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Friday, 4 February 2005

Hugh Bowden 2005

There was a policeman standing at the top of Surrey Street, where Harold Klein was almost sexually assaulted in Angelica's Grotto. I could see him from my office window, turning cars away. I couldn't see anything happening on Surrey Street, but it seemed an ominous sign.

I spent Wednesday afternoon reviewing the English Department here. No-one called Melissa Bottomley appeared in any of the documentation, but since the last review of the Department seven years ago more than half the staff have changed. I discovered that the only person present at both the review seven years ago and the one this week was me.

Fridays this term are particularly busy. Broken up by moving from room to room, discussing the same poems with different groups of students. It can make SA4quating a problem. In the end I put up my sheet of A4 yellow paper somewhere in College. The quotation was rather short:


as written on the Paxos Stone in Angelica's Grotto (Bloomsbury 1999, p. 15)

Motion/Rest, or perhaps Go/Stop. A bit like my day.

I could probably tell this story in a different way.


I have not yet read all of Russell Hoban's books. This does, I suspect, put me in a happier position than those who have read them all, because I still have the thrill of discovery of those that I haven't started yet.

Most recently I read Angelica's Grotto, which seems to me the twisted offspring of two earlier novels. The Odilon Redon Pegase Noir, central to the story, was born from the dark blood of Medusa; and of course Harold, once upon a time, was Kleinzeit. It seems to me a book full of things hinted at, but not said (what are Redon, Gustave Moreau and Antonio Carlos Jobim doing together there?); everything left unresolved - it is a novel of unresolution. And those who know it, and note the address at the bottom of this message, can imagine that it had resonances for me.

SA4QE does not have to be site specific, but sometimes perhaps it can be. Having read the book, I was drawn irresistably to one place. After I finished teaching I went through to the English Department. I 'found buff-coloured bricks, pigeonholes, a noticeboard, NO SMOKING, and a perspective of square illuminations in the ceiling' (interrupted by newly installed, and unpopular, fire doors. 'The door of Room 231 had two narrow vertical windows one above the other.' It was empty, with a sole student waiting nearby to talk to a lecturer who was on the phone, with her door open. I stuck my yellow A4 notice to the door, took a picture of it, and made my escape.

The choice of quotation was, I suppose, self-indulgent: a Classicist finding something classical. It was printed 'in black ink, in Greek letters':


[Angelica's Grotto p. 15]

But to give the sheet a chance of a slight after life, I added below, in Caslon (a College official font):

The Politics of Language, Room 231

[Angelica's Grotto p. 156]

I will see if it is still there on Monday.

Today would have been Harold Klein's birthday. It is more important that it is Russ's. Happy 80th!

Maybe this all sounds a bit too contrived. In which case there is always another way of telling it.

1 comment:

  1. It seems a little tenuous to say that Angelica is the offspring, twisted or not, of either - I see no reason why the common syllable 'klein', meaning only small, indicates that the male lead is Kleinzeit: klein zeit [meaning 'time'] would indicate that he is klein plus zeit, not klein minus zeit. (But who is older than who? After all, it probably isn't a real name, let alone a word.)

    As for Medusa's blood, I don't see how that links in The Medusa Frequency as a novel, just as a title. Probably no more to be found than in connecting this Angelica with the new(ish) one, Angelica Lost and Found...


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