Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 1 July 2015



The man with the strange name
passed her by
thinking strange thoughts
in a stranger's tongue.

His dark clothes caught her eye
for a moment
and then he was gone.

A feeling came and went
but she didn't know its name
and tried forgetting
what she wouldn't want to understand.

6 November 1982

I wrote ‘A Marriage’ (#541) on 27th June 1982. So it’s been over four months since I’ve produced a poem and a couple of months since my wife left me. And then this little Beckettian number pops out similar in theme to ‘Itch of an Amputated Leg’ (#538) and ‘Heat’ (#530) only this time the observer is a female and their eyes don’t meet. I’ve never really had a clear image of the man. I supposed he was probably a Hasidic Jew but it wasn’t really important. All that mattered is that the two characters were alien. In Milligan and Murphy there are a couple of instances where one of the brothers locks eyes with an animal and I find myself returning to this again in my new book:

I approached my bench in the early afternoon to find the [cat] lying doggo on the ground beside it. As I went to sit it opened its eyes, which had been shut, identified me as the source of the disturbance, did a quick risk assessment, decided in an instant I was harmless, feckless and most likely worthless and went back to basking in the heat. An hour or so later it got up and padded off in search of some shade. And that was that. In retrospect I am not sure what passed between us during the split-second when our eyes met but it is the only time I have encountered any creature and felt I was in the presence of a kindred spirit, a fellow dosser. I use the adjective kindred reluctantly—it falls short and I dislike the mystical undertones—but I can think of no other that comes close.

And earlier on in the text:

A preposterous fluffy lion was sitting as regally as in could in the centre of the bed. He stared at it and the lion stared back. If it was complicit it wasn’t letting on.



Kass said...

Such a mysterious poem, a good one.
It's hard to imagine you are a dosser. I had to google it and the meaning seems to refer to someone who is lazy.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, Kass, it is a mysterious little poem and one I’m still very fond of.

A dosser is not just a lazy person. He’s a tramp. In this novel the ‘I’ is not me despite the fact the protagonist is called ‘Jim’. At the point in the book where he encounters the cat he’s eighty years old and has spent most of that time sitting on a bench in a park. He has a home—he even has a housekeeper—but in his heart of hearts he’s a tramp. The book is heavily influenced by the writings of Beckett—which I’ve just reread (the whole lot just about) in preparation for the next bank of edits—and so many of his characters aspire to nothing; they just want to be left alone. And my Jim is cut from the same cloth. He turns up at his front door on his fortieth birthday having lost his entire memory of his past and he never regains it. So everything he knows about who is has been told to him by other people who mostly don’t know him; who truly knows anyone? He becomes a writer—prior to this he was a dissatisfied teacher—but one day he stops work on the story he’s been working on, sticks on his hat and coat and goes and sits in a park. And for the rest of his life that’s pretty much all he does. Many of Beckett’s characters are wanderers. Even when things work out for them they can’t settle. In First Love and Molloy the males run into women who, for some strange reason, decide they want to take care of them and are more than tolerant of their peculiarities and yet within a few months the men abandon the good life for the road. Jim’s ‘road’ only leads to the park and there he takes on the role inhabited by Beckettian characters like the bedridden Malone or the housebound Hamm and Clov in Endgame who amuse themselves in any way they can. This is, of course, only one part of the story. We also get to meet Jim prior to his amnesia and learn just what happened there but I’ve said enough.

Kass said...

You've intrigued me with this explanation of your next novel. Let me know when it's out. I want one.

Jim Murdoch said...

It could be a while Kass. It’s why I had to take time off to work on it and I won’t rush it. At the rate I’m going I’d say about another three months before I’ll be looking for beta readers and then it’ll go to Carrie to edit and it could take her a while because it’s twice as long as any of my other novels and far more complex which is an odd thing to say about a book where virtually nothing happens but it’s all in the subtext. I’m adding annotations to the book as I go so I can keep a track of everything and I’ve nearly 900 of them. To be honest my head’s spinning but it’s fun too. This is the part of writing I probably like best, the polishing and refining and the hiding of Easter eggs.

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