Follow by Email

Saturday, January 27, 2018

South Wind

"Viewed from the clammy deck on this bright morning, the island of Nepenthe resembled a cloud. It was a silvery speck upon that limitless expanse of blue sea and sky. A south wind breathed over the Mediterranean waters, drawing up their moisture which lay couched in thick mists abut its flanks and uplands." So writes Norman Douglas in his 1917 novel South Wind. The island of Nepenthe is a stand-in for Capri, and Douglas' novel is full of oddball characters, affected by the sirocco coming up from Morocco.

I had never heard of this book until there was an "illustrated review" of it in the New York Times. It sounded intriguing, so I added it to my Kindle. I'm of two minds about it--on the one hand it's a bit of a slog, since there is no real plot, mostly just a series of conversations between a myriad characters. But on the other hand, the book is occasionally hilarious, which kept me reading. I could quote many lines, but I think this line, by van Koppen, the American millionaire, is my favorite: They eat an awful lot of apples in our country. That is what makes so many of our women as flat as boards, in front and behind—especially in the Eastern States. It's apple-eating."

Douglas is also quite a sesquipedalian, with a vocabulary that almost dances in its glory.
"The Fountain of the Capon, sedative and scorbutic, was indicated for rheumatisms of every kind, not excluding sprained limbs, hydrophobia, lycanthropy, black choler, oppilations and procrastinating catapepsia." And the humor is so dry as to almost be blown away: "Realizing their curative possibilities, he selected fifty of the oldest and wisest of his Privy Councillors to undergo a variety of hydro-thermal tests on their bodies, internal and external. Seven of these gentlemen had the good luck to survive the treatment. They received the Order of the Golden Vine, a coveted distinction. The remaining forty-three, what was left of them, were cremated at night-time and posthumously ennobled."

The story, such as it is, finds a Mr. Heard, an Anglican bishop, leaving his post in Africa (he was the Bishop of Bampopo) and arrives to visit his cousin on the island. He meets a slew of interesting characters, such as Mr. Keith, who is an unabashed hedonist, a Count, and a Duchess. Also living on the island are some Russian monks. The more Mr. Heard stays on the island the more he relaxes his religious views, as his moral fiber is constantly tested.

The only event to occur in the book is very near the end, when Mr. Heard witnesses a murder--someone being pushed off a cliff. There is a trial, with the wrong person having been arrested. Mr. Heard says nothing, which is quite immoral for a Bishop.

Douglas was mostly known as a travel writer who lived on Capri, and this was his only successful novel. It's a curiosity more than anything else, a collection of bon mots that don't really add to up to anything complete. But I'm glad I read it.

No comments:

Post a Comment