BOOKS: A fine excess with a worthless troll
REMBRANDT WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU by Ruth Padel, Chatto pounds 7.99
Sunday 24 May 1998
Rembrandt ... follows the course of a love affair in which desire and sense are at odds. Its beginning is expressed with a kind of astonished glee, not untainted by nervousness. "This isn't happening," she bluffs, wanting to "play it down", pleading with someone to "put it out with the cat ... / Book it a package deal." But it does happen, of course, and in a big way.
She is grappling here with the eternal conundrum that you can't choose who you love. Always in the wings are the man's children and presumably a wife as well. At times, her passion seems dangerously intense, self- denying, and uncomfortably adulatory: he is "the one thing / That'll hold me". With him she is, as she unforgettably puts it, "a flying bit of vertical velcro". But this isn't a book about comfort, it's an annal of the dangers and risks of falling in love.
Sadly, whether fact, fiction or fantasy, the man is clearly a worthless troll. "Party-Time" is a masterpiece, achieving a precarious balancing- act between the textuality of the poem and her uncontainable grief. They are at a party, "every cell ... / In my body aches / To touch you", and in between stanzas that are obliterated by her falling tears - "[Something dropped out here, the paper / Feels brittle, / Stained with a splash]" - she asks, "why do you drape round / Every woman in the room?" The worst of it is, she knows that "I've given my heart / To something I need protection from ... / A hobnailed boot."
There are moments of unity between them. Although we are never given a picture of the man more complete than peeked-at snatches ("your shoulders and spine", "this blue-white moss you call your hair"), it is the physical side of the relationship that inspires her to smelt words and allusions into images of a peculiar, powerful beauty: "Here you are ... / Holding me up on your thighs, with that lava-flow / We know as city moonlight / Pasting neon, nitrogen, / And old stars / Round the room."
There is an addictive elasticity between her sheer linguistic genius and the traumatic subject matter. It makes for very good poetry. I just hope for her sake that it means she's got it out of her system, and sent the troll packing.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
- 2 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 5 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)
Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
After Sam Smith’s Mobo success, is the help of a pushy parent the surest route to stardom?
Pottermore: JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story featuring 'greying' 33-year-old wizard
JK Rowling to publish new Harry Potter story online for Halloween
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
Poppy Appeal 2014: This is why I won't be wearing a red poppy this year