Around a year ago I remember buying a second-hand Penguin Classics copy of a book I had read several years earlier. The book is Tender is the Night, and while I don’t have it to hand, I am reasonably sure it will still be on my bookshelf in my room in N.
I was momentarily excited on seeing the book tucked away on a shelf in the bookshop. I bent down and levered my arm to pick it up, trying to be discreet and not overtly zealous for fear of causing ruptures among the grey-skinned, silver-haired, age-old volunteers who tiptoe, hunch-backed, through the sepulchral cavern of paperbacks – the walls of which are probably laced with asbestos.
On reaching the counter, I was met with a fragment of small-talk.
“So what’s this one about, then?” The voice creaked like a door which hadn’t been opened – let alone oiled – in fifty years.
I am not a very good liar. In fact, the idea of lying didn’t even cross my mind. Instead, an honest - if sporadic and patchy - summary spouted from my recalcitrant lips.
“Well, basically, there’s a young American psychologist who falls in love with his patient; they marry, have children and enjoy a monied existence, all set in the backdrop of the French Riviera. But then…”
The lady behind the counter nodded appreciatively.
“Go on,” she croaked, throwing a piercing stare – and with it, a Sixteenth Century gauntlet. I look with my hands; my tongue clicked, words emanated.
“But then he realises his life is somehow incomplete; he commits adultery, loses all his money, descends into alcoholism, and becomes entangled in a web of crime, decadence and deceit. But it’s really… good…”
My voice trailed off; a gentleman behind me coughed; the capillaries in my cheeks felt ripe to burst. I made a beeline to the door, forgetting my change.
A small price, perhaps.