I am beginning to realise that I have a palate for atmospheric novels. Based on one of my favourite blogger’s suggestion, I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle for Halloween. (Thank you, Bina!) The psychological thriller was strongly atmospheric, and intricately detailed, moving on to the next book was daunting. I was stuck with the cuckoo of a trio, and found myself reality-challenged. It was eerie, had a dash of dark humour, and it was fun in its own way. 🙂 Now, having read Sara Baume’s Spill Simmer Falter Wither, I experience a feeling along the same line. I am stuck with the duo — the quinquagenarian Ray and his literally-named dog One Eye. The book was uncanny, claustrophobic, depressing, yet extraordinary.
On one of his Tuesday visits to the town, Ray reads a note about a dog that is waiting to be adopted. Without paying a second thought, Ray visits the shelter, and adopts One Eye, 18 months after his father’s demise. Ray shows the dog the life of a sleepy coastal town, the unkindness of his own father, and confesses his dark secrets. His accounts are incredibly elaborate. That’s the thing about Sara Baume’s writing. Every tiny, trivial detail is observed, recorded. It goes overboard at times, but returns to being artful again.
All is well in their lives. But, a person, whose life has been perennially painful since the time he could recognise himself, knows that life won’t continue to be good just because a dog has entered his life. An accident caused by One Eye casts a shadow on Ray’s monotonous life, and they set off together on a road trip to dodge the consequences. They come back to what Ray often calls his father’s house, but Baume doesn’t let me heave a sigh of relief. She doesn’t let me revel in my hope that they are going to be okay. She throws in the most unexpected, shocking twist there. (As always, I didn’t spoil it for you.) 🙂
Ray is different, according to his father. He is special, and shouldn’t be let to get along with other children. He has been lonely, and deplorable all his life, with only a kind neighbour, and heaps of books for company. Despite the isolation — which has thwarted his exposure, making him anti-social and skeptical — his monologues offer impeccable wisdom, and his meditation on life is capable of altering one’s perspectives.
Spill Simmer Falther Wither — named after the seasons — can be interpreted in many a way. This is not an awww-inducing doggie book. It’s a book on a lonely, compassionate man, who basks in the transient companionship of a dog who is as battered as himself. It’s a book on a man, who makes peace with his murky past, by launching into boundless soliloquies, only to be shackled to the ghosts again. It’s a book on a man, who cannot fit into a society, and who chooses to flee from it, only to return to clean up after himself. And, it’s a book on a man, who ruminates on the not-so-good side of life, and takes the reader along on his memorable, adventurous, fateful journey.
I liked Ray. Of course, I liked One Eye. I liked the mess in Ray’s head, and the beauty in Baume’s words. This book was a kind surprise.
How can you be so unremittingly interested? How can every stone be worthy of tenderly sniffing, every clump of grass a source of fascination? How can this blade possibly smell new and different from that blade, and why is it that some require to be pissed upon, and others simply don’t? I wish I had been born with your capacity for wonder. I wouldn’t mind living a shorter life if my short life could be as vivid as yours.
Where were you last winter? I find it hard to picture a time when we were simultaneously alive, yet separate. Now you are like a bonus limb. Now you are my third leg, an unlimping leg, and I am the eye you lost.
But life never misses an opportunity to upscuttle us. Life likes to tell us it told us so. Even when we are so very old that nothing is alarming any more.
And every time the engine stops, you expect we’ve reached the end. But each stop is never an arrival, just another pause along the way.
The nasturtiums have it figured out, how survival’s just a matter of filling in the gaps between sun up and sun down. Boiling kettles, peeling potatoes, laundering towels, buying milk, changing light-bulbs, rooting wet mats of pubic hair out of the shower’s plughole. This is the way people survive, by filling one hold at a time for the flightiest of temporary gratifications, over and over and over, until the season’s out and they die off anyway, wither back into the wall or path, into their dark crevasse. This is the way life’s eaten away, expended by the onerous effort of living itself.
I never expected it would take so much reversing to make a straight line.
If our life was a film, it would be a photograph in a locket, a love letter, a tress of hair.