Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Twopence Coloured (Little Thunders)


Shortly before midnight, several years ago, a pretty but unusually foolish girl, for her age (which was nineteen), was walking by herself along the Brighton front.  It was raining slightly, and the movement of her even strides made little thunders with her mackintosh, and the rain spat with a kind of sullen suddenness upon her glistening white face and mouth, and she was very full of her quiet self and her quiet decisions.


        As Jackie walked along the Brighton front, it became more and more her own Brighton front, and at last it seemed that there was no one there at all to share her striding and buoyant possession of it.  At the same time the wind grew higher, bawling violently into Jackie’s ears, and the rain came with it, spitting itself into millions of ardent sharp triangles on the slimy streaming paving under the lamps.  And the sea, which a little while before had been crashing measuredly away (as though it has really rather forgotten what is was aiming at, after the nonsensical centuries it had been at the business), suddenly seemed to awake, and as good as said it had had enough of this tomfoolery, and now the coast should listen, come what might!  And that was what Jackie was wanting really, some sort of challenge like that, to nerve her and brace her and give her a sense of immediate and impending battle.  And in the sound and rush of the storm about her, in the unquenched but fearful sputtering of the yellow-green lamps, in the wash and thunder of the war-like and long-prepared coast (which had taken the sea at its word and also wanted a row), Jackie planned for herself a very gallant and hand-to-hand and triumphing battle with life indeed. 

NOTE:  The recent Faber and Faber republication of Patrick Hamilton's third novel, Twopence Coloured (1928) is reason for celebration.  Books -- real books -- should stay in print as real books, i.e. not e-books.  The two sections above, which begin and end the prologue section of Jackie Mortimer's story of wanting to "Go upon the Stage," remind me of my times in the rain in Brighton, of the incessant noisy rain tonight, which brought me downstairs to write this, and of a few other things I can't get off my mind.  Looking for suitable illustrations, I was finally satisfied, but was also constantly reminded that the truest Brighton images I know (apart from my own memories of being pelted with "millions of ardent sharp triangles" of rain like Jackie Mortimer) are those taken by the poet and photographer Tom Raworth, which I highly recommend seeking out.  Raworth captures the essence of a place that visual artists have occasionally rendered vividly, but which often comes off as a static cliche compared to the "real thing."  There is nothing like walking along the Brighton front in the cold hard rain.

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