Tuesday, January 14, 2014

'it’s a familiarity bred not of understanding, but of the Unheimlich'

This essay sinks into soggy self-focused sentimentalism at the end, but the beginning is grand (also does nobody remember the rules about spelling out numbers anymore? WHERE ARE THE COPYEDITORS) (on the breadlines):

A word can mean a whole book.

It’s rare but happens, a book using a word enough and so well as to have invented the word, even if the word was already in the dictionary, so that the word becomes the world of the book, in yours.“Pneumatic” is ever the sex in Brave New World, “languorous” the slack line of beauty in Lolita. In The Secret History, Donna Tartt’s first and thrilling novel, “chill” is not slang, is not cool or alright, and is not just a temperature, either, or a thing on the flesh, but the flesh itself—a clean subcutaneous dread.

The prologue, a murder scene remembered, has “the first chill of the snow.” On the 10th page are “the bright, chill mezzanines” of shopping malls in Plano, where our narrator, Richard Papen, was raised. On page 22, at Hampden College in New Hampshire, is “a chill distaste” on the lips of Henry, leader of the Homer-otic scholars who’ll make our Richard’s fate. On page 63 we see “far-off bonfires, sharp with the edge of a twilight chill.” On page 64, a “chill and early dark.” On page 88, “those chill afternoons when the sky was like lead and the clouds were racing” and on page 119, “the slightest chill,” at which Richard’s bones, years later, ache. “With a small chill,” on page 166, he remembers a clue to his undoing he’d ignored, while on 233 the answer’s “so obvious it [gives him] a chill” and on 238 he’s “disturbed by a chill undertow of reality.” Furthermore: “chill sunlight” (247); “a strange mixture of chill and warmth” (283); “the chill air” (441); “with a chill I recognized…” (494).

To un-chill oneself from The Secret History takes a long time and still might not happen.

- "Donna Tartt's The Secret History"