Friday, September 16, 2011

Take my monkey, please

Some of you may know that John has an addiction to books. His literary acquisitiveness puts even my perfume buying habits to shame. However, the hassle and cost of packing, moving and unpacking our enormous library managed to quell his appetites for a couple of weeks.

The first book he brought home since we arrived in CO was His Monkey Wife by John Collier. I assumed this was a goof, since "Monkey" (and variations thereof) is one of his many pet names for me. But apparently this 1930 novel is considered something of a classic; it's introduced by Paul Theroux and blurbed by Anthony Burgess as "a wayward masterpiece."

The prose is surprisingly artful and ornate; here are a few example sentences from the first ten pages:
The tall trees on the edge of the clearing have here and there, it seems, lifted their skirts of scrub, giving us the same sickening drop from our expectations as shop-window ladies do, when their dresses are opened at back or placket, and we see only wire and emptiness.
Sitting on the wide verandah, however, almost alone, his personality expands naively, and something quite poetic appears in the twilight of that hour and of his nature, like the sweet but inconsiderable bloom on a ragged nocturnal weed.
And, in reference to Emily, the "monkey wife" in question, Mr. Fatigay's devoted chimp:
What seeds lay latent in her of qualities with such a claim, sprouted only under the sunshine of Mr. Fatigay's smiles, and the gentle warm monotonous rain of the evening monologues, in which, when work was done, he expressed his hopes, dreams, ambitions to the friendly dumbness by his side.
Methinks "the friendly dumbness" is a good alternative to "my other half."

We were especially delighted by the following passage:
She was, after all, a schoolmaster's pet, and on the frequent occasions on which she had accompanied him to the schoolroom, she had seen enough pictures of cats with the letters C A T printed beside them. Is it so hard to understand how she came to a comprehension of the function of books, and even, perhaps, of the abstracter functions of language? Our scientists may think so, who have chosen to measure the intelligence of the chimpanzee solely by its reaction to a banana. They suspend the delicacy from the ceiling of a cage, and assess the subject's mentality in terms of the number of boxes he or she will pile one upon another in order to secure it, failing to see that nothing is revealed except the value which that particular chimp chooses to set upon the fruit. And, beyond a certain low limit, this surely is in inverse ratio to intelligence. What boy of ten would not pile up a dozen boxes in an attempt to climb within reach of it? How many would Einstein clamber upon? And how many less would Shakespeare? Emily, though a fruitarian by instinct, would have disdained an eagerness capable of more than two and a jump.

2 comments:

  1. Elisa, you and I are connected in the oddest ways. My husband also uses Monkey as a pet name and has many variations:' Little Monk, Monkey Face, Baby Monk, Mini Monk...the list goes on.

    And we both like to smell stuff. Cool.

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  2. It's a good base for nicknames, no doubt. Kitten and Muffin are also popular around here.

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