[ilds] RG Bitter Lemons -- How to Buy a House

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Fri Jul 13 21:16:49 PDT 2007

In the conversation entitled "Looking for that Sacred Wiggle," John 
Hawkes offers Durrell a reading that might follow up on Pamela & co.:

>         I think your first book that is extraordinary is /Bitter
>         Lemons/, which I consider a fiction. Lots of people would take
>         it as a personal account---I think it's fiction.  I think
>         everything you've written is fiction and non-fiction.  I think
>         they're the same, and /Bitter Lemons/ is truly a great book 
>         (Ingersoll 237)

I will leave everyone to read Durrell's response to Hawkes in their own 
time.  Durrell is in his grand interview mode, and seems to connect 
/Bitter Lemons/ to the /Quartet /and relativity, the notion of the 
observer changing the outcome of the experiment, &c.  Cyprus would thus 
be the experiment.

Could someone please take us in for a closer look at a passages or some 
sentences that demonstrate the points of about genre you have found?  
What are some of the particular, notable generic markers, say, in "How 
to Buy a House"?  Thanks!

I will confess it:  I have a kind of fetish for the specific words on 
the page.  Example: "A machine for making cement blocks performed its 
slow but punctual evacuations, accompanied by a seductive crunch."  That 
is terrific.  Precisely drawn and funny.  I really, really like it when 
people pick up their books, point, and read.  I am a bit myopic, I 
suppose.  And evidence is always a good idea whenever we start making 
big claims.  We should discriminate in the most concrete terms possible, 
as Pater said in his "Preface."  I am wary of abstraction.  Like 
Nabokov, I am at my happiest when the collector's pin cinches the prize 
to the mounting board.

We might start getting specific with the title of this chapter--"How to 
Buy a House"--the phrasing of which parodies the "How To" language of 
the guide book. Cf. these blurbs for specific examples:

>             *How to Buy a House*
>             * *http://www.wikihow.com/Buy-a-House
>             Many people dream of home ownership but it mandates
>             *homework*, *legwork *and considerable *effort *on your
>             part to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as
>             possible. *Here's how to make your dream become a reality.*
>             * *
>             *Home Buying for Dummies (Paperback) *
>             http://www.amazon.com/Home-Buying-Dummies-Eric-Tyson/dp/1568843852
>             If you've always dreamed of owning your own home, here's a
>             book that tells you how to make your dream come true --
>             without getting a bum deal (and *maybe saving a penny or
>             two along the way*).

These "How to" guides become a deal funnier if we read the blurbs while 
visualizing Sabri and Durrell sitting across from the woman while she 
croons over the house-key.  "How to Buy a House": A parody with paradox, 
of course.  No one should try to duplicate the negotiations of Sabri as 
they work with their own estate agent.  Everyone might learn a thing or 
two about human nature and humane manners from this chapter. 

I think that I can understand the gist of your references to Byron and 
Waugh, Pamela.  I have also read /Oxiana /and /Labels/, as well as Paul 
Fussell's /Abroad/, a handy little book which I am guessing stands in 
some way behind your point.  (That 1980 book is perhaps inescapable.) 

            *Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars*

Fussell makes a case something like yours about the admixture of genres 
and uses those books by Byron and Waugh to make his case.   I would cite 
Chatwin's /The Songlines/ and Thompson's /Fear and Loathing/ /in Las 
Vegas/ as more extreme examples of travel writers using what Fussell 
calls "literary contrivances."

Now let's bring new light to /Bitter Lemons/.


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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