Monday, 16 May 2011

sound the retreat

Simon Raven is one of those authors that somehow are not super famous but whose fans are nuts about them.* I'm in the middle of his ten-novel long Alms For Oblivion cycle, and it's crackerjack. Here are some recruits traveling through India just before the end of Empire:

The train pulled out of the siding and rattle away with them across the dusty Deccan towards Gulbarga. For a while they looked across the yellow, stony plain, until the sun sank behind the Western Ghats and all the ways were dark. Then they wrapped blankets round their thighs and stomachs, dozed and shivered, nodded off and nodded on, snored and dribbled and whimpered, while the distressful night crept by and slunk away at last before the kind old sun.

Two pages later, someone asks whether the Indian Army is any different from the regular army. Young Lord Muscateer replies: 'I had a great-grandfather in the Coldstream who had to transfer to the Indian Army after a row about some other fellow's wife. Usually, after that sort of row, they just sent you to a line regiment to get you out of London. But my great-grandpapa was so awful that they sent him all the way out here. Do you suppose that's any guide to the form?'

And moments later:

'What regiment are you going into, Muscateer' - this from Alister.

'I've been with my county mob so far - the Wiltshires.'

'I'd have thought you'd have gone into the Guards.'

'They haven't been too keen on us since great-grandpapa's little affair. Anyway, my old governor says a man ought to join his local lot. He says that's what the best chaps always did, and that your smart London regiments were just a load of shitstabbing grocers.'

'Rather strong?'

'My old governor always puts things strong.' said Muscateer.

* The other one of these authors I am finally reading: Barbara Pym. Interesting similarities and differences. Also excellent.


Sarang said...

I only know of Raven from Peter Porter's poem "The world of Simon Raven" -- I can't find the thing online, but it begins:

Rooks are raging where great elms were felled,
Family silver's been lent for the Fete,
Nanny's facing Nigel with stained sheets,
Telegrams announce James is expelled,
Mrs. Diamond from Sea View Estate
Tempts a team in training with boiled sweets.

Meanwhile sturgeon from Odessa packed
For Black's and Tan's, renowned St. James's Clubs,
Laced with Spanish fly, cause randy scenes
At Ascot, a Bishop's face is smacked;
Debs and guardsmen break up Chelsea pubs,
Blackmailers send snaps to dons at Queen's.


(i.e., definitely makes the novels sound worth reading...)

Robert Hudson said...

They definitely are, and I'd never heard of this poem, and it's great. As the smallest of caveats, and it's a thing I never normally think, I reckon men will like them more than women do, but I am wary of saying it, because I don't mean it any more than I mean women will like Barbara Pym more than men will. Basically, most readers will like both of them, because they're both terrific.