Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pallas & the Centaur



Last night I travelled up to Glasgow on the sleeper which was an enjoyable first. I could not help comparing it with many similar journeys on overnight trains in Russia. Tea in a paper cup did not compare well with the Russian equivalent contained in a glass with an ornate metal holder! Nor did the starched sheets and blankets of Russian railways find an equivalent in the limp duvet of Caledonian Rail. However, on the plus side, once checked in to your own compartment (no sharing with assorted others, an introvert plus), there was no more waiting upon ticket punching and there was no piped music to both see you off or greet your arrival. The greatest advantage was temperature control as I have been on Russian trains where in the intense heat, you found yourself wondering where your next breath was coming from. Also, you had your own basin so you could clean your teeth in luxurious privacy!

On the way back this afternoon, I was whisked by a Virgin train to Euston, and was reading a book on impact investing and slowly loosing the will to live.  The theme is very important and close to my heart but the book was written in a style that I have come to dread (it curses many books on business and organisational design) - excruciating similes and metaphors extending till they snap, repetition, and chunky boxes of case studies too general and ephemeral to tell you very much! And most of all delivered in a technocratic style without passion. Speed reading is a handy skill.

Enabling me to pass over quickly to Linda Proud's 'Pallas and the Centaur', the second volume of her Botticelli trilogy, a historical novel that treats of Florence's uneven war with Rome and how Lorenzo de Medici grasped diplomatic victory from the jaws of military defeat (though impairing his own house's fortunes in the process). The story is told in dual voices, male and female, and from the point of view of observers rather than actors.

The central thesis is of the duality of man - a centaur - a man, Lorenzo, as a combination of reasoned action and appetite - but woven within a compelling whole of character, incident and history. You taste the Renaissance in her work - high aspiration and hope meeting the gruelling realities of place and history. The former never being devalued by the latter. It is always, in her novels, better to have woven the beauty and symbol of hope than not to have done by falling prey to realpolitik, accommodation and cynicism. It is the tantalising ideal that keeps history alive, full of possibility.

She is one of those living writers whose work you hope will keep ahead of your consumption though alas you know that this cannot be!

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