REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE by Carson McCullers
MY REAL-TIME REVIEW CONTINUED FROM HERE: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/03/31/reflections-in-the-golden-eye-carson-mccullers/#comment-24612
My previous reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
6 responses to “*”
So, after all that strange horseriding mania, no wonder that the Captain was not at his own party, even having forgotten about it for a while and the circumstances later explained, as he eventually shapes up for a possible Lawrencian naked wrestling match with the Private, whereby any hatred could be quenched…
At the party, meanwhile, Anacleto is in charge of the punch bowl…
“After he [Anacleto] spotted Lieutenant Weincheck, standing alone near the front door, he was engaged for fifteen minutes in fishing out every cherry and piece of pineapple, then he left a dozen officers waiting in order to present this choice cup to the old Lieutenant.”
…followed, most strangely, by…
“a story to the effect that the little Filipino thoughtfully scented Alison Langdon’s specimen of wee-wee with perfume before taking it to the hospital for a urinalysis.”
Any ‘angleworms’ wriggling inside the sound of classical music, notwithstanding.
“‘Tomorrow I am going to tell you something,’ she said. ‘You ought to have an inkling of what it’s about. So prepare yourself.’”
I feel that, with this book, it often becomes a book that reads as if it is written in the way that Anacleto does his paintings:
“His work was at once primitive and oversophisticated.”
And Anacleto describes to Alison of the Captain’s later arrival at party, with an injured head.
Alison loathes everyone, even or especially herself, everyone, that is except the Lieutenant and Anacleto…
Alison hears her husband, the Major, “carrying on a long didactic conversation with himself.”
She feels she is about to die amid a scouring tour of her own backstory, a dead baby’s body and its eventual ashes no doubt, till her heart stops… to the sound of “The clock on the mantelpiece, an old pendulum clock with white and gilt swans painted on the glass of the case, ticked with a rusty sound.”
SPOILER: Anacleto revives her with an Ovaltine party!
He tells his own story as part of that party: “‘Then the dream changed, and instead of Catherine I had on my knees one of the Major’s boots that I had to clean twice today. The boot was full of squirming slithery newborn mice and I was trying to hold them in and keep them from crawling up all over me. Whoo! It was like –’” and “‘A peacock of a sort of ghastly green. With one immense golden eye. And in it these reflections of something tiny and –’”
The Private stands watching Leonora sleeping again – twice!
“On the table there was a saucer holding a half-eaten chicken leg. The soldier touched it, smelled, and took a bite.”
“Private Williams always had been so unsociable that hardly half of his sleeping mates even knew his name.”
Was he once a murderer? —
“The mind is like a richly woven tapestry in which the colours are distilled from the experiences of the senses, and the design drawn from the convolutions of the intellect. The mind of Private Williams was imbued with various colours of strange tones, but it was without delineation, void of form.”
He wonders why the Captain is often seen following him….
I wonder why we are following any of these characters, other than by each of our bespoke fascinations with them that we may, as readers, wish to disown?
Cross-referenced in my review of the last chapter here: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/mark-valentine/#comment-2467
“The thought of the young man’s face – the dumb eyes, the heavy sensual lips that were often wet, the childish pageboy bangs – this image was intolerable to him.”
The Captain, too high a rank to know his men closely, follows Private Williams around as far as possible, and I doubt there is no other literature that conveys a mixture of unrealised homoerotic desire and hatred with such simple bullet points of power… and the Captain’s fantasying of a once feudal Europe, and later there are quail juices mixing, knowledge that Alison had indeed had a heart attack, while the Captain later tells Leonora a satirical vignette, as is his wont, about Anacleto’s care of Alison. Anacleto leaves bricks around to trip the Captain up… you couldn’t make it up. This book trips me up with ever paragraph, it seems!
“She began to cry, and the sound of her soft nervous sobbing seemed not to come from herself, but from some mysterious sufferer out somewhere in the night.”
…this being Alison who has been told to stay in bed by her Mozambique-confused sawbones of a doctor, but she feels trapped with her dreams. Gets up to defiantly play the piano, but she sees from the window a man entering the Captain and Leonora’s house. She walks over. Her husband in Leonora’s room? Or an unknown soldier as it turns out? The Captain seems wilfully blinkered, also in the house himself, as he nibbles his eraser. Or did that memory of mine already get erased like one of Alison’s dreams of a child being run over outside? Anyway, whatever the case, Alison tells the Captain to go to Leonora’s room but he merely escorts Alison back to her house….
“The feel of her frail, brittle elbow beneath the cloth of her coat repelled him.”
Madness, death, no prawn boat!
The various stories pan out through obsession into what can only be described as utterness. Not only Alison, and Anacleto, although the latter is not seen without his unknown destiny; the Major as part of the madness, Leonora in eventual matronliness, the Captain’s obsession with the Private is compared to having cancer but he also dreams of becoming a young twin of the Private, the Private whose own privates do not provide relief from sex desire as well as urination — “While still chewing a marshmallow he paid a visit to the latrine and there he picked a fight.” And he left without pissing. Madness sweeps into the reader, too, but there is satisfaction as each audit trail of plot is tailed off.
The whole novel is almost like a deadpan business-like series of bullet points to help someone write a screenplay for a cinema film. But I do not mean that as a criticism, but that is part of its intrinsic, infectious madness and doomfulness. A rough draft of a script that uniquely transcends itself with a secret, vaguely shameful power … such as the replacement for Anacleto who “played on a comb wrapped in toilet paper”.
A fable with a sort of questioning amoral moral…
“…it is morally honourable, for the square peg to keep scraping about the round hole rather than to discover and use the unorthodox square that would fit it?”
A book with its own “distorted doll-like image, mean of countenance and grotesque in form.” A book whose horse rolls over you but you get back on it and manage to ride it. A book whose “lace curtains looked cheap and rather dingy, and on the mantelpiece there was a heterogeneous collection of ornaments and gewgaws – a procession of sham-ivory elephants, a pair of beautiful wrought-iron candlesticks, a painted statuette of a piccaninny grinning over a red slice of watermelon, and a blue glass Mexican bowl into which Leonora had dumped old visiting cards.”
A book where, for a reader like me a “bloody accident impressed him no more vividly than the sight, a few minutes later, of a scrap of newspaper fluttering in the wind.”
A book with different readers, including you but also someone who “wrote a letter every night to Shirley Temple making it a sort of diary of all that he had done during the day, and mailing it before breakfast the next morning. Another man, who had ten years’ service behind him, jumped out of a three-story window because a friend would not lend him fifty cents for a beer. A cook in the same battery was haunted by the fixed idea that he had cancer of the tongue, an illusion that no medical denials could dispel. He brooded before a mirror with his tongue out so far that he could see the taste-buds, and he starved himself to the point of emaciation. […] To this young Southern soldier the officers were in the same vague category as negroes – they had a place in his life, but he did not look on them as being human. He accepted the Captain as fatalistically as though he were the weather or some natural phenomenon.” Readers all. Reflections of a cancered tongue as well as a golden eye.
Indeed, all of us are now reading or re-reading this book, even as helped or hindered by this review’s collaborative exegesis of it. As we fall into the Captain’s newly dug hole, and then set off to repeat our watching Leonora while she sleeps in her room, fully knowing that the book’s climax is about to happen, a climax that if I told you about it would be worse than any of the spoilers that the characters did to themselves! “But what it was he knew he could not have expressed. He was only certain that this was the end.”
“The Captain swung his arms as though they would not bend at the elbow…”
[And I see the author herself once “Breaks her right hip and shatters her left elbow.”]