THE ENGLISH PATIENT – MICHAEL ONDAATJE

1. (…) the penis sleeping like a sea horse, (…) (p.3)

2. I have spent weeks in the desert, forgetting to look at the moon, he says, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife. There are not sins of omission but signs of preoccupation. (p.4)

3. He listens to her, swallowing her words like water. (p.5)

4. There was no colour during those nights. No speech or song. The Bedouin silenced themselves when he was awake. He was on an alter of hammock and he imagined in his vanity hundreds of them around him and there may have been just two who had found him, plucked the antlered hat of fire from his head. Those two he knew only by the taste of saliva that entered him along with the date or by the sound of their feet running. (p.6)

5. This was the time in her life that she fell upon books as the only door out of her cell. They became half her world. (p.7)

6. Her father had taught her about hands. About a dog’s paws. Whenever her father was alone with a dog in a house he would lean over and smell the skin at the base of its paw. This, he would say, as if coming away from a brandy snifter, is the greatest smell in the world! A bouquet! Great rumours of travel! She would pretend disgust, but the dog’s paw was a wonder: the smell of it never suggested dirt. It’s a cathedral! her father had said, so-and-so’s garden that field of grasses, a walk through cyclamen – a concentration of hints of all the paths the animal had taken during the day. (p.8)

7. (…) and the regal walk and his face like a lean dark gun. (p.10)

8. She entered the story knowing she would emerge from it feeling she had been immersed in the lives of others, in plots that stretched back twenty years, her body full of sentences and moments, as if awaking from sleep with a heaviness caused by unremembered dreams. (p.12)

9. Doors opened into landscape. (p.13)

10. Dust storms in three shapes. The whirl. The column. The sheet. In the first the horizon is lost. In the second you are surrounded by “waltzing Ginns.” The third, the sheet, is “copper-tinted. Nature seems to be on fire.” (p.17)

11. I am a person who if left alone in someone’s home walks to the bookcase, pulls down a volume and inhales it. So history enters us. (p.18)

12. Water is the exile, carried back in cans and flasks, the ghost between your hands and your mouth. (p.19)

13. The moon is on him like skin, a sheaf of water. (p.31)

14. “Some of the English love Africa. A part of their brain reflects the desert precisely. So they’re not foreigners there.” (p.33)

15. At night sometimes, when the English patient is asleep or even after she has read alone outside his door for a while, she goes looking for Caravaggio. He will be in the garden lying along the stone rim of the fountain looking up at the stars, or she will come across him on a lower terrace. In this early-summer weather he finds it difficult to stay indoors at night. Most of the time he is on the roof beside the broken chimney, but he slips down silently when he sees her figure cross the terrace looking for him. She will find him near the headless statue of a count, upon whose stub of neck one of the local cats likes to sit, solemn and drooling when humans appear. She is always made to feel that she is the one who has found him, this man who knows darkness, who when drunk used to claim he was brought up by a family of owls. (p.34)

16. Two of them on a promontory, Florence and her lights in the distance. (p.34)

17. Words are tricky things, a friend of his has told him, they’re much more tricky than violins. (p.37)

18. He watches her sniffing him out, searching for the trace. He buries it and looks back at her, knowing his eyes are faultless, clear as any river, unimpeachable as a landscape. (p.39)

19. In one soil-rich area beside the house she began to garden with a furious passion that could come only to someone who had grown up in a city. (p.43)

20. She began to moan so the sound would be a barrier between them, a river across which she could not be reached. (p.44)

21. He now lay in his darkness. He had been a thief who refused to work with men, because he did not trust them, who talked with men but who preferred talking to women and when he began talking to women was soon caught in the nets of a relationship. (p.47)

22. She thought about Caravaggio – some people you just had to embrace, in some way or another, had to bite into the muscle, to remain sane in their company. You needed to grab their hair and clutch it like a drowner so they would pull you into their midst. Otherwise they, walking casually down the street towards you, almost about to wave, would leap over a wall and be gone for months. As an uncle he had been a disappearer. (p.48)

23. To rest was to receive all aspects of the world without judgement. A bath in the sea, a fuck with a soldier who never knew your name. Tenderness towards the unknown and anonymous, which was tenderness to the self. (p.49)

24. (…) and the destroyed bodies were fed back to the field hospitals like mud passed back by tunnellers in the dark. (p.49)

25. They had all grown older, but he still did not feel he had wisdom to go with his aging. (p.58)

26. In darkness, in any light after dusk, you can slit a vein and the blood is black. (p.62)

27. He seems casually content with this small group in the villa, some kind of loose star on the edge of their system. (p.75)

28. They had been owned so often it meant nothing. (p.79)

29. The wind rose up out of the valley to their hill so the cypress trees that lined the thirty-six steps outside the chapel wrestled with it. Drops of earlier rain nudged off, falling with a ticking sound upon the two of them sitting on the balustrade by the steps. It was long after midnight. She was lying on the concrete ledge, and he paced or leaned out looking down into the valley. Only the sound of dislodged rain. (p.83)

30. Was he nursed by a stranger? A man not of your own blood can break upon your emotions more than someone of your own blood. As if falling into the arms of a stranger you discover the mirror of your choice. (p.90)

31. A novel is a mirror walking down a road. (p.91)

32. “Read him slowly, dear girl, you must read Kipling slowly. Watch carefully where the commas fall so you can discover the natural pauses. He is a writer who used pen and ink. He looked up from the page a lot, I believe, stared through his window and listened to the birds, as most writers who are alone do. Some do not know the names of birds, though he did. Your eye is too quick and North American. Think about the speed of his pen. What an appalling, barnacled old first paragraph it is otherwise.” (p.94)

33. If he had missed the last half-hour of plot, just one room would be dark in a story he probably already knew. (p.94)

34. July 1936    There are betrayals in war that are childlike compared with our human betrayals during peace. The new lover enters the habits of the other. Things are smashed, revealed in new light. This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire.

A love story is not about those who lose their heart but about those who find that sullen inhabitant who, when it is stumbled upon, means the body can fool no one, can fool nothing – not the wisdom of sleep or the habit of social graces. It is a consuming of oneself and the past. (p.97)

35. But he felt he was now within something, perhaps a painting he had seen somewhere in the last year. Some secure couple in a field. How many he had seen with their laziness of sleep, with no thought of work or the dangers of the world. Beside him there were the mouselike movements within Hana’s breath; her eyebrows rode upon argument, a small fury in her dreaming. He turned his eyes away, up towards the tree and the sky of white cloud. (p.104)

36. Wise white fatherly men shook hands, were acknowledged, and limped away, having been coaxed out of solitude for this special occasion. But he was a professional. And he remained the foreigner, the Sikh. (p.105)

37. How could he trust even this circle of elastic on the sleeve of the girl’s frock that gripped her arm? Or the rattle in her intimate breath as deep as stones within a river. (p.105)

38. He would be pregnant with her. (p.114)

39. Caravaggio sits there in silence, thoughts lost among the floating motes. War has unbalanced him and he can return to no other world as he is, wearing these false limbs that morphine promises. He is a man in middle age who has never become accustomed to families. All his life he has avoided permanent intimacy. Till this war he was been a better lover than husband. He has been a man who slips away, in the way lovers leave chaos, the way thieves leave reduced houses. (p.116)

40. But here they were shedding skins. They could imitate nothing but what they were. There was no defence but to look for the truth in others. (p.117)

41. What you find in him are cul-de-sacs within the sweep of history – (…) (p.119)

42. “Birds prefer trees with dead branches.” (p.120)

43. “You see, I think it is easier to fall in love with him that with you. Why is that? Because we want to know things, how the pieces fit. Talkers seduce, words direct us into corners. We want more than anything to grow and change. Brave new world.” (p.121)

44. “Why are you not smarter? It’s only the rich who can’t afford to be smart. They’re compromised. They got locked years ago into privilege. They have to protect their belongings. No one is meaner than the rich. Trust me. But they have to follow the rules of their shitty civilised world. They declare war, they have honour, and they can’t leave. But you two. We three. We’re free. How many sappers die? Why aren’t you dead yet? Be irresponsible. Luck runs out.” (p.123)

45. She knows that for him the world burns around them with only a few crucial rules. (p.125)

46. A boy in love who will not eat the food she gathers, who does not need or want the drug in the needle she could slide into his arm, as Caravaggio does, or those ointments of desert invention the Englishman craves, ointments and pollen to reassemble himself the way the Bedouin had done for him. Just for the comfort of sleep. (p.126)

47. She learns all the varieties of his darkness. (p.127)

48. (…) or one time in her room when light from the valley’s city, finally free of curfew, rose among them like twilight and lit the colour of his body. (p.127)

49. And the way she crawls in against his body like a saint. (p.128)

50. (…) clinging only to their old maps and carrying their lecture notes – which were slowly and painfully written – in their ever present knapsacks which will always be a part of their bodies. (p.133)

51. We forgave Bagnold everything for the way he wrote about dunes. “The grooves and the corrugated sand resemble the hollow of the roof of a dog’s mouth.” That was the real Bagnold, a man who would put his inquiring hand into the jaws of a dog. (p.136)

52. We travelled through three storms during nine days. We missed small desert towns where we expected to locate more supplies. The horse vanished. Three of the camels died. For the last two days there was no food, only tea. The last link with any other world was the clink of the fire-black tea urn and the long  spoon and the glass which came towards us in the darkness of the mornings. After the third night we gave up talking. All that mattered was the fire and the minimal brown liquid. (p.137)

53. The desert could not be claimed or owned – it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names long before Canterbury existed, long before battles and treaties quilted Europe and the East. Its caravans, those strange rambling feasts and cultures, left nothing behind, not an ember. All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into landscape. Fire and sand. We left the harbours of oasis. The places water came to and touched…Ain, Bir, Wadi, Foggara, Khottara, Shaduf. I didn’t want my name against such beautiful names. Erase the family name! Erase nations! I was taught such things in the desert. (p.139)

54. A woman in Cairo curves the white length of her body up from the bed and leans out of the window into a rainstorm to allow her nakedness to receive it. (p.141)

55. When we are young we do not look into mirrors. It is when we are old, concerned with our name, our legend, what our lives will mean to the future. We become vain with the names we own, our claims to have been the first eyes, the strongest army, the cleverest merchant. It is when he is old that Narcissus wants a graven image of himself. (p.141)

56. For him all relationships fell into patterns. You fell into propinquity or distance. Just as, for him, the histories in Herodotus clarified all societies. He assumed he was experienced in the ways of the world he had essentially left years earlier, struggling ever since to explore a half-invented world of the desert. (p.150)

57. All that is alive is the knowledge of future desire and want. (p.157)

58. (…) this women whose openness is like a wound, whose youth is not mortal yet. (p.157)

59. How does this happen? To fall in love and be disassembled. I was in her arms. I had pushed the sleeve of her shirt up to the shoulder so I could see the vaccination scar. I love this, I said. This pale aureole on her arm. I see the instrument scratch and then punch the serum within her and then release itself, free of her skin, years ago, when she was nine years old, in a school gymnasium. (p.158)

60. An effigy. A bed. He rides the boat of morphine. It races in him, imploding time and geography the way maps compress the world onto a two-dimensional sheet of paper. (p.161)

61. But she was a woman who had grown up within gardens, among moistness, with words like trellis and hedgehog. (p.170)

62. She was always happier in rain, in bathrooms steaming with liquid air, in sleepy wetness, climbing back in from his window that rainy night in Cairo and putting on her clothes while still wet, in order to hold it all. (p.170)

63. (…) he had erased the path he had emerged from. (p.170)

64. Too proud to be a lover, a secret. (p.171)

65. If at a dinner she pointed to a bowl with a Nile lily floating in it he would not look at it. Just another fucking flower. (p.172)

66. You think you are an iconoclast, but you’re not. You just move, or replace what you cannot have. If you fail at something you retreat into something else. Nothing changes you. How many women did you have? I left you because I knew I could never change you. You would stand in the room so still sometimes, so wordless sometimes, as if the greatest betrayal of yourself would be to reveal one more inch of your character. (p.174)

67. He had been slowing down, the way one, half asleep, continually rereads the same paragraph, trying to find a connection between sentences. (p.202)

68. At night, when she lets his hair free, he is once more another constellation, the arms of a thousand equators against his pillow, waves of it between them in their embrace and in their turns of sleep. She holds an Indian goddess in her arms, she holds wheat and ribbons. As he bends over her it pours. She can tie it against her wrist. As he moved she keeps her eyes open to witness the gnats of electricity in his hair in the darkness of the tent. (p.218)

69. He has walked up Italy with eyes that tried to see everything except what was temporary and human. (p.218)

70. But he can read how mouths darken into callousness, suggest tenderness. One can often misjudge an eye from its reaction to a simple beam of sunlight. (p.218)

71. He sees her in differing hours and locations that alter her voice or nature, even her beauty, the way the background power of the sea cradles or governs the fate of lifeboats. (p.219)

72. This indoor courtyard reminded her more and more of a book opened to reveal pressed flowers, something to be glanced at during passing, never entered. (p.220)

73. As if the room had now finally emerged from the war, is no longer a zone or territory. (p.224)

74. (…) who had spoken to her during those evenings about his age, about the tenderness towards every cell in a lover that comes when you discover your mortality. (p.225)

75. I was a man fifteen years older than she, you understand. I had reached that stage in life when I identified with cynical villains in a book. I don’t believe in permanence, in relationships that span ages. I was fifteen years older. But she was smarter. She was hungrier to change than I expected. (p.230)

76. To all that, I didn’t say a word. I would look up sometimes as he spoke and catch her glance, witnessing my unspoken exasperation, and then her demure smile. There was some irony. I was the older man. I was the man of the world, who had walked ten years earlier from Dakhla Oasis to the Gilf Kebir, who charted the Farafra, who knew Cyrenaica and had been lost more than twice in the Sand Sea. She met me when I had all those labels. Or she could twist a few degrees and see the labels on Madox. Yet apart from the Geographical Society we were unknown; we were the thin edge of a cult she had stumbled onto because of this marriage. (p.231)

77. In the desert to repeat something would be to fling more water into the earth. (p.231)

78. I am a man who has turned my back on much of the social world, but sometimes I appreciate the delicacy of manner. (p.231)

79. It is a strange story. Is it not, Caravaggio? The vanity of a man to the point where he wishes to be envied. (p.234)

80. I am a man who fasts until I see what I want. (p.235)

81. “I don’t think you care – that this has happened among us. You slide past everything with your fear and hate of ownership, of owning, of being owned, of being named. You think this is a virtue. I think you are inhuman. If I leave you, who will you go to? Would you find another lover?”

I said nothing.

“Deny it, damn you.” (p.238)

82. And I? I was the skill among them. The mechanic. The others wrote out their love of solitude and meditated on what they found there. They were never sure of what I thought of it all. “Do you like that moon?” Madox asked me after he’s known me for ten years. He asked it tentatively, as if he had breached an intimacy. For them I was a bit too cunning to be a lover of the desert. More like Odysseus. Still, I was. Show me a desert, as you would show another man a river, or another man the metropolis of his childhood. (p.240)

83. Someone’s war was slashing apart his delicate tapestry of companions. (p.241)

84. He moved with a slow gait. I never saw him dance. He was a man who wrote, who interpreted the world. Wisdom grew out of being handed just the smallest sliver of emotion. A glance could lead to paragraphs of theory. If he witnessed a new knot among a desert tribe or found a rare palm, it would charm him for weeks. When we came upon messages on our travels – any wording, contemporary or ancient, Arabic on a mud wall, a note in English written in chalk on the fender of a jeep – he would read it and then press his hand upon it as if to touch its possible deeper meanings, to become as intimate as he could with the words. (p.243)

85. On other nights he danced with them, carrying their whole frame by the fulcrum of rib cage as he got drunker. (p.245)

86. There is God only in the desert, he wanted to acknowledge that now. Outside of this there was just trade and power, money and war. Financial and military despots shaped the world. (p.250)

87. A war was preparing itself somewhere like a hand entering an attic window. (p.256)

88. It is important to die in holy places. (p.260)

89. We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such as earth that had no maps. (p.261)

90. She wanted Kip to know her only in the present, a person perhaps more flawed or more compassionate or harder or more obsessed than the girl or young woman she had been then. (p.268)

91. He stands now under the trees in the August heat, unturbanned, wearing only a kurta. He carries nothing in his hands, just walks alongside the outline of hedges, his bear feet on the grass or on terrace stone or in the ash of an old bonfire. His body alive in its sleeplessness, standing on the edge of a great valley of Europe. (p.287)

92. Halfway down the path to the gate, Caravaggio was waiting for him, carrying the gun. He didn’t even lift it formally towards the motorbike when the body slowed down, as Caravaggio walked into his path. Caravaggio came up to him and put his arms around him. A great hug. The sapper felt the stubble against his skin for the first time. He felt drawn in, gathered into his muscles, “I shall have to learn how to miss you,” Caravaggio said. Then the boy pulled away and Caravaggio walked back to the house. (p.289)

93. Every time there is lightning, rain freezes in the suddenly lit night. (p.297)

94. He still likes that about her. Her smartness, the fact that she did not inherit that look or that beauty, but that it was something searched for and that it will always reflect a present stage of her character. (p.300)

 

 

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