I’m reading The English Patient lately. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve read. At all. And therefore I’m quite out of words to describe it.
I’ll just paste a few lines here that made me stop & smile:
“The shelves nearest the torn wall bowed with the rain, which had doubled the weight of the books”
“And then, as if there were someone in the room who was not to be disturbed, she walked backwards, stepping on her own footprints, for safety, but also as part of a private game, so it would seem from the steps that she had entered the room and then the corporeal body had disappeared.”
“She will stare at the word in a novel, lift it off the book and carry it to a dictionary.”
Clearly, this is no Rand. I cannot explain what about them is beautiful. But can’t you see it? I’ll try anyway.
It’s the way the words are placed, and the sentence formed. It’s the way they are thought of, in the writer’s head. A different perspective. And perhaps, a different logic (for the lack of a better word). For the first time, it’s not so much about ‘what’ the author says, as much as it is ‘how’ he says it. And this ‘how’ is different for the sake of difference, it’s not fake, it’s not pretentious, it’s not trying too hard. The uniqueness of the ‘how’ is born out of the author’s intention behind his words. In essence, out of ‘what’ he says.
I wish I could write more such examples. There are so many, so subtle, that you almost miss them. Like those invisible dust flakes that glide upon your cornea, that you see sometimes when you look into the light. There now, Gone the next second. A hidden meaning behind every line. Not reading between the lines, but beyond them.
War is an eternal theme in the book. And yet, there’s no blood. All the characters are bleeding though, profusely. All the time. It is so strange – we are so used to a certain perception of war through novels & books. We don’t really understand the extent of its calamity unless told in an explicit, gruelling, gruesome, horrifying manner. But The Eglish Patient never really talks of the violence; or the bloodshed. In fact, you almost forget that there was a war. That was survived by the characters. Except in some places where the realization sneaks up on you. And then there’s a poignant stab – as you are suddenly introduced to pain hiding beyond words that seemed so innocent some time back.
But I am not concerned with that. For the first time in my life, I’m not eager to go to the next page. I’m not so concerned with ‘what’ the writer wants to say. What’s his ‘point’? I’m not looking beyond the words I’m reading at any point of time. Because that’s the only way one can read this book. Not with the intention of finishing it – but just with the intention of reading it.
Here’s another gem:
Now, The English Patient himself is a man with no identity. Disfigured beyond recognition, he has no name, no nation, no family, no possessions except for a sea of knowledge. And silently, a paragraph about his past, a memoir narrated, hits you out of nowhere at the way ‘fate’ (for the lack of a better word, works):
“The desert could not be claimed or owned – it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names long before Canterbury existed, long before battles & treaties quilted Europe and the East. Its caravans, those strange rambling feasts and cultures, left nothing behind, not an ember. All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into the landscape. Fire and sand. We left the harbours of oasis. The places water came to and touched…..Ain, Bir, Wadi, Foggara, Khottara, Shaduf. I didn’t want my name against such beautiful names. Erase the family name! Erase nations! I was taught such things by the desert.
Still, some wanted their mark here. On that dry water-course, on this shingled knoll. Small vanities in this plot of land northwest of the Sudan, south of Cyrenaica. Fenelon-Barnes wanted the fossil trees he discovered to bear his name. He even wanted a tribe to take his name, and spent a year on the negotiations. Then Bauchan outdid him, having a type of sand dune named after him. But I wanted to erase my name and the place I had come from. By the time war arrived, after ten years in the desert, it was easy for me to slip across borders, not belong to anyone, to any nation.”