“Remember You’re a One-Ball!” – by Quentin S. Crisp
posted Thursday, 27 May 2010
There is no guarantee how quickly it will take to complete this review.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the novel, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
On the back cover of this book is this quote:
“This novel confirms me in my belief that Crisp is the most important writer of his generation.” — Mark Samuels
I’m only pleased that QSC is not of my own generation but rather of my son’s! (27 May 10)
A previous DF Lewis review of a Quentin S. Crisp book: http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/all_gods_angels_beware__quentin_s_crisp.htm
1 Prologue — 10 I: Red-Blooded Heterosexual — 37 II: The Old Headmaster Chestnut — 51 III: School of Cruel Britannia — 73 IV: Mother, this is Jacqueline. Jacqueline, Mother. — 77 V: Staff Meetings and Marbles — 89 VI: One Fell Down — 115 VII: Secret Bunkers and Magic Numbers — 130 VIII: “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” — 178 IX: Mythological Inventory — 189 X: Enlightenment: A Critique — 203 XI: School Reunion — 213 XII: The Past Catches Up — 220 XIII: We Have It Taped — 236 XIV: Coming Home — 260 XV: Losers and Traitors — 264 XVI: A Bum Deal
pp 1 – 19
“Here on the path, though, even if I could not see back to a beginning, I could see progress, or change – the first signposts on the way to the realisation of that we call ‘the end’.”
Aptly, that seems to sum up the process of my general real-time reviewing over the last year or so. A sense of a new brand of retrocausality. As if I was simply destined to review this book and, indeed, I can relate to the qualms of life portrayed so far up to page 19. I once wrote a poem when I was more youthful entitled “Why Waist The Space?”. It was about me. It was about nobody. I anticipate, with some perhaps misplaced joy, the experience of reading this book as the protagonist approaches, so it seems, a teaching job at the Junior School he attended as a child. Meanwhile, I kick dust along the path. I hop along the pavement not daring to tread on the cracks between the slabs. And I feel for the protagonist as he enacts a self in an early sexual encounter amid “alliterative mantras” that are little more than meaningless onomatopoeia… (27 May 10 – three hours later)
pp 19 – 42
I have already decided that this novel is resonant with much that I can recognise about a certain mentality of ‘life’. It is wonderfully expressed in an appropriate mixture of simple objectivity and complex undercurrents (an optimum mixture, too, of subject-matter and the language expressing it). Although I am a generation ahead of the protagonist-narrator, that does not mean I cannot recognise the key signatures of his ethos. I, too, started the rat-race of life by falling at the very starting-blocks themselves.
Fundamentally, the scene of the narrator’s first(?) sexual encounter now memorably develops here (mixed with Jacqueline (the other party) as a ‘wet-nursing’ vision the narrator first sees in a school teacher-training situtation) wonderfuly conveyed, with no real holds barred regarding potential humiliation (astonishingly involving ‘sarcasm’ and ‘blackmail’) and standing outside the self and watching physical reflex-reactions towards interface of sexual body to body, person to person, mind to mind, sometimes the interface of reader to narrator… Masterful.
Here, today, at the point I break off reading the book, the narrator (seeking a teaching job) is about to hear the first words of the interviewer at the Junior School, a once young teacher (now the headmaster) who had taught the narrator when he was a child, now both of them grown older, of course…
I will try not to specify the actual events of the plot, from this point on, for fear of spoilers. I shall however allow my impressions to emerge naturally alongside what I already feel to be the narrator’s own sense of unknown eventualities. A life yet to be lived, or a section of a life, reported almost as it happens (albeit with the past participle). I gain much from not knowing what happens next. In fact it hasn’t happened yet till I read it. It could change, before I pick up the book again. Words shift on the page when you’re not looking at them and can motivate themselves to meet the reader’s mood (any reader) in real-time. Only great books give me that feeling of power. This one included…so far. (28 May 10)
pp 42 – 57
“I felt myself being held captive again by someone else’s image of me.”
This book rocks. ‘Blocks of Reality’ sort of rocks. I am drawn in completely and I am not sure whether it’s because it’s me or whether it would draw in any reader who happens to walk along its path. Aptly, I myself returned for the first time to my own Junior School grounds last year during the Summer holidays – and it is a very strange experience. This book conveys those feelings brilliantly as well as the “fleeting ghosts of mere event” that had intervened between me and those memories.
Here, now, we begin, I sense, the emergence of characters who possess a forbidding imminence within this novel, as well as immanence within a real life lying somewhere outside the novel, i.e. a ‘fey’ confusion or collusion between the I-narrator and another narrator further up the pecking-order of fictioneering towards the imputed head-lease author itself. Incidentally, I think, in this section, we are aware, for the first time, of the narrator’s name (Ramsey), an awareness described as a sort of ‘sting’. I shall refer to him as Ramsey hereon in. And I finish reading this morning with something akin to the earlier ‘alliterative mantra’ or Nursery Rhyme – not onomatopoeia so much as paranoia – chanted in the school playground as Ramsey patrols with his whistle. (29 May 10)
pp 57 – 82
Don’t talk to strangers. But the world itself is a stranger. So our misanthropic narrator tells us. That is a sort of enlightenment that this book is full of. Except it’s not strictly ‘light’.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
A hymn I sung in school assembly in the Nineteen Fifties. The Fifties seemed even darker. With no colour injections for the poor. But that is a digression on my part.
Ramsey scribbles notes at home on playground lore (following the rhyme he heard) and has a ‘difficult’ child called Norman put in his class. There are other things going on in this book but as a good reviewer I will not tell you about them. You will have to read this book for yourself to reach beyond what I deem forbidden or esoteric.
I am really in tune with this novel. And there’s a brilliant scene when Ramsey takes Jacqueline to meet his Mother (what a brilliantly portrayed Mother). And his own boyhood bedroom takes on a character all of its own. My own boyhood bedroom is now ‘ultra vires’ so this was a good surrogate bedroom for me. Seriously, this novel is getting at me in a very strange way. I have not yet read any other reviews of it (including the Foreword in the book itself). I can’t wait to see if I am alone in my reactions to it. (29 May 10 – four hours later).
I forgot – the book’s theme of retrocausality was demonstrated in the previous section: “…Jacqueline, in her girlish playfulness, had managed to reach back in time…” into that boyhood bedroom and, to my mind, changed it in real-time. (29 May 10 – another hour later)
pp 82 – 104
“…it was as if reality had somehow been twisted back on itself so that I was confronted with myself in another time.”
The puppetry of deja-vu followed by the slow motion puppetry of an accident in real-time seen in sharp fiction-retrospect. The crux of the novel, I guess. (Only guess).
Norman is so well conveyed, he pitifully seems to have spasms for real. He literally jumps off the page at you – but, sadly, has to fall back on to it. The others (the Headmaster and our Ramsey and Simon the hero soldier who has come to teach the kids a special P.E. lesson) are at this point mere bystanders in comparison. (29 May 10 – another 6 hours later)
Not started reading the book again today yet, but it occurred to me that ‘Remember You’re a One-Ball!’ is a sort of palimpsest of time, and one example: the ‘two’ Junior Schools, the same but different. A bit like watching old TV programmes from when we were much younger. And this reminds me of QSC’s Ynys-y-Plag published in ‘All God’s Angels, Beware!’ (“You can judge for yourself how well I did, by turning the pages and comparing ‘Traces I’ with ‘Traces II'”)… (30 May 10)
pp 104 – 129
“I shall tell you – there is always a third figure.”
I dare not take you into the realms of this book fully without you having the ‘benefit’ of its full context. That stricture, however, rather diminishes the ability to do a proper real-time review. Suffice it to say, I am in the thick of it now. I can’t retreat and a part of me dare not go forward. Here the inner laws of Playground Lore (hinted at before), the esoteric matters I couldn’t divulge earlier, the care one needs to feel and then demonstrate towards living roadkill, the rage against bullying, the (what I call) Astrological Harmonics upon flesh and mind, even when it’s only bits of your flesh, bottled and exhibited in front of reticent souls and human shapes…. That does not give a clear picture of the plot but it does of the state of my reader’s mind, here, ‘in media res’ – with half the book still to read. I will, however, mention the specifics of Thirds in literature. I encountered this first in the fiction of Elizabeth Bowen*…
Hopefully, I can be more up front with my review in later sections of this astonishing and frighteningly poignant book. (30 May 2010 – three hours later)
*THIS touches on Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘shadowy third’.
pp 130 – 142
“The mere act of reading seemed like an escape that had gone wrong midway…”
My relationship with this book is akin to the same correlations that Ramsey himself is making – as if I’m in battle with the book in the playground and I hear the chants of ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!…’ in the background. And, like Ramsey, I need to clear the decks of other more artificial relationships in the real-time world of people before I can get to grips with the reality of the text in greater privacy and then grasp its implications…. The book is almost like a rubber file that keeps the impress of my fingers in its pliable spine and sides … and people will point and jeer at me when they know I have handled it as proved by the unique fingerprints. (30 May 10 – another 2 hours later)
pp 142 – 157
“Some of the children were making sounds impossible to record phonetically…”
Jotters with secrets on (they called them ‘blotters’ in my day) and dustbins used as filing or postal way-stations. Ramsey searches his memory about the past and a school friend of his and Bagpuss and the spitefulness of girls and (perhaps to my mind alone) some mysterious binary code with bits missing.
Tell-tale tits and a secretly documented systematic sports injury (like a chanted skipping-game?) to retrocause deficiencies in most boys to harbour for when they grow older and even more miserabilist? I puzzle over what I am reading but, overall, I am enthralled by possible Jungian undercurrents I sense underlying those old fuzzy mis-scrolling small-screen black and white puppet shows on TV I used to watch on TV before TV people got cleverer with doing TV and gave things pink and white stripes. (30 May 10 – another 3 hours later)
pp 157 – 166
Combining memory and a school file from the time, Ramsey recounts, for our benefit, primary source interviews with the then headmaster and direct experience narrative (all of which is ‘fiction’ to us but filtered into truth via various authorial ‘baffles’ to interrupt or ease the flow of events) concerning the eventual de-bagging of that erstwhile school friend (not a friend really but one of those kids whom one shares a past with at ‘Primary’ School) and the spitefulness of child-evil interactions so typical of our memories of them when filtered by time as an extra ingredient in the mix of transmission to our present (but still fluid) selves. But who is the most skilful at this: the author or the narrator? Who invented whom? (31 May 10)
pp 166 – 184
“It was almost as if there were an actual plot against him.”
Continued bleakness, induced semi-obliqueness, ‘third’ party admissions via kept counselling records, Ramsey makes this story of a previous school ‘friend’ doubly unbearable. A narrator who also puts it on us to carry these things in our own minds. Too late now to retreat. A mind like a carelessly kept attic or loft of memorabilia where the throat of sound is a stylus dropping on to tight dusty spirals within long-abandoned vinyl.
“I saw a great rock from some unknown quarter of the unspeakable darkness of eternity…” (31 May 10 – eight hours later)
More discoveries in that dusty attic of childhood’s artefacts are seen in interface (across the river space between two chapters – a chapter being a sort of guild or secret club)… in interface with telephonic tantrums from Jacqueline. It would be over-forward of me to comment on those discoveries in the attic. Ramsey has now told me, but he hasn’t told you. Da da da-da da! You haven’t bought the book yet? Ummm, I’m going to tell! (The book itself has a Foreword that I have not yet read. Forewords are unashamedly forward, too). (31 May 10 – another 2 hours later)
pp 190 – 205
“Vast but nebulous anxieties continued to hover about me, as if those webs had turned into titanic wings and filled up the sky.”
Ramsey questions the shadowy ‘I’ (or its ‘third’ – the nemo*) via a sort of Buddhist(?) self-help book planted by the headmaster amid the files – files on the school ‘friend’ from the past – that he lent Ramsey. This has a paradoxically counter-unproductive effect of him making a Ligottian-type journey to a town called Endminster and I leave him there, temporarily, so I can write this, upon the fulcrum of facing the certainty of facing that face from the past, i.e. the ‘face’ from the files. (Repetition of ‘face’ to mirror the gauche style of the self-help face book.)
*”The nemo is an evolutionary force, as necessary as the ego. The ego is certainty, what I am; the nemo is potentiality, what I am not. But instead of utilizing the nemo as we would utilize any other force, we allow ourselves to be terrified by it, as primitive man was terrified by lightning. We run screaming from this mysterious shape in the middle of our town, even though the real terror is not in itself, but in our terror at it.”
— John Fowles 1964 (from ‘The Necessity of Nemo’ in ‘The Aristos’) (1 June 10)
pp 205 – 223
“…she looked like no one so much as Victoria Beckham.”
It’s hard sometimes to be a reader when you know there are things going on that are so utterly sad it makes your own life unworthwhile to dwell on such things for long. However, when this is coupled with an urgency or a code that speaks to each reader alone in possibly different ways, you feel urged to comply, to face the text and try to absorb it fully even if that means depleting your very soul for good. After all, you may be the most important reader of all as only you can ‘read’ the ultimate message in the text. You are possibly the essential ‘third’ to complete the Trinity or Tenancy of Truth along with the imputed head-lease author (Quentin S. Crisp) and the real-time narrator (Ramsey Blake). (1 June 10 – an hour later)
pp 224 – 247
Things are taking an astonishing turn. I thought there were no turns more astonishing than the turns already turned in this book – but here, as if prepared by earlier turns, we reach what surely must be the ultimate turn in this tale of what I dub ‘plumb-paranoia’. That’s my expression, not the book’s. And echoes of the much earlier ‘wet-nursing’ in a forever memorable catharsis that does the impossible: combines truth and non-truth without compromising either. Indeed, however primed you are to experience some of these later scenes and emotions, you will never have been primed enough. Even if this book is directly about you and your own experiences that you readily recognise (the author having read your file by esoteric or synchronous means), you will still be quite shocked and taken aback, I am sure. (1 June 10 – another 2 hours later)
pp 247 – 270
“How many more of these unexploded mines were there left?”
A good question. There should only be one mine, though, although it depends where or when I’m looking from.
This is a singular novel. It is both a warm collusion and a cold wet dug, each a synergy or symbiosis within the Synchronised Shards of Random Truth and Fiction. You won’t forget reading this book. Many of you may regret reading this book. Call it a conspiracy or circumcision of the soul … or the knots or ligotti that one ties in preparation for the various puppets that are ‘you’ to hang from. An experience and a half. No, let’s not over-blow it: an experience and a third. I always said to my Mummy when I was very young and sitting on her fulsome lap listening to nursery rhymes: “I love you all the money in the world … [after a pause and a grin] plus sixpence.”
I am just wondering the significance of our Minister of Education or, as he was later known, Secretary of State for Children having been (until the last week or so when this book was published) a man by the name of Ed Balls. Someone must have read his file. (1 June 10 – another 2 hours later)
“You are not your name, not your body, not your various actions – not even your soul or self. Just dig and see, haul back what you find. And try not laugh or cry when, from the core of reality, you reveal the true nature of ‘you’.”
— Lope de Vega (my loose translation – I did Spanish at ‘A’ Level in 1966)