Sparrow Nights | David Gilmour | Book Review

December 13th, 2004 § 0 |

One of the best descriptions of a passionate woman I’ve read.


A première vue
, she seemed so immaculate, her body anyway, like a Chinese reed, slim, green-eyed, with that mop of straight blonde hair. But if you looked longer you noticed her slightly stooped posture, a button missing from her shirt cuff, here red sweater pulled up at the back; she was a woman who could leave a wet towel on a bed, so to speak. It must have been from her mother (we never got on) that she inherited a sensuality the like of which I’d never really encountered before. Not in so extreme a form anyway. Her lovemaking–and don’t worry, I’m not going embarrass either of us here—was a sort of schizophrenic experience. An authentically transforming event. Really, she carried on like a madwoman. She whispered, she swore, she blasphemed, she made demonic requests in a voice that was not her own. "Do you want to see my cunt?"…. Sometimes, after going to bed with Emma Carpenter, I wanted to call for an exorcist.

To be honest, it could make her somewhat exhausting, this capacity to be so taken over, this substitution of personalities, as if in the process of revealing herself, she was exposing to the sunlight an organ so delicate that it seemed still moist from its sheer internalness. And while she claimed to have been the one to terminate all her previous romances, I have always harboured the private suspicion that at least some of those men may have been rather relieved to see her go. One couldn’t have a comforting little screw with Emma just before one’s afternooon nap. No, it was the full spinning head and pea soup, so to speak.

But you quickly became addicted to it. You didn’t want her carrying on like that with anyone else.

Space for another quotation.

It struck me that my time with Emma had been a kind of gorgeous treading water but that her absence (follow me here) provided, in itself, a kind of happiness because it gave me a precise object of desire, without actually giving me the thing itself, the ultimate possession of which could only diminish the pleasure that came from wanting it so unequivocally. It was a pensée so exhausting that I had to take a taxi into town immediately.

Ribald anecdotes are delightful:

There were oddballs too, a hippied girl who followed me home from a lawn sale and after only the barest preliminaries asked me to spank her.

"How old are you?" I asked

"Twenty-eight," she said.

"Don’t you think this is, well, a little much for a first date?" She looked baffled. I went on. "Perhaps this is more like fifth- or sixth- date stuff."

Details of the spanking and absent Emma.

When my little hippie left the house, massaging her smouldering pink fanny, she gave her hair a toss like a pony and asked if I’d buy a dog collar and a doormat for next time. "I have a fantasy," she began, standing in the doorway. "I want to lie by your front door just like abig dog, an Afghan maybe, and wait for you to come home."….
"When I hear something at the door," she went on (it was all quite worked out), "I’ll jump up, like this"—now raising her hands to her chest and flopping them over like paws–"and if it’s justt the mailman, I’ll be so disappointed! I’ll just have to go back to my mat and lie down and wait some more."

I looked at her carefully. She didn’t seem insane. In fact, in her yellow summer dress, she was quite pretty, with a long face and freckles on her cheekbones. Perhaps it was a generational thing. Perhaps this was how young people got to know each other these days.

"I think you’re out of my league," I said softly, and touched her gently on the elbow.

"Oh," she said. "Goodbye then," and she offered me her cheek to kiss.

Raskolnikov/Humbert Humbert the narrator from Notes from Underground. Disconnection between love story and subsequent events.

Unbelievable that the protagonist wouldn’t just have the police intervene immediately after the burglary or at least after he was menaced by the Massage Parlor manager. The protagonist had nothing to fear with no wife and without a corporate job to protect. A tenured professor is free to see massage parlor hostesses or prostitutes as long as they are not students.

Which is another issue. Gilmour’s professors seem to sleep with students like it was the sixties and seventies. In my time at the University of Toronto, I knew only one woman sleeping with her professors. It was already verboten.

But that imaginary land is not such a problem. The inconsistencies in the protagonist’s character do wear however.l

After promising so much in the beginning, Sparrow Nights delivers so little. Sadly, the best of the novel is in this review. Better writing than in a detective story. One would expect the prose of a professor of French literature to be more refined, sentence structure more elaborate. Particularly as he mentions that he had been reading and appreciating Proust shortly narrating this story.

He reads more like a student of Hemingway.

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