42 thoughts on “Other Voices, Other Rooms

  1. Chapter 1

    “Here and there in the mellow dark fireflies signalled one another as though messaging in code.”

    Noon City. Cute, girlish Joel, old enough to be on his own in a bar but young enough to be refused alcohol. Now about to live with his father in a mysterious house, mysterious place, after living his life before with his aunt. You only need to read the blurb on the back of the book to get the bones of the plot and its setting. I don’t need to repeat it here. The style, meanwhile, published in the year I was born, is couched as if it is real immovable literature that has always been crystallised on the page of a Penguin book from even before it was written. Jesus Fever and the mulecart, too. The twin girls 12 or 13, one good, one bad, one flirting with Joel, the other not. ‘Niggers and negroes’, taken for granted, and a decided feel for the ambiance of a place like Alabama in those days. Entrancing. Intrigued by what he will find at the house called Skully’s Landing. They don’t tell you everything on book summary blurbs. Nor will I in this real-time review. I may not say anything at all, other than what I’ve already said. Don’t hold your breath, but I am sure I am going to find it a great book. That’s all you need to know. Of course, I MIGHT say more about it when I read more of it.

  2. Opening of Chapter 2

    “Falling . . . falling . . . falling! a knifelike shaft, an underground corridor, and he was spinning like a fan blade through metal spirals; at the bottom, a yawning-jawed crocodile followed his downward whirl with hooded eyes: as always, rescue came from wakefulness. The crocodile exploded in sunshine. Joel blinked and tasted his bitter tongue and did not move; the bed, an immense four-poster with different rosewood fruits carved crudely on its high headboard, was suffocatingly soft and his body had sunk deep in its feathery center. Although he’d slept naked, the light sheet covering him felt like a wool blanket.”

    I have only read this first paragraph so far of Chapter 2, and I promise not to make such long quotes from the book again. But I think that it must show the sheer incomparable power of this book suddenly taking off as young Joel wakes up, I guess, in Skully’s Landing, even more powerful by our not yet knowing the circumstances of his arrival there the night before nor whom he had already met. Plunged, I infer, straight into the main scenario of this book with only vague hints in Chapter 1 about its nature. (We don’t even get hints when we are plunged from pre-birth into life, though.)

  3. Chapter 2 – up to “to feed you.”

    “Joel loved any kind of souvenir, and it was his nature to keep and catalogue trifles.”

    This text is a revelation and I am already pleased this book has been recommended to me. A gossamer ambiance, but with iron poker intrusions, mixing Proust, Dickens, Bronte, Du Maurier and ‘The Secret Garden’. I will not itemise the plot but only tell you how I am affected as we go through it together. I imagine this book itself had its own “music room and the dancers” that once existed beyond its confining covers. Or still does?

  4. Rest of Chapter 2

    “Another hall, another door.”

    Exquisite, and I sense it was a magical instinct I had about a ‘Secret Garden’ ambiance in this text, in a large house of ‘peepholes’, as Joel glimpses an unknown face from a window, amid the text’s own gorgeous harmony of structural semantics. I also love the character Missouri (Zoo) Fever, a coloured girl of the world, whom Joel does meet properly face to face. Meanwhile, he fears his still unencountered father is spying on him and calling him ‘the little faker’.

  5. Thanks for being the one who recommended this book to me, Tony.

    Chapter 3

    “The on-off flash of Zoo’s gold tooth made Joel’s heart suddenly like a rock rattling in his chest, for it suggested to him a certain winking neon sign: R.R. Oliver’s Funeral Estb. Darkness. R.R. Oliver’s Funeral Estb. Darkness.”

    This book is now in exponential heat-seeking mode – for a short cut to your heart. I don’t think you will find that claim pretentious on my part, when you read this chapter’s scene depicting Zoo Fever’s ‘Service’ to which she has invited young Joel, along with her ancient grandpa Jesus Fever.

    A mixture of our soaring away from – and complaining at what still binds us to – the earth.

    In the context, these are iconic passages, making me feel as if I have just finished reading them for the first time when still most impressionable as a young person myself. And now for the first time as an old person, too.

  6. I will try to do so, one day, Tony. By the way, thanks for telling me elsewhere that Capote loved the writing of Elizabeth Bowen (my favourite ever writer of fiction). I can now certainly tell! And I am surprised that I hadn’t fully appreciated this when I wrote the earlier list of Proust, Dickens etc. to whom should now be added Bowen. The comparisons between the work of these two contemporaries are remarkable, judging by this Capote work so far.


    “‘All children are morbid: it’s their one saving grace,’ said Randolph,”

    I am running out of superlatives for this reading experience. And the sense of Bowenesque fracture or fragmentation is now more evident, with many of my own inferences as to what is going on in this house now coming together as we meet Cousin Randolph and his persona, call it louche, call it role-playing, and the sense of the potential relationships involved, even before we meet Joel’s father.
    This chapter is a master stroke, especially when combined with the baroque harmonies of the descriptions and our knowledge, too, of Joel himself growing as we try to differentiate between his tall tales and, later, the far-fetched visions that he pretends to himself are real while all the time we wonder if they are indeed real or ghosts…

  7. A friend recently got told Capote was being taken from the shelves as no one was reading him. I found this heartbreaking, especially as for me I found reading anyone since him hard to enjoy.

  8. Let’s see what we can do about that, Tony! By the way, if you had to choose a favourite collection of his stories, which would you choose?

    CHAPTER 5 – up to “spidersilk shrouded all.”

    “(if Mr Mystery comes to the Nemo this summer write and tell all about it)”

    I love the way we think we get some info from Joel when reading his letter to a friend but later we find out, from a different letter to Ellen, that he has still not met his father. But which do we believe? Joel is not an unreliable narrator but perhaps the first example in literature of an unreliable third person singular protagonist!
    I also love the CLOUD HOTEL of yore (and the Drownin Pond) – where I keep my guest documents on the web? It is a vision’s stunning mix of Proust, Last Year at Marienbad and Tim Nickels.
    The name of Skully’s Landing reminds me of when I was a kid – and the dark landing at the top of the stairs in the balconied house, where I lived as a toddler, was where I kept things that I didn’t want to go inside my head,

    “All the hermits Joel had ever heard about were unfriendly say-nothings. Not Little Sunshine:”

    • The rest of Chapter 5

      “Joel had known and explored other houses quiet with emptiness, but none so deserted-looking, silent: it was as though the place were captured under a cone of glass;”

      Interaction refreshingly with the feisty twin girls followed by a sinister discovery back at Skully’s Landing…

  9. Chapter 6

    “…best hold still and let me cut this hair: can’t have you running round here looking like some ol gal: first thing you know, boy, folks is gonna say you got to wee wee squattin down.”

    This is another chapter that is staggeringly beautiful, as well as holding glimpses of indecency.
    Not only another red ball being thrown into the book but also the first time it is aimed straight into my dreamcatcher.

  10. Chapter 7

    “‘There’s lots you don’t know. All kinds of strange things … mostly they happened before we were born: that makes them seem to me so much more real.'”

    That seems significant since I happened already to start this review by putting this book in context as published in the year I was born, and the above passage continues in the very next paragraph with:

    “Before birth; yes, what time was it then? A time like now, and when they were dead, it would still be like now: these trees, that sky, this earth, those acorn seeds, sun and wind, all the same, while they, with dust-turned hearts, change only.”

    And, unless you have already read this book, all YOU will know are the hints of strange things and that Joel is swaddled in the dream, as he sees it, of Skully’s Landing and its denizens, while off fishing with one of the twin girls, in whose hands his awakening from that dream is like becoming plasticine (my word, not the book’s), or at least a good hair-shampooing and mutually naive nudity.

  11. Chapter 8

    “Now that is a most interesting question: whatever became of me?”

    While painting a portrait of Joel, Randolph, with his lethargic wisdom, gives a monologue that represents his Thomas-Mannish (Proust-like, too) memory of personal unrequited love, and the epiphany of those events that bear on his current life of open death (my expression, not the book’s).
    In this room, Randolph’s room, where this scene takes place, is what I see as a collection of Ligottian dolls. A Cathrian objective correlative.
    And there is also talk of a Dolores dream book.
    This book itself is a sort of dream book, too, with real emotions and events floating on top.

    “…’all difficult music must be heard more than once.'”

    “…the story had been like a movie with neither plot nor motive;”

  12. Chapter 9 and Chapter 10 up to ‘bad boy bad!’

    “‘Rock my rocker, son,’ he said in a reedy voice, ‘it’s kinda restful like…makes me feel I’m ridin in a wagon and got a long way to go.'”

    That must be the most poignant few words ever uttered in the lead up to death, in or out of good literature.
    In many ways the Zoo and Jesus Fever sub-plot is the main plot as it has so many ramifications on those who call ’em ‘niggers’. Missing them when they go. Nothing so sad under the moon tree, I guess.
    Meanwhile, Joel inherits another ‘souvenir’ to go with the others: a valued sword up to which he needs to live.
    More red tennis balls as real balls as well as objective correlatives, when Joel dwells on someone else’s not dying but dead eyes if still alive. That someone who could listen to this novel and a train timetable and still gain equal pleasure. But of course he’s in the novel where it says that.

  13. The rest of Chapter 10

    “Joel was sorely let down, for he thought this alas was the Cloud Hotel, but then Idabel said no,…”

    Idabel who was the bad but now the good twin and Joel make false starts for some naive ‘escape’ together and there is some distaff bravery with Joel’s own sword against a deadly snake that certainly strikes me as being one of those significant moments in all literature – comparable (however much otherwise unalike) to Pip first meeting Magwitch or first entering the house with the cobwebbed residue of an ancient wedding feast in Great Expectations. Only in certain books can characters and scenes remain iconic forever, and I claim that this captivating Capote work is one of them.

  14. Des, the scene with the sword, for me, was one of the high points of my reading life. So..heraldic, mythic. Few books I have read have been as purely imaginative as this.

  15. There are so many objective correlatives, each resonating and co-resonating, to itemise them or explain them might destroy their tenuous shimmer as, say, stone, bluejay feather, cold bone moon or green tissue-thin stationery. I do not know Green Knowe…

    Chapter 11

    “‘But Randolph…Randolph I FEEL as though it were my birthday.'”

    I keep expecting a ‘Rosebud’-like objective correlative to turn up and here indeed we have the writing on some ‘green tissue-thin stationery’ which revolves the whole carousel towards an abortive ‘elopement’ with Idabel via the carnival and a different climactic cinematic Hitchcock-like vision upon a fairground ride (is this the Cloud Hotel, I wonder?) towards the skies with one of the carnival freaks instead. But not really a freak, but a poignant groping for a requital of love. I have indeed run out of superlatives to describe the emotional iconicity of this book.

    “…as though a tide had receded leaving him dry on a beach white as bone, and it was good at last to have come from so grey so cold a sea.”

  16. Goodness, the first Green Knowe quote I come across;
    “The moon shone in the rocking horse’s eye, and in the mouse’s eye, too, when Tolly fetched it out from under his pillow to see. The clock went tick-tock, and in the stillness he heard little bare feet running across the floor, then laughter and whispering, and a sound like the pages of a big book being turned over. ”
    ― L.M. Boston, The Children of Green Knowe

    • I call it preternatural?
      The synchronised shards of random truth and fiction.
      Although shard is too hard?
      I have now finished reading the book and I am about to prepare my final entry below. But, as an aside, I was strongly reminded of your cover for ‘Horror Without Victims’, particularly in the last chapter (the passage from ‘a crazy elation’ to ‘suddenly dizzy’).

  17. Chapter 12

    “…he came at a gallop, and lunged, splintering the balcony’s rail.”

    If I had predicted at the beginning that Jesus Fever’s mule would become a central figure at the end, I would have deemed myself mad. But it works perfectly.
    Also when I wrote ‘Rosebud’ above, I had no idea that I would meet Mr Mystery’s ‘sleigh’ in this chapter!
    And what a life-changing read this has truly been.

    In this final chapter, Joel’s post-carnival delirium of a real ‘zoo fever’ where all the protagonist humanity in this book – with their names appended – are caged within his mind, hopefully later to be uncaged. And Zoo herself makes significant monologue in her garble that outdoes Lady Macbeth or her witches, I guess. Another horror without a victim.
    And here the words ‘other voices, other rooms’ come home to roost in this book’s Cloud Marienbad, describing which they are used. And the actual last few paragraphs about the window of Skully’s Landing where that unknown face was glimpsed at the very beginning of the book – something that would be a crime to spoil here – are utterly utterly something else, not that you wouldn’t have guessed already.

    I am genuinely awestruck. Nobody doing a review of this book could possibly convey everything that makes it so special. And I would have doubtless missed some resonances and function rooms completely, too. There are so very many things to notice in this relatively short tardis of a novel. I only hope I have done sufficient justice to it.

    “It was easier not to know, better holding heaven in your hand like a butterfly that is not there at all.”

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