September 16, 2008
He often thought of his childhood as an altogether different lifetime, a ghost-life lived by a distant version of him from which he retained a chaotic mass of disconnected images. For part of that other life, he had resided with his family in a Tudor house in the Cotswolds: flaky beams and indoor windows and crooked doorframes, a priest-hole in his attic bedroom, a spectral odour of rotting finery overlying a stink of blank desire.
His parents owned one small bookcase, three or four shelves in solid dark wood and lead-lined glass doors with a pointless key. On its shelves were Dr Spock, Mrs Beeton, a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica from the 1930s that was starting to show the first signs of disintegration. One whole shelf was full of Alistair MacLean, another half-full of Sidney Sheldon. Wedged in among the paperbacks was a musty blue-boarded hardback of Longfellow’s Divine Comedy, and in a note to the Inferno he read this: “The desire of a man is for a woman. The desire of a woman is for the desire of a man.”
It wasn’t until much later that these lines began to make sense.