In Disgrace, Coetzee writes (Lurie thinks) something like Reversals: the very stuff of bourgeois comedy after seeing a student play. Something like that anyway – my copy is at the office.
So last night I escorted my 4-year-old daughter to another kid’s birthday party, up behind Alexandra Palace. Strange, late-night affair for the 4 and 5 year old set. At moments, I laugh like I don’t normally. All good. On the way home (on the W3 bus) she editorializes against buying a VW Golf. She says that she prefers trains and buses, as cars make her sick and you have to wear a seatbelt. Good. Settled then.
Kids to bed and I am being moderately difficult with my wife. Just moderately. She expresses a reservation about my behavior and I say Oh just wait! I have something to read to you! You read it while I was out I am sure but let me just read it to you again to ensure that the import was not lost.
And so I grab up the Guardian Review section and search through for the paragraph in James Meek’s intelligent review of Coetzee’s Summertime that was the cover piece this week. The paragraph that I had wanted to read, but never quite did, was this one:
I don’t believe Coetzee had a choice here. If he hadn’t run the risk of seeming self-indulgent, he wouldn’t have been able to capture an essential truth about “great men” – that the women who reject them in the early days are not necessarily blind to their potential. A woman who chooses not to sacrifice her life to the kind of selfish, cranky, vain, obsessive, unstable slobs who tend to become “great men” may be making a wise decision.
But I didn’t read it to her. The reason why is that when I opened up the section to the appropriate page, I found that the paragraph was underlined. That she had underlined the paragraph….. Hmmm…
And so, instead of reading it to her, I ask: It means something different for you to underline this paragraph than for me to um read it to you, doesn’t it?
She nods her head. I continue. It could, for instance mean that you thought that I was a great man and chose to put up with me anyway.
Or that, rather bleakly, you never recognized any of these things, and thus decided to stay with me.
She cuts me off: There are more options on the table than that. Those truly aren’t the only options.
And then she pointed to her notebook, the one that I’m not allowed to read, as if to suggest that the answers to all of my questions – not just the ones that I am asking but all of my questions, are to be found there, written out in ballpoint pen. But I’m not going to get to read them.
(Cue laff track. Cue Ad’s repeating the scene of picking up the paper, discovering the underlining, over and over again to at first increasing and then gradually diminishing choruses of laughter…)