“I embrace this opportunity of remarking that he washed his clients off, as if he were a surgeon or a dentist. He had a closet in his room, fitted up for that purpose, which smelt of the scented soap like a perfumer’s shop. It had an unusually large jack-towel on a roller inside the door, and he would wash his hands, and wipe them and dry them all over this towel, whenever he came in from a police court or dismissed a client from his room. When I and my friends repaired to him at six o’clock next day, he seemed to have been engaged on a case of a darker complexion than usual, for we found him with his head butted into this closet, not only washing his hands, but laving his face and gargling his throat. And even when he had done all that, and had gone round the jack-towel, he took out his penknife and scraped the case out of his nails before he put his coat on.”
“The Adventure of Augustus,” Teddy read aloud, “by Delphie Fox.”“Why is everything an adventure with you?” Sylvie said irritably to Izzie.“Because life is an adventure, of course.”“I would say it was more of an endurance race,” Sylvie said. “Or an obstacle course.”“Oh, my dear,” Hugh said, suddenly solicitous, “not that bad, surely?” p. 181
“Sometimes it was harder to change the past than it was the future.” (p. 495)
“I strolled through a grove of dress materials and found myself at a counter piled with jars of face-cream and lipsticks. I suddenly remembered Allegra Gray’s smooth apricot-coloured face rather too close to mine and wondered what it was that she used to get such a striking effect. There was a mirror on the counter and I caught sight of my own face, colourless and worried-looking, the eyes large and rather frightened, the lips too pale. I did not feel that I could ever acquire a smooth apricot complexion but I could at least buy a new lipstick, I thought, consulting the shade-card. The colours had such peculiar names but at last I chose one that seemed right and began to turn over a pile of lipsticks in a bowl in an effort to find it. But the colour I had chosen was either very elusive or not there at all, and the girl behind the counter, who had been watching my scrabblings in a disinterested way, said at last, “What shade was it you wanted, dear?”I was a little annoyed at being called ‘dear’, though it was perhaps more friendly than ‘madam’, suggesting as it did that I lacked the years and poise to merit the more dignified title.“It’s called Hawaiian Fire,” I mumbled, feeling rather foolish for it had not occurred to me that I should have to say it out loud.” (p. 130)
“Of course you’ve never been married,” she said, putting me in my place among the rows of excellent women…” (p. 27)“But my dear Mildred, you mustn’t marry,” he was saying indignantly. “Life is disturbing enough as it is without these alarming suggestions. I always think of you as being so very balanced and sensible, such an excellent woman.” (p. 69)“I felt that the ‘among’ spoilt it a little and imagined a crowd of us, all excellent women connected with the church, hearing the news (that Julian Malory and Mrs. Gray are engaged).” (p. 132)“It was not the excellent women who got married but people like Allegra Gray, who was no good at sewing, and Helena Napier, who left all the washing up.” (p. 170)“You could consider marrying an excellent woman?” I asked in amazement. “But they are not for marrying.” (p. 189)
“It is a known fact that people like clergy men’s daughters, excellent women in their way, sometimes rush in where the less worthy might fear to tread.” (p. 221)
Would America be just like he’d imagined it? Along with the rest of the world, Robert had lived under a rain of American images most of his life. Perhaps the place had already been imagined for him and he wouldn’t be able to see anything at all.
The first impression that came his way, while the plane was still on the ground at Heathrow, was a sense of hysterical softness. The flow of passengers up the aisle was blocked by a red-haired woman sagging at the knees under her own weight.‘I cannot go there. I cannot get in there,’ she panted. ‘Linda wants me to sit by the window, but I cannot fit in there.’‘Get in there, Linda,’ said the enormous father of the family.‘Dad!’ said Linda, whose size spoke for itself.That certainly seemed typical of something he had seen before in London’s tourist spots: a special kind of tender American obesity; not the hardwon fat of a gourmet, or the juggernaut body of a truck driver, but the apprehensive fat of people who had decided to become their own airbag systems in a dangerous world. What if their bus was hijacked by a psychopath who hadn’t brought any peanuts? Better have some now. If there was going to be a terrorist incident, why go hungry on top of everything else?Eventually, the Airbags dented themselves into their seats. Robert had never seen such vague faces, mere sketches on the immensity of their bodies. Even the father’s relatively protuberant features looked like the remnants of a melted candle. As she squeezed into her aisle seat, Mrs. Airbag turned to the long queue of obstructed passengers, a brown smudge of tiredness radiating from her faded hazel eyes.‘Thank you for your patience,’ she groaned.‘It’s sweet of her to thank us for something we haven’t given her,” said Robert’s father. ‘Perhaps I should thank her for her agility.”Robert’s mother gave him a warning look. It turned out they were in the row behind the Airbags.
The park was bright and warm, crowded with sleeveless dresses and jackets hooked over shoulders. Robert felt the heightened alertness of arrival being eroded by exhaustion, and the novelty of New York overlaid by the sense that he had seen this new place a thousand times before. Whereas the London parks he knew seemed to insist on nature, Central Park insisted on recreation. Every inch was organized for pleasure. Cinder paths looped among the little hills and plains, past a zoo and a skating rink, quiet zones, sports fields and a plethora of playgrounds. Headphoned rollerbladers pursued a private music. Teenagers scaled small mounds of bronze-grey rocks. A flute player’s serpentine music echoed damply under the arch of a bridge. As it faded behind them, it was replaced by the shrill mechanical tooting of a carousel.
Beyond bitterness and despair there was something poignant, something he found harder to admit than the facts about his father’s cruelty, the thing he had not been able to say to Johnny: that his father had wanted, through the brief interludes of his depression, to love him, and that he had wanted to be able to love his father, although he never would.
‘If he’d changed the course he wouldn’t need forgiving,’ said Anne. ‘That’s the whole deal with forgiving. Anyhow, I don’t say you’re wrong not to forgive him, but you can’t stay stuck with this hatred.’‘There’s no point in staying stuck,’ Patrick agreed. ‘But there’s even less point in pretending to be free. I feel on the verge of a great transformation, which may be as simple as becoming interested in other things.’‘What?’ said Anne. ‘No more father-bashing? No more drugs? No more snobbery?’‘Steady on,’ gasped Patrick. ‘Mind you, this evening I had a brief hallucination that the world was real…’
Opening her arms so that her black silk dress stretched from her wrists to her knees, like bat’s wings, she cocked her head a little to one side, and exclaimed with excrutiated sympathy, ‘Oh, Patrick, we were so sorry to hear your news.’‘Well,’ said Patrick, tapping the casket he held under his arm, ‘you know how it is: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. What the Lord giveth he taketh away. After what I regard, in this case, as an unnaturally long delay.’‘Is that…?’ asked Mrs. Banks, staring round-eyed at the brown-paper bag.‘My father,’ confirmed Patrick.‘I must tell Ogilvy we’ll be one more for dinner,’ she said with peals of chic laughter. That was Nancy Banks all over, as magazines often pointed out after photographing her drawing room, so daring but so right.
“Patrick walked towards the well. In his hand he carried a grey plastic sword with a gold handle, and swished it at the pink flowers of the valerian plants that grew out of the terrace wall. When there was a snail on one of the fennel stems, he sliced his sword down the stalk and made it fall off. If he killed a snail he had to stamp on it quickly and then run away, because it went all squishy like blowing your nose. Then he would go back and have a look at the broken brown shell stuck in the soft grey flesh, and would wish he hadn’t done it. It wasn’t fair to squash the snails after it rained because they came out to play, bathing in the pools under the dripping leaves and stretching out their horns. When he touched their horns they darted back and his hand darted back as well. For snails he was like a grown-up.” (p. 14)
“Read the chapters on Nero and Caligula,” Victor suggested, “I’m sure they’re David’s favourites. One illustrates what happens when you combine a mediocre artistic talent with absolute power. The other shows how nearly inevitable it is for those who have been terrified to become terrifying, once they have the opportunity.” (p. 89)
Eleanor marvelled at how well her son had turned out. Perhaps people were just born one way or another and the main thing was not to interfere too much. (p. 93)