Saturday, November 08, 2003
Smelling A Rat?
I was having a post-work chat the other day with a stranger I got talking to in a bar in Soho. Unusually for Old Compton Street, we were talking about "literature". Each of us was pretty well-read, and we discovered we had many favourite books in common. During the course of the conversation, he told me I reminded him of one particular fictional character above all others.
I blushed, and wondered which of my flawed literary heroes he thought I most resembled. Would it be Brideshead's Sebastian Flyte, that golden haunted youth adored by men and women alike? Or perhaps Dowson from Do You Remember England?, my favourite (and out-of-print for years) tale of a doomed Romantic ideal?
No, of course not. That would be silly. I don't look anything like Anthony Andrews, and the late Derek Marlowe is remembered, if at all, as a movie and TV scriptwriter rather than the author of some of the most economic twentieth-century prose I've ever read.
Perhaps my divinely decadent devil-may-care attitude reminded him of Sally Bowles from Isherwood's Goodbye To Berlin? Or maybe I seemed so much like a (very) older Tadzio, the beautiful boy from Death In Venice? And I've always thought I possessed some of the demonic charm of Steerpike from the Gormenghast books; and I wouldn't be at all offended if he cast me as a broodingly sexy and dangerous Heathcliffe, or even as one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's beautiful and damned.
Fat chance. Apparently, I reminded him of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the leading character in Patrick Süskind's cult read, Perfume. For those of you who haven't yet read it, and I urge that you do, Jean-Baptiste is an amoral and macabre child of hell, a vicious serial killer who meets his end in the sordid piss-stinking backstreets of the eighteenth century and in a particularly gruesome way.
I think this was my new friend's very classy way of telling me that a shag was out of the question.