Given the number of books I handle every day, it's remarkable how few make any impression on me. But today I found this memoir, which grabbed me from the first page:
"One night this year, on the walk home from the Underground in the falling snow, I had to lean against the wall of the crematorium where my father went up in smoke. I had had a few drinks. The wind pierced the short, old-fashioned black coat that had belonged to my grandfather. When I walked on a little unsteadily in the dark on the creaking snow, a girl passed on the other side of the road, her high black boots gleaming faintly. She looked across at me, and then went on in the bitter cold.
Our three children had measles; Jill was tired. The wind moaned beneath the doors ; we were keeping fires going day and night, and the insects cried in the blazing logs. Our house is small, virtually a cottage, among terraced houses built, originally, for artisans; the road is the appendix of the suburb, with wealthier houses not far off. I like our house: scarcely a piece of furniture, not a picture, carpet or curtain did we choose ourselves; all was given or passed on by relatives; all, or almost all, is incongruous, tasteless, but well used.
At times I feel the small house is the centre of the world. It seems a turning-point for aircraft coming in to land at London Airport. Their engines change pitch as they come in from east and west, booming and whining through the dusk, their navigation lights winking hope. When I lie in bed I distrust all aircraft: where are they going? People should stay at home. I prefer the sound of trains far off at night, the clink of a shunting in a cold siding."
The dustjacket blurb tells us little about John Gale, other than that this is the memoir of an Englishman who was born into a privileged background and enjoyed a rich and fascinating life until the day he went mad. Then everything changed.
Gale's autobiography was first published in 1965 and it must have been critically acclaimed, as the Hogarth Press thought it was worth reprinting in 1988, but there is a frustrating lack of information about John Gale on the internet.
I shall just have to read the book.