Paul Gustave Doré
In the wake of the atrocities in Norway, with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in prospect and in the month of the sixth anniversary of the London bombings, I offer this sombre passage from my first novel. It's my only (published) 'literary' title, written long ago in my twenties. This latest edition has enabled a new lease of life.
Dealing with terminal illness in the way that it does, it may be surprising that the original sold better, and was borrowed from libraries oftener, than my genre works. If modestly, it attracted more media publicity and grateful letters from genuine readers than any of the others.
The story is not without humour, but is mainly of two opposing views of human existence, a contrast of light and dark; a testimony to the power of Hope. All Angel's natural assumptions and values are challenged as she stares death in the face and struggles to re-adjust her vision. We go with her through miscarriage and a tunnel of breakdown which opens upon a new landscape, bringing a renaissance that will carry beyond the grave. Why is she so sure? She knows.
But while Angel makes this interior odyssey, she sees in her condition some analogy with the cosmic unrest of our times.
But, daily, as I trod the earth's disintegrating crust, I knew it was a lie. The world was under sentence of death...
And mankind cast about for an answer and said: Where is God? God is dead. There is no God that such catastrophes occur, that the world’s goods are so badly apportioned...
Indeed God was dead, at least dead to the world. God’s House was empty, men’s houses were empty, empty and to let with vacant possession. But the plight of the homeless was mourned up and down. By day they forlornly wandered the streets and at night sought repose in the places of passage, in arcades, under bridges, on stations. There were houses enough and to spare, though not fit for habitation and too costly to repair. We have a new building programme, they were told. When New Jerusalem comes, you shall have palaces. You have only to step on the property ladder. So they went empty away, those who had nowhere to go, and the chaos was spread a little further abroad.
Then men said to themselves: What’s it all for? Why are we here? Where is the order, the sequence to contain us? To whom can we refer? And they invoked dubious gods to assuage their instincts for homage and protection, to whom they could ascribe powers not their own and who might be deemed to be in control. In medicine and science and systems of government, in financiers, in weird and wonderful philosophies, they put their trust.
And the doctors dealt out opiates to subdue anxiety and said: Come back in a fortnight if you do not feel better and can explain in six minutes where it hurts. The scientists said: We are on the brink of a discovery, but we need funds. And the politicians set up commissions on borrowed finance to investigate matters and said: We must redistribute the nation’s wealth. We must reverse the law of ‘to him that hath shall be given and to him that hath not shall be taken even that he hath’ for it is an unnatural law and contrary to the interests of the people. And they passed many laws to rectify wrongs. It was there, down on paper, that the wrongs had been rectified.
But the honey-tongued psychologists were perhaps the most beguiling of all. They readily acknowledged that humanity was bred from the clay and the mire and that what passed from dust to dust in a continuous revolution could not aspire to be gold. Nevertheless, they said, this is not Life. Life is not full of trauma and injustice. The problem lies buried in infancy when our forebears betrayed us.
These things sounded rational to ears that had grown attuned to sophistry. It was comforting to be absolved of all blame. They forgot that they had long ago denounced Adam and Eve as a myth and perceived no chink in their logic, only a drain on their resources. So they sat down and lamented their lot and were filled with self-pity because of the life others had denied them. They nursed their grievances assiduously in order to dispel guilt, but only became charged with frustration. Then they rose up and demanded their rights and the air was oppressive with factions contending for liberation. Terrorists devised weapons to make their point and laid them in the path of their brothers. In crowded places they were laid, in streets, aboard planes, beneath cars, in hotel foyers. Men went in fear of their lives and wives were widowed at night. The gutters flowed red and children were forbidden to venture outside. Men needed a scapegoat and many lives were sacrificed to appease their craving for expiation. Many were martyred for the cause, but where was he possessed of so great a love as to lay aside his life for his friend, to find life in losing it? The factions ran to mutually exclusive extremes in pursuit of that strangely inaccessible freedom. Revolution! they cried. More blood must be spilled! But what had they purchased but debts? Where was the life that was strangled out of existence so that life-swapping, wife-swapping and other desperate diversions were rife? Everywhere men were in chains. Hostages were daily held. The prisons were full to overflowing and even a life-sentence shrank to a very few years with good behaviour.
Houses were divided against themselves, the sons from the fathers, the wives from the husbands, upper from lower and sinister from dexter: houses, classes, parliaments, kingdoms, divided and cross-divided against their own allies and partisans. Because in warfare it is necessary to identify with one side or the other, to adopt a totalitarian view and become a pawn in the strategy. The price of life was death.
Yet mankind subscribed to the Truth it could not attain to. Kingdoms united in altruistic bonds of self-interest that by economic kinship they might lay claim to quantities of this world’s goods and defend themselves from the Enemy in concert. East and West came together around tables and made gestures of détente and it was there, down on paper, that goodwill was intended. Continent spoke peace to continent, but the plates of the earth drifted further apart.
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...