Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Perchance to dream

Natasha Richardson's death has made me melancholy. Not that I'm a great fan of hers or her husband, but man - what fragile critters human beings are! Which of course explains their inventing "invisible friends" to take away the fear and make sense of the futility of it all: from oversized rabbits to bearded guys that look like Graham Chapman. But that's another story.

Richardson's freak accident is reminiscent of how J.G. Ballard fictionalises the sudden death of his wife Mary of pneumonia - an event, I believe, that is far more central to his writing than all the kinky prosthetics and erotically overcharged car-crashes that have made him famous - in The Kindness of Women.

In the book - which is neither a novel nor an autobiography, but a weirdly life-like hallucination in-between - the "protagonist's" wife Miriam dies from injuries to her brain after slipping and hitting her head while on holiday in Spain.
While the practicante sat beside Miriam in the bedroom I went into the kitchen and prepared the children's supper, then carried the tray to the Nordlund's apartment. When I returned, the practicante was on the telephone. He spoke to the doctor, and then told me to be calm while he summoned an ambulance. I went into the bedroom and held Miriam's shoulders. She had lost all feeling from her left leg and arm, and was moving in and out of a shallow consciousness, smiling in a faint way as she seemed to recede from herself. She frowned at me with one side of her face, touching her numbed body with a small hand.

When the ambulance arrived I was already dazed with panic. the driver and his attendant were trying to assemble the collapsible wheelchair. While they argued with each other I lifted Miriam from the bed and carried her in my arms to the elevator. Her eyes stared vaguely at the falling lights of the floor buttons, and her body was cold, as if she had spent hours in the sea. We eased her into the ambulance, waving away the tourists returning from the beach, watched by the expressionless children on the Nordlund's balcony.

Miriam could no longer see them. I heard the rear doors close behind me, and saw Lykiard smiling stiffly with a fist clenched in encouragement. I crouched on the jump seat behind the attendant as he secured Miriam under the blanket and readied his oxygen cylinder. We sped along the Figueras road, siren wailing, and began to swerve in and out of traffic. I massaged Miriam's calves, trying to feel the pulse in her legs. The oxygen from the mask had driven the sweat from her face, which seemed as small as Lucy's at the moment of birth. Only her right eye was focused, moving across the lace curtains on the windows and the ambulance. She was forcing herself to breathe, but her rib-cage had collapsed.

We stopped behind a bus that blocked the road to the bullring. The attendant opened the rear doors and remonstrated with the driver, who slowly reversed out of our way. We reached the hospital ten minutes later, as the last crowds dispersed from the football stadium. The flower-sellers by the ticket office were wrapping up their unsold blooms, and the news vendors were taking down their metal racks. But by then Miriam was already dead (159-60).
This passage always makes me gasp: the closeness of life and death, the constant threat of the life-ending and -changing event overshadowing everyday banalities is almost too much to bear.

Ian McEwan, too, is good at depicting this slippage from mundane reality to the existential terror that awaits us around each corner, and it seems oddly ironic that Richardson starred in a film version of one of his earlier novels, The Comfort of Strangers.

And just for old times' sake, here's a sweet little snippet from Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes. Spot Richardson's relative!

Oh dear, I completely forgot that the Margaret Lockwood character is knocked unconscious by a flowerpot in the film - is this another odd instance of life imitating art? I'm beginning to believe in the "eternal curse of the Redgraves (ever since Grandpa Michael came out of his closet ....)."

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