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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Unsworth Barry

«Pascali's Island», Barry Unsworth

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To Jack and Sheila Carter


I should like to thank the Arts Council of Great Britain for their grant of a Creative Writing Fellowship for the year 1978- 79, in the course of which a great part of this novel was written; and the Principal and staff of the Charlotte Mason College, Ambleside, Cumbria, where my Fellowship was held, for their kindness and support during my stay there.

Nothingness might save or destroy those who face it, but those who ignore it are condemned to unreality

Demetrius Capetanakis


July 1908


Lord of the world. Shadow of God on earth. God bring you increase.

You do not know me, Excellency. I am your paid informer on this island. One of them at least, for there may be others. Forgive this temerity of your creature in addressing you. I am driven to it. I can no longer endure the neglect of your officials. In spite of repeated humble requests no word has come to me from the Ministry, no single word of acknowledgement. Never. Not from the beginning. Twenty years, Excellency. I sit here at my table, in the one room of my house above the shore, on this island, far from Constantinople and the centres of power. I have calculated that this is my two hundred and sixteenth report.

It promises to be my last. The Greeks know. I have suspected it for some time, there have been indications, but it was only this morning, not three hours ago, that I became convinced of it, at the quayside, just after the Englishman had disembarked.

They know. I saw it on the face of old Dranas this morning.

Everything the same: pain of neglect; sea and shore outside my window; benign sea light on the few words already written and the blank pages waiting, on my plump, short-fingered, inoffensive hands. Yet everything changed. It may take days or weeks but I am as good as dead. Undeservedly. No one has ever suffered as a result of my reports. Now I am in the open, soft-skinned, like the crucified man. (I saw a man who had been crucified, when I was a child, in Scutari.)

How can I bear to die without acknowledgements? My million words dropped one by one into silence. Why?

I ask the same questions. Is it that lam too verbose? My style, is it too complicated or obscure? I am aware that my reports have become more copious over the years, but there has been so much, so much to write about, Excellency. Everything, anything, may be important – may be vital. Inflections of a voice, gradations in the light, changes in the weather – where are we to draw the line?

This time, at least, I have something important to begin with. (Important to me, I mean, Excellency: my life and death are equally insignificant in your eyes. You view me as I view the small fly at present entangled in the hairs on the back of my left hand.) I mean the arrival of the Englishman. Important because he came today; because with his arrival came a glimpse of my death; because I felt then some linking of our destinies.

His name is A. Bowles. This was the name on his luggage, and the name under which he registered at the hotel. He arrived at midday, on the Marmaris. Coming from Smyrna, Excellency. He is staying at the Hotel Metropole on the plateia. All the foreigners stay there. It is the best hotel on the island. It is the only hotel on the island. According to Yannis, the porter there (a one-eyed man, very morose), he is staying for an indefinite period. The hotel is owned by an Armenian, named Mardosian, who has featured several times in my reports, because of his connexions with certain disaffected elements in Salonika, that breeding ground of free masons and revolutionaries. They think, the Armenians that is, and Mardosian among them, that their race would be more humanely treated by the Young Turks, than by Your Excellency's Kurdish irregulars. Quite possibly they are right.

I saw the Englishman disembark. I was there, on the quay, as I am every Wednesday at that time. I saw him standing on the deck. He was looking towards the land, towards us. A tall figure in fawn-coloured suit and paler hat. Straight shoulders.

Again misgivings assail me. Are these things really important, details of dress and manner? I would like to tell you everything: the hue of seasons, stirrings of my heart and mind, the speech and behaviour – treasonable or otherwise – of your subjects, whether Greek, Turk, Armenian or Jew, whether believer or ghiaour; and of the European residents, who are usually neither. Everything. Then I should be the ideal, the Platonic Form of an informer. But we are finite creatures, though boundless in ambition.

I pause to consider the predicament of the tiny, amber-coloured fly entrapped in the fronds of my wrist hairs. At the base of the hairs, faint shine of moisture. The fly struggles and swoons in this swamp, amidst the miasmic exudations of my skin. (I use the present tense here, Excellency, for the sake of vividness, and because of the brief interval between observing and recording.) In fact there is no fly, no actual fly. The fly belongs to the realm of fancy. Useful, though: serving as an image of my insignificance in your eyes; symbolically entangled in my hairs, as I am entangled in language; and possessing essential truth – flies expire, as spies perspire, on this island as throughout your domains. You see what purposes are served by this fly, which does not exist?

You could not have known this, Excellency, if I had not chosen to tell you. You could not have known about the fly. I, your creature, imposed an idea on you. My only power. But perhaps you do know. Perhaps you know everything. What if, after all these years in which no acknowledgement came, years in which my sense of impunity gradually flowered into art, into control of illusion, making me see myself, and the island, and the people on it as things which in my reports I could create, what if all the time I was merely confirming what was already sensed, felt, known – my detection and death included?

No. I must for my sanity's sake assume there are things unknown to you. Like the precise aspect of the world outside my window, composed of sky and sea and shore. Let me describe it to you. At this time of afternoon, the shore is always deserted. No sound from the sea, no sound from the town rising on its slopes behind me. (My house is down near the shore, Excellency, away from the main part of the town. One room inside and a square stone terrace with a trellised vine. I rent it from Christopheros the grocer.)

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