The Books: “Hopeful Monsters” (Nicholas Mosley)

n128983.jpgDaily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:

This will be my fourth excerpt from Hopeful Monsters, by Nicholas Mosley.

First excerpt

Second excerpt

Third excerpt

Max takes over the narrative in Chapter 4. He and Eleanor have met, and then he went back to England, to go to college at Cambridge. They have exchanged addresses and yes, they begin to write letters – and often the letters are frustrating – because how can you put such a feeling into words? So what they do is – they talk about what they are studying, and they talk about what has been on their minds. Max becomes very interested in the mathematics of Paul Dirac – and shares some of his theories with Eleanor. Eleanor returns the letter, pondering the theories – making conjectures, connections … In the meantime, life goes on. Max is in college. The Labour Government in England collapses – the stock market in America crashes and the fallout goes round the world. The Nazis are gaining power in Germany, becoming omnipresent and there are strange rumblings about what is going on in Russia. Max is very aware of all of this, because it seems connected, somehow with Eleanor, and it also is becoming hard to ignore that the world is about to explode. Eleanor is struggling, in Germany, to keep it together. She is going the route of her mother, and becoming more and more involved in left-wing politics, which is quite a dangerous activity, given the crack-downs. But she thinks it is the only way. She has been studying the manuscripts of Karl Marx with Bruno. Cambridge, as of now, is still relatively protected from that – but not for long. Max continues his studies, and becomes very interested in not only Dirac but Wittgenstein, who is also at Cambridge at that time. Max befriends a kind of horrible person named Melvyn – a queeny bitchy type, who snarks about everything and everyone – and Melvyn introduces Max to Mullen, who is studying Russian art – Mullen will be a very important figure later in the book. What is going on in Russia? What is Stalin really doing? Max would love to know. Max also meets a young girl named Suzy, whose father is a professor at Cambridge – and they start to date. Dating someone else doesn’t seem to threaten what he feels for Eleanor, not at all. But he does wonder how all of this will play out. So much of what Max thinks is fate – is how you deal with whatever comes up. Max takes a summer job in a small working-class community, to help them build a community center. It used to be a shipbuilding community, but now there are no more ships being built, and the economic depression is acute. Capitalism has crumbled. While Max is working in the community (and having some sort of strange intense relationship with Peter Reece, the local priest – who is in charge of the building project) – he gets a letter from Eleanor. She will be coming to England with a group of her Marxist revolutionary friends – they are going on a pilgrimage to all of the important places in Karl Marx’s life, and are taking a bus through England. Can she see Max? It becomes increasingly complicated for them to hook up again. Major forces seem against them. Eleanor has to make her entire tour bus of revolutionaries go hours out of their way so she can see a boy she only talked to for half an hour once upon a time. What is going on here? And they end up missing each other anyway.

Max writes this chapter in an increasingly frustrated voice – continuously talking to Eleanor – saying “Oh my beautiful German girl …” He wishes all obstacles could be swept away. But since they cannot, in the meantime, there is Suzy … who is young and sexy and silly. He enjoys her. They sleep together. Melvyn is jealous, and makes snarky comments … Max doesn’t tell Eleanor about Suzy. There are other side-plots, having to do with Max befriending (basically) a homeless family in the working-class town where he works … and saving the youngest daughter from the clutches of her own father. He’s not sure how to save her, or why he is doing so, but he knows she needs help.

There is always a child – between Max and Eleanor … the end of Chapter III saw Max and Eleanor helping a child down from the rioting audience outside the theatre … they look at each other, wonderingly … Is this our child? Isn’t this absurd that we have only just met and now we have a child?

This is an ongoing theme.

Here we are, though, early on in the chapter – as Max sets up the themes … And now, it is interesting – I find that I myself am embodying one of the main themes of the book: how difficult (nearly impossible) it is to put certain things into words. And how you should be quite careful when trying to articulate certain things … because some things disappear when you name them. I feel that writing down “the plot”, as it were, does this great book a huge disservice – although if you’ve been reading the excerpts, you will be able to tell that there is way more here than just “what happens”. If you just hear “what happens” it sounds like a big chaotic mess. When really what it is is a treatise on the interconnectedness of all things – how politics and science and love and war intersect – and how each can inform the other, or – no, that’s too polite. How each informs the other, whether we can see the connections or not … they are there … and Max and Eleanor, struggling to just survive the early 1930s in Europe, are also trying to see beneath surface events – to see what is really going on.

And when there are elements such as Nazis and Stalin and Hitler and world-wide economic depression running amok – it is important to talk about what might be really going on.

EXCERPT FROM Hopeful Monsters, by Nicholas Mosley.

I remember that we talked about politics, you and I: were you not closer to Communism at that time than you remember? (You imagined you had got away from your mother?) You certainly showed your antipathy to those Nazi boys: I suspected at first that you did not go down to the performance of the play in the evening because your friends had joined up with them – or was I even then being too modest? You showed some antipathy to me when I suggested that in the cannibal-race of the Western world these Nazis might play the part of scavengers, garbage-collectors, to clean the mess up. But then was not this the sort of thing that was being said by the Communist friends of your mother’s?

In Cambridge before 1930, it is true, we did not know much of either Communism or Fascism. It was the fashion, I suppose, to say about Russia ‘Of course, the experiment might go either this way or that.’ And about Italy ‘At least Mussolini makes the trains run on time.’ Reactions amongst students were influenced by the contempt we had for what we saw and read of politicians at home. These seemed to be like dinosaurs already half fossilised in rock: we thought – Hurry on, ice-cap, come down from the pole.

I would say to my mother ‘Freud doesn’t seem too optimistic about the chances of improvement.’

My mother would say ‘Truth after all does not depend upon the chances of improvement.’

I said to my father ‘But if there is no guiding principle in evolution, then why should one form of behaviour be at better than another.’

My father said ‘Science and ethics belong in different worlds.’

I would think – But might not this attitude be like that of the dinosaurs just before they were caught by the cold?

But then I would think of you, my beautiful German girl, whose legs as they moved within your skirt were like the clappers of a bell, the memory of whose mouth still sometimes took me by the throat so that it was as if I could not breathe. I thought – There are connections here beyond the reach of our scientific world; sailors are lured to rocks by sirens; rocks are where fishes and humans crawl out on to a new land.

In Cambridge, young men put their heads into the sand of scrums on football fields. OId men stood and watched them as if they themselves would leap in and be blind.

Oh yes, I felt as if I were an agent in occupied territory. But what was the agency? What was it for? Who were the other agents? (Of course, you.)

Indeed one should not stay too long in the company of someone whom one feels is a fellow agent: there is such work to be done!

This entry was posted in Books and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.