You know that list of brilliant books?
The one with Catch 22, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Foucalt's Pendulum?
Add one more:
The Underground Man by Mick Jackson.
(Not to be confused with Dostoevsky's Notes from.)
"This lovely book is a fictionalised account of the life of the very real and very eccentric Fifth Duke of Portland who had miles of elaborate tunnels constructed under his mansion and who avoided contact with people wherever possible."
Beautiful, bizarre, disturbing, heartbreaking, hell: heartwarming! Pitch perfect amazing. Underground tunnels, a floating boy, phrenology, and trepanning. Who needs more? This is one of the very few books I have ever read twice.
Excerpt (His Grace notices that bones must litter the ocean from all the dead whales. He is surprised they aren't poking up out of the water. And the world must be "a vast burial ground on which we are invited to picnic briefly."):
At four oclock this afternoon it occured to me that Mrs. Pledger is, in fact, a ship and that all the house's little gusts and zephyrs are what fill her skirts and blow her from room to room. It was only her breezing into my room this lunchtime with a bowl of minnestrone in her hand which finally provoked in me this nautical connection. ...I thought to myself "There must be a good deal of hidden rigging to keep her so navigable and trim."
I watched with interest as she dropped anchor on the fireside rug and placed my soup on the table by the chair...I saw I was going to have to squeeze the truth out of her. "You're a sizeable lady, Mrs. Pledger," I told her, and waited to see how this little observation went down. She stared at me but not a word came out of her, so I continued. "Be kind enough, Mrs. Pledger, to tell me about the bones."
She did her best to assume an incredulous air, but it was quite plain I had caught her out. "And which bones might they be, Your Grace?" she replied, reddening.
"Why, the whalebones that hold us all together, " I countered calmly, and leaning over towards her, added, "And maybe the secret ones, Mrs. Pledger, that keep you so shapely looking."
She was properly horror-stricken. I leaned back triumphantly in my chair.
I believe I may be the first mortal man to understand the significance of whale bones which are stitched into every woman's corset. For all I know, Mrs. Pledger is, at this very moment, down in the kitchens sending out signals to the bone organizations. Perhaps this is why women are so peculiar. They are all in league with the whales.
BUY, BORROW, OR BURN?