Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Out of the shelter

Growing up, a wise man once told me, requires that we cut the symbolic umbilical cord that binds us to our parents. We have to leave the shelter. In David's Lodge's early work, his semi-autobiographical novel Out of the Shelter, "the shelter" stands not only for that, but also for the literal bomb shelters that Lodge (and the book's hero, Timothy Young) experienced in London during World War II. While this work was not as easy to get into as Lodge's subsequent novels that I've read, I soon found myself identifying so much with Timothy's growing up that I have become fully engaged. At fourteen (in 1949), Timothy is on holiday at the beach with his parents:
There seemed to be nothing much to do except mooch about the pier playing the pinball machines. In one part of the pier they had machines that you looked into to see pictures of bare women. He walked past them every day, longing to have a look, but afraid that people would stare, or his parents come past by chance. One afternoon when there weren't many people about and his parents were listening to a concert at the bandstand, he sidled up to one of the machines, inserted a penny, and pressed his face to the viewer. The machine whirred and a succession of faded sepia photographs flicked past, depicting young women larking about on swings and seesaws. It was true that they were bare, but the parts you wanted to see had been blanked out. The hairstyles reminded him of snaps of his mother and her friends when she was young, in the album at home. He left the pier feeling both guilty and cheated, and went to sit on the beach.... [pp. 42-43]
And two years later, on a train going to visit his sister in Heidelberg:
The train picked up speed. The percussion of its wheels drummed in his ears, shifting in rhythm and resonance as it clattered over points and rumbled across bridges. He rolled and swayed unresistingly with its motion. He was dimly conscious that people were stepping over him, but he did not bother to move. It was the schoolgirls, going to the lavatory again. They stepped over him in a steady procession and he looking up under their skirts, at their dark blue knickers, with handkerchiefs tucked under the elastic. The girl with the black pony-tail had no knickers on. Unable to move forward, she straddled him, and he saw all the smooth pearl pink fissured wedge of flesh between her thighs and a delicious warmth welled up inside him and spilled over.... [p. 82]
Ah, those adolescent desires and fantasies!

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