32 thoughts on “Patience – Toby Litt

  1. 1979

    Pages 7 – 23

    “I am never bored.”

    A quite staggering opening to this book.
    Beyond what I shall call WHITER’s block. Someone, I infer, looking at the pure white page, later filling it with thoughts by dint of print or handwriting. The language flows like Gerard Manley Hopkins without the neologisms or difficult words, blended with Beckett and with naivety of a boy called Elliott who seems to be writing it. And gradually we gather the gestalt of Elliott, not that we ever will, I guess. A synaesthesia of observation via the whiteness of whitewash and whoever painted it over the years and eventually ‘painted’ upon it we see the children like him looked after by Religious Sisters, mixing the wildness of madness with the counterpoint of restraint. Sense and sensitivity and sometimes sick sensibility. Disarmingly inchoate but often structured into flowing simple sentences without punctuation, but also so easy and pleasurable to read. I am captivated by inferred boredom, a boredom filled with pareidolia, apophenia and childhood incident. Well, at least MY pareidolia and apophenia. And a sense of Elliott’s physical constraints or props…

    “My visual field changed you see according to which shoulder my heavy head was resting upon although this was something I did not myself get to choose.”

  2. —> Page 27

    Deeper and deeper into Elliott’s unique transcription of his own thoughts if not deliberate beliefs (merely autonomous beliefs?) via Litt, vis à vis the Holy Trinity, “prayers that ended in ejaculations”, the spasms of Christ on the cross akin to his own crippled state or “krukrukk” (?), the despair of self-identified selfishness and only the ability to “take take take”, and the World Ward Championship of blowing bubbles at the age of 13 in front of the Sisters. Also his autonomous rêvelation, arguably, on today’s world: “…not that they were lying because they were bless them all saying the very thing they believed…” Do please read the rest of that passage! Meanwhile, you will no doubt need patience yourself in following this real-time review and please forgive any spoilers, however much I intend to suppress them.

  3. —> Page 30

    Miraculously, just after I made the second cross-reference above, I have now read the next few pages of Patience, dealing with Elliott’s view of the art of truth and imagination “Within the white wall”: mind-painting, too, with brush in mouth an abstract. Dappled with “gradual changes of the light upon the white wall.” Exquisitely Proustian moments within these few pages. Synaesthetic, too.

  4. —> Page 39

    “By the afternoon Jim arrived I had become very good at being patient so good that I expected to be able to live out the rest of my time on that ward…”

    Or ‘on that wOrd’, being patient as well as A patient? Meanwhile, I was always bound to be swept off my literary feet by any book that mentions the “soundworld” of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony 6 and Kindertotenlieder! And echoes — if it is only me that can hear them! — of Thomas Mann, the classical music in his Dr Faustus and the sanatorium wards in his Magic Mountain. Meanwhile, again, Elliott (telepathically?) witnessing and interpreting other patients or inmates themselves witnessing visions in the white wall, such as shipwrecks and hazy semantics of the word ‘land’. Resonances of “wheeled me and put on the brake. I was close to the white wall…”, the sororal “every burden is a gift”, Elliott’s wff and hff speech versus his writing, and who, I ask, is this ‘Jim’ the arrival of whom seems to be timed by the number of receipts of birthday or Christmas cards yet to precede such an arrival?

  5. —> Page 50

    “Being changed is just that being changed as a being a thing in a profound way but on the surface level it is a humiliation…”

    This somehow gets better and better, as we continue to see life in the wards through Elliott’s eyes, and one Christmas Jim arrives, and the emergence of him is a masterstroke of being seen, not that we can see the wards’ life through HIS eyes; it is as if his eyes have been fazed or phased out by the dots seen by Luke concurrently in King’s The Institute. Luke, who is also being humiliated. These two books have nothing in common at root, yet they have everything in common, so far, by dint of me reading them roughly at the same time. Also some striking scenes in this section of the Litt pages, where Elliott oversees a ‘changing’ contest, between Sisters’ who change nappies or diapers best, flippety flip flippety fluff, not arf! And the sad tale of a Sister who left a girl patient in the bath too long untended… changing, though, is half the battle. And you will need patience to truly grasp the nature of Jim, unless you finish the book before I do. And I am determined to continue suppressing plot spoilers, in any event.

  6. —> Page 61

    You know, you will have to read these priceless passages for yourself, equivalent to a Joycean Molly’s Monologue in Elliott-style, about the crudely Banksy-like blue-biro graffiti in an Arndale Centre disabled loo and the green McDonald’s gherkin thrown at a coach window behind which we sit alongside Elliott. A steadfast inchoeaten gherkin. And his inchoate sexual awakening thoughts, the ones about Lise and her knees…. and one’s reading brain gradually gets the inchoeatable word-rhythms of this book…. the parthenogenetic spirting of virgin milk et al.

  7. —> Page 74

    “…in greens that were doorways to shy sly gardens of other greens that tree green had only hinted at.”

    Moments or a single moment, that seem exquisitely to bring back what I said earlier above in this review about the flow of words by Gerald Manley Hopkins, here, for me, somehow now blended with parts of Eliot’s (not Elliott’s) Four Quartets… Dylan Thomas, too? Jim acting as a blind goalkeeper in the inmates’ corridor game of Sockball. Jim who also acts as apotheosis or catalyst of a “dream wheelie” by Elliott on his wheelchair as part of manoeuvres in the game. A game eventually of perceived greenfinch greens on lino lines. On the cusp of a new friendship? Crowblack-silhouettes or interleaved feathers of green against a white wall? Beauty-eruptions. To match the head explosions here earlier today.

  8. —> Page 90


    …and thus has sort of proceeded my gestalt real-time reviewing over the years. Seeking some sort of God, and I admire the taking for granted here by Elliott of his Catholic God, and the rituals involved as he gets a closer look at Jim, a gradual rapprochement or accretive jigsaw in these pages, knowing as if by osmosis as well as evidence that “he was an institutional boy just like the institutional boy I had myself started to become all those nine Christmases ago”, Jim as a hero perhaps to be worshipped or more, the ceiling as membrane or tympanum, Jim the happy-maker who stood by his lines even though he couldn’t see them in games only feel them, the patience of the fisher, the endemic rhythms of Steve Reich, the moonlight and the mothlight, the bone-conscious skeleton, being good AT nothing not FOR it. The jigsaw shifts into shape beautifully, patiently. “But was he dead?”

  9. —> Page 100

    “…and despairing at us all having to live in such a fallen and constantly falling universe thump.”

    The incident, the accident, the generous spillage of bright blood, the princesses, the consequent lipstick – is it a coincidence that the word ‘redeem’ begins ‘red’? And Jim’s eventual rescue from death, even possible deblinding. Elliott’s suspense of waiting with stretchy and twitchy and trogging sense of time about Jim’s resurrection, not only by dint of Mahler, but now a Schubert song, obliquely by Messiaen’s birdsong. Elliott is a believable mix of inchoateness and intellectuality. Perhaps a character that should go down in literary history, like Joyce’s young man as an artist, Dickens’ Smike… I can think of several famous characters, but none can really equate to the uniqueness of Elliott. Jim’s skull and Humpty Dumpty (cf Tem’s “even with their advanced methods of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again” in his HEAD EXPLOSIONS concurrently reviewed here) and emotional semaphores by someone’s ponytail swishes…a sick dizziness “…no longer just a wound but a baby pink lesion with orange details like Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings…”

  10. —> Page 112

    “…and perhaps because Jim thought he was comforting a girl he’d hurt so I squeezed as hard as I could to tell him I was a boy.”

    I hesitate to say this for fear of the passion or hyperbole of the real-time moment in reading a book, but this is probably one of the most poignantly and visually effective and moving, slowly moving, too, moments in literature, as rapprochement of Jim and Elliott reaches inchoate fruition, with ‘my’ hum-singing as Elliott trying to articulate and Jim’s corridor blindness by wooden gate and clumsy emotions of feistiness and cross purpose, and the ricochet upon my nose. The mixed blood, the mixed message. Supremely done. And I think of Swift’s Houyhnhnms, intelligent horses seeming appropriate with the bloody nose somehow and the dignity of humanity pervading even the most inchoate. Especially as part of my vocal enunciation almost went unnoticed without speech marks: “Hnyhmm.” As more of my hum-singing.

  11. —> Page 123

    “…like a work of twelve-tone Viennese serialism as far as I understand it plink plonk accompanying me through my prayers my change dressing Mass Ready Brek and snickety-wheel-along to the horse’s usual stall the wall…”

    I have long said (evidentially) that an Anton Webern piece every morning at breakfast sets a soul up for the coming day! Well, Elliott now seems more to be living a life as part of a Mozart Horn Concerto. As he waits patiently or even less than patiently for some sort of blood redemption alongside Jim. By the wooden gate. That defiant symbol of God and the opposite of God. Elliott’s struggle to manage articulate sounds is only one aspect of this spiritual battle. A form of inferred telepathy, too, between the two main protagonists is in the mode of what I am concurrently reading about in King’s The Institute — or at least a form of mutual horse-whispering. Some mighty passages in these pages that deserve the attention of all readers of modern literature.

  12. —> Page 134

    “Here is where a hero would become a hero by refusing to be anywhere but Here…”

    This is essential stuff. Whether “blood brothership” or destructive symbiosis, I now see I was meant to spot that earlier near hidden Hnyhmm now dropped gift-like between the pair’s synergy, even though Elliott is now a “donkey” through such undermining? These rudiments of growth where Sisters want to become confessional priests, sights of Jesus with the wooden or narrow gate, Catholic martyrs, light on the white wall, puking brownly, and, I also like music performed badly sometimes, a new music, new notes, a new slant. Reading patiently this book every morning first thing has become a sort of religious act of literature … amid the Here and Now….

  13. —> Page 149

    “defiance penitence defiance penitence”

    The days of Jim’s noble and holy defiance continue to be counted down, amid pot throwing and clay, a Biblical walking on the other side, the various spellings of Elliott’s “Hyhmmnh”, none of them typos, I guess, the hum of the hum-bone, and I am both delighted and spoiler-sad that I appeared to get it right when identifying this Swiftian-like word when it was hidden away as if itself was a spasm or typo or glitch or involuntary twitch or token of tourettes, viz. “…my Hyhhmmh-into-the silence goo from a prop nobody saw into a prickly actor everybody saw but not a donkey no a fine proud horse galloping galloping happily galloping across a wide flat space towards vaster faster possibilities and more glorious escapes and escapades.” The Here of being hauled or hawled to the chapel. “…my word-hoarding and secret in-head-writing so causing Jim to be near me was world-changing for me as well as ward-changing for the long corridor.” Elliott’s worry that Jim will grow hairs in places beyond just being a boy. And momentously this morning at 6 a.m. on Radio 4, David Attenborough’s Tweet of the Day was the greenfinch. “…of almost greenfinch-green moss with gorgeous golden flecks…” Schubert’s mighty String Quintet factored-in, too. The invention of language between Jim and Elliott with clups, clucks and thumps. Was my earlier inference of some Institutional telepathy being involved wrong, then? The humming pervades, though. The Conspiracy that religion involves, “wheelies of my dreams”, “my horse-like speed.” And the growth of impure acts in boys, at least inferred.

  14. —> Page 162

    “the delicious presence of him Jim”

    There is a sense of future loss as Elliott’s, for me, asexual yet hand-holding bromance with Jim grows, Elliott’s white album wall now in conflict with new interests and feelings, such as singing along with Beatles songs, matching words difficult to manage with more singable ones. Lise and the Princesses are more sexually attractive to Elliott, I guess, but in an oblique way of a softy pretty bone-hum rather than a hard boner. My latter expression, not the book’s.

    “halfway through a bone-hum when I had run out of hymn tunes to hum that I hadn’t hummed before”

    “where we were the ward which for him was under the sea.”

    The latter a bit like King’s Gorky Park part of the Institute.

    Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique symphony now. Six not sex. Continues to be an inspiring complexly naive flow of thought assumed to be written down by Elliott, words he cannot vocalise, as helped by Litt’s filter of literature. Thump of the Day, not Tweet.

    “…there was always more gorgeous detail than I had time or senses for and every caterpillar-of-a-When immediately became a butterfly-of-a-What and flew off into the flock of a thousand interplexing Whats whose air-dance of now being like this and now being like that…”

  15. —> Page 179

    “Sometimes I wonder how it it meaning my life would have been different if I had been able to get the Princesses or Finn to understand the word Brake and to place Jim’s right hand down upon it and show him how the round shiny black plastic knob… […] …the brown hair he patted down in handy follops my shoulders arms and the wheelchair’s arms until he came on the left side to nothing and the right side to the black shiny plastic knob which I felt his fingers take and push forwards and my world shifted.”

    Please forgive me for quoting so much from the start of this momentously consuming journey as Jim pushes Elliott in the wheelchair towards the wooden gate. In the context of Elliott’s disarming self-awareness (“Elliott watching Elliott waking”), real choking and pretend choking, more Beatle songs as if magically fitting the flowing fates of this text, “the world of green freedom outside”, chew-chew choo-choo Vroo Vroo, the strongest reference to telepathy in this book so far at the end of the penultimate paragraph (“miracle of miracles”) on page 170, “gruntering”, “little stars sounded so much like little horse”, the blessing of “a wheelchair a horse on a ward not the least of which being that of this particular moment”…real-time…”I had felt happy then just as I feel happy now because my time was not routine my time was an adventure…”

    Lyrics from the song BOYS included on the Beatles’ first LP in 1963 that I bought with my own money at the age of 15:

    “I been told when a boy kiss a girl
    Take a trip around the world
    Hey, hey (bop shuop, m’bop bop shuop)
    Hey, hey (bop shuop, m’bop bop shuop)
    Hey, hey (bop shuop), yeah, she say ya do (bop shuop)
    Well, I talk about boys (yeah, yeah, boys)
    Don’t ya know I mean boys (yeah, yeah, boys)
    Well, I talk about boys, now (yeah, yeah, boys)
    Aah (yeah, yeah, boys)
    Well, I talk about boys, now (yeah, yeah, boys)
    What a bundle of joy! (yeah, yeah, boys)”

    I don’t think they sung anything from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Patience’, but ‘Prudence’ was on their White Album, along with ‘Glass Onion’.

  16. —> Page 195

    Very powerful passages, bone layers, lift numbers as layers to be reached above or below, numbers as people in meaty groups of two, three or four, the existence of Jesus and the moon, hug-objects, meatiness as an inchoate view of sex, a brand of contented jealousy about holding and beholding. Jim, Lise, Elliott, thump thump. I am growing more and more in tune with Elliott’s thoughts as if I am seeing things through his mind. I can hardly give this text a greater compliment, surely. I feel the dawning yearnings in my humming bones. I foresee more than just shattering or fulfilling of such patient yearnings, to escape or to be embraced further. The only escape would be to stop reading it.

  17. —> Page 210

    “splodgy houses families sunrises and bloody battles of the other children all of which looked very rough next to Toby’s pencil drawings of his left hand over and over again his left hand.”

    Scenes of Elliott painting, and that bit above reminds me to question – even if I once knew, but have now forgotten – how Elliott ‘writes’ his thoughts in this Toby’s Litt literature with Elliott spending these pages striving to paint a walking stick as an indicator he wants that very walking stick to reach the bottom button of the lift when pushed there with wheelchair “horsepower” by Jim, Jim who spends his time in concupiscent canoodling, Tristan and Isolde like, with Lise, thus canoodling out of Sororal sight, but a canoodling that Elliott describes (or paints with words) with some inchoate panache that you will never forget!

  18. —> Page 226

    “When the walking stick clattered behind us as it landed on the floor and skidded a bit towards the gate…”

    There is much intended and perhaps unintended meaning, as we increasingly become in page-turning suspense with what happens in this ineluctable ‘dying fall’ of a Callas or callous opera. I will surely finish this book today, in the circumstances. It has been eked out long enough, savoured, distilled and now demanding a fell swoop of attention to follow Elliott… no longer at the still point where we deign, too, to “look at the birds or into whiteness.” Was there not a song called Blackbird in the White Album (‘Take these broken wings and learn to fly’). And also a certain naive Ringo gruffly intoning therein a song that I imagine Jim and Lise felt in tune with (‘No one will be watching us’).

  19. —> Page 249

    “…thinking about dying-Schubert-living made me take the lift down inside myself sinking to the basement where my Caretakers stored all my care…”

    All three having a new life in tune with the three horses at the end. A trinity in this text, and since I wrote the previous entry above, a perceived “sinful indifference or callous evil” in a silver car. The synaesthesia even rapture of LITTer in life’s lay-by, “papal purple”, now in evidence even if it weren’t in the lobby. More blackbird poignancy now attuned to Debussy … and horse galloping hopes in these pages. Beethoven, Philip G,ass, Viva,Di… and a stinky syphillitic Schubert as a homeless man. A vision of a foot-washing Jesus, Lise in bare feet herself. A sort of wheelchair ragbag Trinity in Mad Max tournament with walking stick pointed forward reminding me of early Picasso… “pink dots on yellow sticks” to go with all the humming and hahing. This ending just poignant perfect with hope at least implicated for a nonce… deeply felt and revelatory. This work is certainly a significant one in the annals of literature. I wonder if I am destined to be a lonely voice saying that. Just another “mouthy mouth.” Just another sound glimpse of hooves galloping into forgotten distance. Whatever, I shall, I most definitely shall, call it a literary classic if not an ‘older’ book and list it in my well-seasoned list here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/


  20. Blackbird lyrics from the White Album…

    Blackbird singing in the dead of night
    Take these broken wings and learn to fly
    All your life
    You were only waiting for this moment to arise
    Blackbird singing in the dead of night
    Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
    All your life
    You were only waiting for this moment to be free
    Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
    Into the light of a dark black night
    Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
    Into the light of a dark black night
    Blackbird singing…

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