A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On April 13, 1997 a book review in the NY Times caught my eye. I cut it out. Six months later, on October 12, I snipped a NY Times last page Bookend called The History of the Historical Novel. A couple of years later I found a pocket book version of Andrew Miller's Ingenious Pain at the Granville Book Company. Soon after I saw a pristine (used) first edition hardcover and snapped it up (see below, right). This story of an 18th century surgeon, James Dyer, who is born without the "ability" to feel pain obsessed me to the point that I stayed up and read it in one night. Ingenious Pain is one of the most original period novels I have read and it compares most favourably with Daphne Du Maurier's House on the Strand.

...Where's your sense boy!'

James, figuring himself to be immensly high. immensly distant, finds it hard to believe they are pointing at him, waving too, sharp downward movements of their hands as though droving the air. He steps higher, to the V of two fragile branches. Their waving is more insistent. Joshua shouts like a distant cannon. James leans from the tree. The shouting stops. Even their hands freeze in front of them. He feels as if, stepping out, he will have no difficulty in flying. He stretches out his arms, gazes into the far ends of the afternoon. His weight passes a line, fine as a human hair, and then he is flying, amazingly fast into the green sky, and then nothing, nothing but the memory of flight, faint and fading, and the iron taste of blood in his mouth.

Ingenious Pain, Andrew Miller

The book has been in my thoughts this last week. My terrible cold has persisted, past a second month and last week I was preparing myself a cup of tea. I was thinking of my very good Ahmad cardamom tea and when I opened the plain blue pottery container I could not smell anything. I went for the other blue container (Ahmad Earl Gray) and I smelled nothing. I asked Rosemary to tell me which one was which. Since last week I have not been able to smell or taste anything. I have been trying to enjoy my food using my memory and an awarenes of texture such as last night's melon with prociutto. Tea is warm and sweet. Prociutto partially salty and my extremely hot Macarico Piri Piri poured into scrambled eggs elicits not even a mild jolt in my mouth or anywhere else.

Surely taste and smell will come back! Surely Rebecca and I will be able to glory in the scent of Rosa'Fair Bianca' or our mystery peony! And what if our Magnolia grandiflora which has to yet bloom in our garden decides to do so this year? Will this most heavenly of scents be retrievable from my imagination? There is a saving grace, unlike poor surgeon James Dyer who feels no pain, I have, at least the potential for a memory of scent and taste. The pain of remebrance, will that be sufficient?

Some years ago when my eldest daughter Ale started my filing system she filed the above gentleman sniffing the wine under Wine Sniffer. I took the shot so long ago Vancouver Magazine that I do not recall the gentleman's name.

I am most sorry that both links to the book articles in the NY Times above might randomly demand access through free membership. The alternative is for me to cut and paste those articles (which I can readily see as I have both a paid, hard copy subscription and I am a member of the on line version) would get me into potential copyright problems.


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