I read this for my book club and while I found it hard to read at times — mostly during the in-your-face WWI scenes from the trenches — it did have some excellent passages that grabbed me by the eyeballs and forced me to read them again.
“The pressure of Madame Azaire’s foot against his leg slowly increased until most of her calf rested against him. The simple frisson this touch had earlier given to his charged senses now seemed complicated; the sensation of desire seemed indistinguishable from an impulse toward death.”
Faulks is a master of description, which is probably why I had trouble with the gruesome war scenes.
“An aroma of cress and sorrel was just discernible when the swing doors pushed open to reveal the waiters in their black waistcoats and long white aprons carrying trays of coffee and cognac to the tables at the front and shouting back orders to the bar. At the end farthest from the kitchen was a tall cash desk at which a grey-haired woman was making careful entries in a ledger with a steel-nibbed pen.”
“… she seemed no more really than a pale version of what womanhood could achieve. Stephen viewed all women in this way. He felt sorry for men who were married to creatures who were so obviously inferior; even the men who were happy and proud of the imagined beauty of their wives had, in his eyes, made a desperate compromise. He even pitied the women themselves: their vanity, their looks, their lives were poor things in his eyes, so far short of what could exist.”
In the modern day section, the character had a one-night stand. She was neither happy nor guilt-ridden by it.
“She felt a little tenderness toward him. She wondered what function the episode had served in his life and in his mythology of himself.”
That passage made me close the book and stare into space. I wondered, too, about all the brief encounters — non-sexual, in my case — throughout my life that meant very little to me, but might have been much more important to the other person. And vice versa.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with my grown daughter. I’d remembered something I’d done during her childhood that jumped to the top of the Things That Make Me A Bad Mother list. When I explained and offered my most sincere mea culpa, she laughed and said she didn’t even remember the incident.
My relief, of course, was immediate and overwhelming because I’d just whittled that list down to a more managable 999,999 things.
What about you? Have you ever wondered what function an episode had served in someone’s life and mythology?