to improve my understanding. With that credo as my guide and compass I continued.
The religions, sciences and philosophies have become my library. I had not progressed into fiction or poetry as they seem to occlude understanding, to feed desires, unrealistic and impractical activity and unrequited wishes: the sensations, all of them personal, simple and childish. My ambition was to avoid those things, and be more resolute in the aim of rationality. Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I am pompous, but the aim seems right to me.
In quick succession I read through the other great theisms of humanity and gleaned that we share a more or less common description of the deity. Turning to science I was engrossed by geology, biology and physics; the outer worlds, those true to factual depiction, measured, known: but all too incredible for this fact to be fiction in the mind of a conceited writer. The size, the speed, the immensity of what we inhabit, and the scale of our own small selves adjusts any meaning of what we are. Forgive my tone, that is, of speaking on behalf of everyone; it is the product of absorbing religion and science in varying proportions. It has given me the idea of omnipotence, that I know everything; and what I do not know, I will surely know at a fixed time in the future. It makes a man self-satisfied by the acquisition of knowledge, like a cat after its meal. “Transcendence”

And she looked at him and said it. One word. That he no longer could trust her. A sentence. She said it as if another had failed her before. A measure of music that returns. She says it in a tone of sadness. It is her destiny. To watch him walk away. All of them. This man. And the ones before. In this room he said nothing. Before the trust was broken. Their words weigh less now. Not dependent on the other. Their words mortify. They fly untethered. Liberated. Unlocked by the other. His eyes roam the floor. He wants to escape. She wants him gone. In that he confirms her word. Departed. In the sound. He moves to leave. She will not stop him. She says she will not endure this any longer. He hears and swallows. To think of the right words. But say nothing. He hears her again. There is nothing he can do. Apart. She had made certain of it. She examines his face. He gives her nothing. Wooden stare. A face of no one. Anyone in the street. A frozen day face. He despairs of her. He asks himself questions. Were the things he said in the past true? Not true now. Is he himself now? That is over. Not ever now. He stares back at her. This woman is without hope. She is a carcass. They sense this passing. This ending. And she will not deny it too. Ended. Later, alone, in a chair, emptiness is stark. Clearer. Emptiness in the silence. He will hear it clearer then. He will know it better then. “Heard”

Guy Cranswick
12th May 2015

All excerpts ©2012 Folded Word All Rights Reserved

Talk. Hear.

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In Nine Avenues characters speak between the stories.The effect is like hearing the same story from another person.

“You left when you were very young. You said you’d never return; that there was nothing to bring you back, not even us, your family. Sorry. At the time I believed you weren’t doing the right thing. You had, you said, to get away, to see the world and discover something about yourself. I remember the day you left, two suitcases in your hands, going off into the unknown as far as any of us knew.
I’ve never traveled and in the years you’ve been away I can’t honestly remember if I’ve been further than the end of my garden. It’s not much. Forgive me. Too many threads have woven me into life here; from childhood up to now; and of course with Helen and Ben. I have all your photos and postcards. They’re all cataloged. I did it for the children, Ben especially; he brags to the other children in his class about his uncle. I hope he grows up like you. A part of me hopes he doesn’t.”
Talking

“Once their dialog was continuous. Overlapping. Crested. One after and over the other. But there now in the room. Immobile. Disappointed. Once they talked forever. Through the night. In another room. He hears the word love. Not at this time. It is distant. When she declared it. He can still hear the word. From the silence of another room. She remembers saying it. She meant it but did not understand. In the silence. In a hotel on the other side of the world. She hears the word love He declared it. She can still remember it. They cannot say it. Now it is impossible. From another time. In the sound. When their cries were mutual. At the time there was trust. That time is more difficult to remember. At that time they spoke differently. All the listening.”
Heard

“I read your letter slowly the first time; then I read it again. I have two more, still in their envelopes which I picked up at the last post office, with the contracts. On that afternoon I was late and frantic to leave, and the place was filled with slow pensioners. The mailbag was lost in the back room of the small post office.
When I read your letter, again, I believed I had neglected you. It was something I read into your tone. Perhaps I have made that error too often, over many years. It is my mistake. I know: that is something that silts up between people over time.
That feeling that I have neglected you is here with me on this plane. A little guilt can be good. By now I will admit that we only know each other now through mail. When I enter a post office I hope there is just one letter from you.
This is the first time in four or five weeks I have had the space to read. I realize why you sent me a letter. If you had called me on the phone, I would have balked. Distance is made greater in a letter; a speaking voice can never be deceptive, even when full of lies.”
Letters

“…waiting on a response, barely heard above the noise of coming and going, of other people talking, the sound of other people in other rooms, all of them are unknown, not friends; but the precise accusing voices speak on with bitter memories of youth, through time to the person who is there in the room, who has shaped the voices that arrive at once, as they speak again without hesitation,
You said you’d be here,
You said you’d be here, we said we’d come;
all of them, whether good or bad: nonetheless, the voices in unison, two of them at any one time, all the same, at all times, and without difference; like monks in an ancient cloister, their voices within the stone and only ever a dead hum, repeated one after the other; male and female, male or female; lonely and distraught chords are heard in the back of their throats: sometimes only female; not that it matters, still with the same edge to their tone: angry it is while their faces are calm; their faces are clear unlike stale surreal visions with assorted heads imposed, and their hair gleams and their eyes are gentle with glints of moonlit striking them; but from their mouths come steaming wet voices hot with the stench of a dead pond; and their names are known, from the past, the women from the past, bitter and hateful, neither wives, nor sisters neither, not with any relation to the person who has formed them, but their hair scented in pine as though from houses built in cedar and dressed in silks, they glide in the night’s eye serene but they speak with resentment, ”
Spoken

“The surface of the pool rippled out of shape while his own voice spoke again: Is it always like this with you, this self-pity? Eliot did not respond this time. He had once said if he could forget the word wife, and then everything would be equal, And just as conveniently ignore that he loved one but not the other. Depending on who the subject is then change the words again. Changing everything just by reordering words was perverse but so was confusing honor with love. It is easy if all the terms, the definitions are made equal: one of them is my wife and the other is a friend. They’re women in different categories. Now the problem is entirely different. The piercing clarity did not convince him, he did not want to accept its counsel.”
And Then

“He walked to the gate; she pulled her trolley behind her, as his strides measured out an even distance, but it was her heels that sounded distinctly on the floor’s surface and with a dead evenness that Edward and Marion felt anxious, and glanced at each other with a weak smile, without energy, and as they progressed they observed the clearer sky and made cabin crew cheerful comments about and the pleasant flight ahead; but then the gates parted, 1-15 to the left: 16-30 to the right, and the time, the chance in the few hours stranded in the uncomfortable airport were finished, and as swiftly as they had met again; abruptly they said goodbye, with the uniform sameness of their work attire, navy blue and steel grey, and Marion offered her hand to Edward and for the second time that day he had no words, nothing, and silence was better than saying nothing but he clasped her hand while they both failed to find the boilerplate of words that are suitable at the end of an encounter: the form of words that business associates and former lovers can use, but nothing came and they clasped the others hand for too long until awkward sentences were uttered in broken spaces, in prefixed templates. And then the two people walked in separate directions: he to Gate 6 and she to Gate 22. Edward was still aware of Marion’s heels on the floor, while, to her, the sound of Edward had all but not existed, had disappeared, or merged with the sounds of other people into the ambience of the airport as a susurration of motion, ceaseless and on, the next step, the night falling and all the days to follow thereafter; until at a distance, the two people were silent, one from the other, departed and absorbed into the movement and stillness, murmur and peace, talking and silence, of the terminal.”
Then Silence

Guy Cranswick
16th March 2015

All excerpts ©2012 Folded Word All Rights Reserved

Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade.

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Anyone expecting some raunch, or a discussion about that movie, can move along. Not even a pantone in grey. The only conjunctions here are grammatical.

I haven’t read the book. I do not intend to either. By several reports it seems poorly written; almost a pedigree for demotic acclaim. But that aside, the dirtiest book I have read was Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom and that was years ago. Incredibly boring and disgusting – and, like Beckett who read it for a translation gig once – I did marvel at the elaborate quality of the fantasy and the geometrical necessity of so much as a prerequisite to fulfill the final objective. However, trudging through someone else’s idea of bone tingling ecstasy is not mine.

The first known instance of erotica being purchased (in England and in English literature) was by Samuel Pepys. In his diary on 13th January 1668 he says he saw a book for his wife to translate: (Elizabeth Pepys was seven years younger than Samuel and he mentored her education) and once he read it his reaction turned because, “it was the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw.” He didn’t buy it. On February 8th he went to his bookseller and, “bought the idle, rogueish book, “L’escholle des filles;” which I have bought in plain binding, avoiding the buying of it better bound, because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it.” On 9th February (a Sunday) he went to his office “doing business, and also reading a little of “L’escholle des filles,” which is a mighty lewd book, but yet not amiss for a sober man once to read over to inform himself in the villainy of the world.” That is a fine piece of self-justifying reasoning. Later that day he went to his chamber, read it again, then burned it “that it might not be among my books to my shame.

If he’d had a Kindle that ending could have been avoided. Although he burned the book, the evidence remained, as he never counted on his diary code being cracked. The shame, all the same, is known.

From Pepys to now the mixture of excitement and guilt with this type of writing is inseparable. It seems that thrill and guilt must be joined together, at least in Western cultures.

I did attempt this type of story once. Weekend was a story about two lovers who meet for two days of romance and it’s told from the view of the male. The central idea was to tell a romance not through the head or the heart, as often occurs in love stories or even erotic fiction; but as skin and bone and appetites. Those elements are the qualities at the base of every relationship: the appearance of a person, their height; shape of the face; arms, the waist and so on; what they do and eat and drink. I called it a materialistic love story, a story about what people did with each other as if it could all be quantified, and nothing in it was metaphorical.

Its candor was shocking to some and led to a bit of misunderstanding. I learnt that such fiction is not dangerous but the model that we have of how love or sex should be conducted (at least in public) is from a restrictive template. When things veer outside that restriction it may work commercially but not too far; to go as far as de Sade – that is truly hazardous.

Guy Cranswick
12th February 2015