Books: Summer reading: Heat of the day: Feeling testy? Assuage seasonal ennui with our literary quiz:

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The Independent Culture
1 All I could feel were the cymbals the sun was clashing against my forehead and, indistinctly, the dazzling spear still leaping up off the knife in front of me. It was like a red-hot blade gnawing at my eyelashes and gouging out my stinging eyes. That was when everything shook. The sea swept ashore a great breath of fire. The sky seemed to be splitting from end to end and raining down sheets of flame. My whole being went tense and I tightened my grip on the gun. The trigger gave, I felt the underside of the polished butt and it was there, in that sharp but deafening noise that it all started. I shook off the sweat and the sun.

2 The prolonged and tumultuous argument that ended by herding us into that room eludes me, though I have a sharp physical memory that, in the course of it, my underwear kept climbing like a damp snake around my legs and intermittent beads of sweat raced cool across my back. The notion originated with D-'s suggestion that we hire five bathrooms and take cold baths, and then assumed more tangible form as 'a place to have a mint julep' . . . The room was large and stifling, and, though it was already four o'clock, opening the windows admitted only a gust of hot shrubbery from the Park. D- went to the mirror and stood with her back to us, fixing her hair.

3 The sea wore a pale-green cast, the air felt thinner and purer, the beach with its cabins and boats had more colour . . . at midday he saw T- in his striped sailor suit and breast knot coming up from the sea, across the barrier and along the board walk . . . He felt the rapture of his blood, the poignant pleasure, and realised that it was for T-'s sake the leavetaking had been so hard.

4 To step over the low wall that divides

Road from concrete walk above the shore

Brings sharply back something known long

before -

The miniature gaiety of seasides.

Everything crowds under the low horizon:

Steep beach, blue water, towels, red bathing


The small hushed waves' repeated fresh


Up the warm yellow sand, and further off

A white steamer stuck in the afternoon . . .

5 I love the idea of being in the country in the summer, but when I get there it comes back to me that:

I love to walk but I can't

I love to swim but I can't

I love to sit in the sun but I can't

I love to smell the flowers but I can't

. . . The reason 'I can't' is simply because I'm not the type.

6 10.05. I can see the Manchesters down in New Trench, getting ready to go over. Figures filing down the trench. Two of them have gone out to have a look at our wire gaps] Have just eaten my last orange . . . I am staring at a sunlit picture of Hell, and still the breeze shakes the yellow weeds, and the poppies glow under Crawley Ridge where some shells fell a few minutes ago . . . 12.15. Quieter the last two hours. Manchesters still waiting. Germans putting over a few shrapnel shells. Silly if I got hit] Weather cloudless and hot. A lark singing confidently overhead.

7 At length my mother would say to me: 'Now, don't stay here all day; you can go up to your room if you are too hot inside, but get a little fresh air first; don't start reading immediately after your food.'

And I would go and sit down beside the pump and its trough, ornamented here and there, like a gothic font, with a salamander, which modelled upon a background of crumbling stone the quick relief of its slender, allegorical body; on the bench without a back, in the shade of a lilac-tree, in that little corner of the garden which communicated, by a service door, with the rue du Saint-Esprit . . .

8 The only signs of life at two o'clock in the afternoon were languid piano exercises played in the dim light of the siesta. Indoors in the cool bedrooms saturated with incense, women protected themselves from the sun as if it were a shameful infection, and even at early mass they hid their faces in their mantillas. Their love affairs were slow and difficult and were often disturbed by sinister omens . . .

9 In the middle of the night, having swatted a multitude of sleepy flies and smoked continuously to the point she was no longer able to inhale, irritated, depressed, hating herself and everyone, O- went into the garden. There, the crickets stridulated, the branches swayed, an occasional apple fell with a taut thud, and the moon performed calisthenics on the white-washed wall of the chicken coop.

Early in the morning, she came out again and sat down on the porch step that was already hot. F-, wearing a dark blue bathrobe, sat next to her, and clearing his throat, asked her if she would consent to become his spouse - that was the very word he used, 'spouse'.

10 She had nothing around her neck, and little drops of perspiration stood on her bare shoulders . . . The draught beneath the door blew a little dust over the flagstones, and he watched it creep along. He could hear nothing but the throbbing inside his head and the cackle of a laying hen somewhere away in the farmyard. From time to time she put the palms of her hand to her cheeks to cool them, then cooled her hands on the knobs of the big fire-dogs.

11 We lay for a long time, side by side in our wet bathing costumes to take the last pale rays of the sun upon our skins in the delicious evening coolness. I lay with shut eyes while J- (how clearly I see her]) was up on one elbow, shading her eyes with the palm of one hand and watching my face. Whenever I was talking she had the habit of gazing at my lips with a curious half-mocking, an almost impertinent intentness, as if she were waiting for me to mispronounce a word . . . But before I could say anything she leaned down and kissed me - I should say derisively, antagonistically, on the mouth.

12 O to break loose. All life's grandeur

is something with a girl in summer . . .

elated as the president

girdled by his establishment

this Sunday morning, free to chaff

his own thoughts with his bear-cuffed staff,

swimming nude, unbuttoned, sick

of his ghost-written rhetoric]

13 She wished to abridge her visit as much as possible; but the young man was pressing, and she consented to accompany him. He conducted her about the lawns, and flower beds, and conservatories; and thence to the fruit garden and green- houses, where he asked her if she liked strawberries. 'Yes, when they come.' 'They are already here.'

He began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back as he stooped; and presently, selecting a specially fine product of the 'British Queen' variety, he held it by the stem to her mouth. 'No - No]' she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. 'I would rather take it in my own hand.'

14 I sat on the white terrace waiting for the


Our waiter, in a black bow-tie, plunged

through the sand

between the full deck-chairs, bouncing to the


music from the speakers, a tray sailed in one


The tourists revolved, grilling their backs in

their noon

barbecue. The waiter was having a hard time

with his leather soles. They kept sliding down a


but his tray teetered without spilling


on a scorched back. . . He was determined

to meet the

beach's demands, like a Lawrence of

St Lucia . . .

15 I wrapped myself in my torn towel and sat on a stone with my back to her, shivering cold. But the sun couldn't warm me. I wanted to go home. I looked around and T- had gone. I searched for a long time before I could believe that she had taken my dress - not my underclothes, she never wore any - but my dress, starched, ironed, clean that morning. She had left me hers and I put it on at last and walked home in the blazing sun feeling sick, hating her. I planned to get round the back of the house to the kitchen, but passing the stables I stopped to stare at three strange horses and my mother saw me and called. She was on the glacis with two young ladies and a gentleman.