Devil of a State

Extracts from Devil of a State (1961)

The Antipods…were always ready to burst.

There were…smiles of encouragement for Lydgate, and some smiles of sweet pity as well, as for the only leper present.

A…taxi…Chinese youth…”You,” he said.

…for thy huggest thy bolster, which men call a Dutch wife in some parts.

…wild-life protection cranks, birth control propagandists…

Lydgate opened the sort of letter…”My dear husband I very good…I come in flying ship…we be very happy…love.” It was as satisfactory a letter as he had ever received from a woman.

“All right,” said Rowlandson. He began shakily to count out notes. Near-broken, he was still an Englishman; he would not bargain.

…all heroes and heroines trying to approximate, through barriers of pigmentation, to the Hebraico-Caucasian norm of Hollywood

From ancient drains and sewers of the language (maritime inns and brothels…), from scrawls in the catacombs…whoremasters’ chapbooks…the vocabulary of tavern brawls

…no European whore’s mock-respectability.

…the sin of gluttony, also the sin of lecherous intent toward an honourable and high-placed matron….But more sin is to come, and that sin a double one, namely of lechery in act, perhaps venial in the young but by no means to be condoned, and of adultery, which Saint John saith shall be punished by fire for the act and brimstone for the stink of the ordure of the partners in that sin….She is but a heathen….With the instinct of her kind she knoweth the best and most secret places for lechery….thou are bent on sin, the act of darkness….On her breath is no honey but the smell of strong drink, the potent mingling of barley and juniper in deadly ferment….One man is from the Antipodes but, contrary to the superstition of the vulgar, he is like other men….It is he who seeth the cabin where thy lust worketh itself out, he remembereth lewd advice of the charioteer of Cathay….approacheth on tiptoe the sound of beastly gratification….Lust croucheth now above in the rooftree, his wings fearfully foldeth….But in his rage he spareth not her, calling her Jezebel and harlot….

Head of the Faithful, Head of the Infidel…

…the inevitable colonial philistinism.

Disgusting, ridiculous, when other people did it.

…he had to admit to a faint admiration (faint as angostura colouring gin and water)

…workmen who wanted (a) the white man out…,(c) sinecures

“…Just you bloody hypocrites with your four wives and your ten thousand houris in heaven?…”

…Novello should be extremely grateful that his innubile daughter was being taken off his hands by a Tasca.

“…My name…is Mahalingam….is Sanskrit for ‘large or great or mighty generative organ’ – this, of course, having more a religious (through associations of religion and fertility) significance than an anatomical one. Though anatomically and…socially the name has not proved inept.

‘How magnificent the new mosque…its cupolas gleamed like oranges….Why did [oil] wealth and Islam go together?….There must, somewhere in the Koran, be a fulfilled prophecy: “For, as Allah Most High has denied you in this world the solace of the fatness of pigs, so He has made the earth to yield a most spiritual fatness, wherewith your loins shall be larded and those of the fruit of your loins, and the richness thereof shall spout heavenwards to His glory.’

‘[Brunei’s] secondary title (conventional Arabic epistolary) was Daru’r-ridzwan — the Abode of Grace. What grace could there be…where the reek of opium, of pork-sellers’ stalls, of whores’ perfumes rose to choke the calling muezzin?’

‘”It has been reported to me,” said the [Sultan] impatiently, “that he is already creating a disturbance. He is shouting abuse down to his father, for one thing. For another, some of the disaffected elements of the town are treating him as a kind of hero. Members of the People’s Party have been cheering him. Men with beards have been taking up curries and cases of beer. Beer!” cried the [Sultan]. “Beer in the holy place of God’s word.” “Beer and God can go together, Your Highness,” said Mr Tomlin. “There is a poet called Chesterton —” “I don’t want to hear about infidel poets,” said the [Sultan]. He strolled a few paces, gracefully smoking, angry. “Get this man down.”‘

‘The loudspeakers all over the town belched like a volcano. And through the loudspeakers a voice, like the voice of God, called, “Mio padre. Molto cattivo. Bloody robber.”‘

He stood, gasping, his hands on the fitted lectern with its microphone, and looked down….There were the fairy clusters on the streets, there the…hotel, there the Chin Chin Cinema, there the Kool Kaffi. Somewhere below, an angry and agitated worm, was his father. Paolo…laughed….He switched the microphone on….he sang, for a bar or two, Stardust in Italian….Paolo’s voice…smote [Mr Bishopspawn] and the whole town with a few bars — in bops and bups — of Sweet Sue.

‘Looking up to the tip of the ithyphallic minaret, the people of the town found something missing….The muezzin practised the retroflex divided consonants that made up the name of God, an emblem of stasis, of the old order never to be changed…’

‘…the Mosque…seemed a crouched leprous sun-beast, bulbous, pillared, the golden dome the spike-nippled breast of a supine giant Amazon. It was terrifying and somewhat obscene, like its Semitic God.’

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