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The Story of Furniture

Posted on: Thursday, 28 November 2013

"After school, amidst the drowsy tick of the tall-case clocks, he taught me the pore and lustre of different woods, their colours, the ripple and gloss of tiger maple and the frothed grain of burled walnut, their weights in my hand and even their different scents - "sometimes, when you're not sure what you have, it's easiest just to take a sniff" - spicy mahogany, dusty-smelling oak, black cherry with its characteristic tang and the flowery, amber-resin smell of rosewood..."

"Downstairs - weak light, wood shavings on the floor - there was something of the feel of a stable, great beasts standing patiently in the dim. Hobie made me see the creaturely quality of good furniture, in how he talked of the pieces as 'he' and 'she', in the muscular, almost animal quality that distinguished great pieces from their stiff, boxy, more mannered peers and in the affectionate way he ran his hand along the dark, glowing flanks of his sideboards and lowboys, like pets. He was a good teacher and very soon, by walking me through the process of examination and comparison, he'd taught me how to identify a reproduction: by wear that was too even (antiques were always worn asymmetrically); by edges that were machine-cut instead of hand-planed (a sensitive fingertip could feel a machine edge, even in poor light); but more than that by a flat, dead quality of wood, lacking a certain glow: the magic that came from centuries of being touched and used and passed through human hands."

"To contemplate the lives of these dignified old highboys and secretaries - lives longer and gentler than human life - sank me into calm like a stone in deep water, so that when it was time to go I walked out stunned and blinking into the glare of Sixth Avenue, hardly knowing where I was." 


I'm still reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch

On the morning that Theo Decker is due to have a meeting with his school Principal, possibly about to be excluded for standing with his friend Tom Cable as he smoked a cigarette on school premises, an explosive device tears apart a New York art gallery. For the second time that week, Theo find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He escapes unscathed; his mother is killed. 

At his feet in the ruins of the gallery, he spots a painting his mother admired: Fabritius' The Goldfinch. Miraculously, it's completely intact. Dazed, shaking, he slips it into his bag and picks his way through the debris to the outside world. 

The good stuff thus far: well, the description of the blast is bloody impressive; and written before 9/11, h'apparently. And the grief of a teenage boy - the injustice and impossibility of it - "there had to be some way I could go back to the rainy street and make it all happen differently" - is beautifully rendered. Some days his whole body rings like a tuning fork and he watches film after film, numb. Other days, he turns the shower up to full power, gets in and howls. 

And I mean, who couldn't love passages like the above? 

Buuuut - and I'm resisting the urge to say that there IS a but, but there is - look, there it is, just there, three of them, in fact - I'm now just about 300 pages in and things are getting a bit strange. Theo, having been reunited with his dear old Pa and shipped out to Vegas to live with him, seems to have hooked up with a new friend, Boris, and is turning into a bit of a wastrel. There's been a lot of bloody fist fights and throwing up in swimming pools. 

Anyway. I shall persevere and let you know. 


In other news, the furniture passages above reminded me of a kiddies' book I bought ages ago in Sedbergh and inspired me to dig it out and make a framed print a bit like my Swimming, Swimming, In The Swimming Pool project. Guess what I'm doing this weekend? Apart from watching series 2 of The West Wing and making a voodoo doll of Donna/Dana, obvs. And Mandy, if I have the time.  


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