Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
001. The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips.
002. Six feet of a standard type of homewrecker. Arms to hold you close and all his brains in his face.
003. There was no breeze and the trees were as quiet as their shadows.
004. A quiet girl, with a face that kept its secrets.
005. It had an elderly perfume in it, like three widows drinking tea.
006. ”I’ve never liked this scene,” I said. “Detective confronts murderer. Murderer produces gun, points same at detective. Murderer tells detective the whole sad story, with the idea of shooting him at the end ofi ti. Thus wasting a lot of valuable time, even if in the end the murderer did shoot detective. Only murderer never does. Something always happens to prevent it. The gods don’t like this scene either. They always manage to spoil it.”
007. I smelled of gin. Not just casually, as if I had taken four or five drinks of a winter morning to get out of bed on, but as if the Pacific Ocean was pure gin and I had nosedived off the boat deck. The gin was in my hair and eyebrows, on my chin and under my chin. It was on my shirt. I smelled like dead toads.
008. ”One moment, please. Whom did you wish to see?”
Degarmo spun on his heel and looked at me wonderingly. “Did he say ‘whom’?”
“Yeah, but don’t hit him,” I said. “There is such a word.”
Degarmo licked his lips. “I knew there was,” he said. “I often wondered where they kept it…”

‘Leila’ by Nelly Rosaria
01. When she saw herself in pictures, it was as if she were looking at someone else, not the person she remembers being at the time of the photo.

Little Children by Tom Perrotta.
001. Most people just fell in line like obedient little children, doing exactly what society expected of them at any given moment, all the while pretending not that they’d actually made some sort of choice.
002. Then, in the beginning of junior year, she met Jason, a short, curly-haired guy whose parents were both history professors in Wisconsin. He was a fiery, unrepentant Marxist, one of the few on campus, with a passion for social justice and a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for conversation. All through the fall, he and Kathy stayed up late into the night, drinking black coffee and talking about politics…He was the first smart guy she’d ever been with who treated her as an intellectual equal, who listened to her opinions and tried to respond to them with reasoned arguments of his own. He didn’t act like these discussions were mere foreplay, a preliminary to the main event. For Jason, the talking was the main event. He never flirted, never tried to kiss her, and ignored her increasingly unsubtle hints that he no longer needed to be so respectful of her physical boundaries.
Needless to say, she fell madly in love with him. Once a source of pleasure and excitement, their chaste, endlessly unspooling conversations about Maoism and the Sandinista Revolution because a form of erotic torment. Finally, Kathy couldn’t take it anymore. She got him drunk on vodka one Friday night and took him to bed. The sex was everything she’d hoped for–intense and tender at the same time, full of sustained eye contact and whispered commentary, a physical and emotional dialogue.
003. Looking straight into her eyes, he slipped his other hand inside the waistband of her bikini bottom and reached between her thighs, cupping her gently from below, exerting a slight upward pressure. It always came as a shock when he touched her down there, the pleasure of it so much more intense than she’d anticipated.
004. If they’d staged a hundred train wrecks, he would have shouted Spdang! a hundred times and cracked up with undiminished glee at Gordon’s hundredth declaration of injury. … That was one of the sweet, but slightly insaner things about being three: Nothing ever got old. If it was good, it stayed good, at least until you turned four.
005. …if there was one thing life had taught him, it was that it was ridiculous to be at war with your own desires. You always lost in the end, so the interlude of struggle never amounted to anything but so much wasted time. It was much more efficient to give in right away, make your mistakes and get on with the rest of your life.
006. [Regarding skateboarders] A smooth landing was preferable to a painful tumble, of course, but was it? Even when done properly, the maneuver seemed unassuming to a fault, barely worth the trouble. And yet, rider after rider kept gliding past him like figures in a dream, crouching and hopping, standing or falling, performing their pointless task with the stoic patience of early adolescence. I don’t know why I’m doing this, each boy seemed to say, but I’ll keep doing it until I’m old enough to do something else.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
01. Like the woodcutters child at the beginning of a fairy tale, a mysterious longing had possessed her, a desire to travel far and do great things; and though she could not say exactly what it was she wanted to do, she knows that it was something grand and gloomy and extremely difficult.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
-001- I glanced around me at that drab, almost underground room. The silence was so pure, it felt pressurised: she was right, at least, about that. The air was cool, but curiously weighted; one was aware somehow of the great house above—aware, even, of the creeping chaos of nettle and weed that lay just beyond it.
-002- We had taken the right-hand passage, a completely interior stretch, lit only by the light of the rooms opening off it on one side; and since most of the doors we passed were shut, even on that bright day there were quite deep pools of shadow. The black Labrador, padding through them, appeared to be winking in and out of life.
-003- The floorboards, humped and creaking, were covered with overlapping threadbare rugs.
-004- I followed him in, and set down my things; then looked about me in some surprise. When he had spoken of ‘his room’ I’d naturally been picturing an ordinary bedroom, but this room was huge—or seemed huge to me then, when I still hadn’t quite acclimatised myself to the scale of things at Hundreds—with panelled walls, a lattice-work plaster ceiling, and a wide stone fireplace with a Gothic surround.
-005- This was the room, I realised, that I had glimpsed from the terrace in July. It was even more of a jumble than it had seemed to me then. One corner was given over to a punishing-looking iron-framed bed, with a dressing table close beside it and, next to that, an antique washing stand and mirror. Before the Gothic fireplace stood a couple of old leather armchairs, handsome enough, but both very scuffed and split at their seams. There were two curtained windows, one leading out via those convolvulus-choked stone steps to the terrace; in front of the other, and rather spoiling the lovely long line of it, Roderick had set up a desk and swivel chair. He had obviously put the desk there in order to catch the best of the northern daylight, but this also meant that its illuminated surface—which was almost obscured by a litter of papers, ledgers, folders, technical books, dirty teacups, and overflowing ashtrays—acted as a sort of magnet on the eye, irresistibly drawing one’s gaze from every point in the room.
-006- ‘The floor’s Carrara marble, and three inches thick—hence the vaulted ceilings in the rooms underneath.
-007- The staircase: considered quite a feat of engineering when it was put in, because of the open second landing; there aren’t many others quite like it. My father used to say it was like something from a department store. My grandmother refused to use it; it gave her vertigo . .
-008- We went quietly past them both and found the ‘boot room’, a musty-smelling chamber full of mackintoshes and perished wellingtons and tennis racquets and mallets but really, she told me, a sort of tiring-room from the days when the family still ran a stables. A door inside it led to a quaint delft-tiled lavatory that had been known for over a century, she said, as ‘the gentlemen’s hoo-hah’.
-009- The window was actually a pair of long glass doors and, like the ones in Roderick’s room and the little parlour, it opened on to a set of flying stone steps leading down to the terrace. As I saw when I drew closer, these particular steps had collapsed: the top one still jutted from the sill, but the rest lay scattered on the gravel four feet below, dark and weathered as if they had lain there some time. Undeterred, Caroline seized the handle of the doors and opened them up, and we stood on the little precipice in the soft, warm, fragrant air, looking over the west lawn. The lawn must once, I thought, have been trimmed and level: perhaps a space for croquet. Now the ground was lumpy with molehills and thistles, and the grass in places was knee-high. The straggling shrubs all around it gave way to clumps of purple beech, beautifully vivid in colour but quite out of control; and the two huge unlopped English elms beyond them would, I saw, once the sun sank lower, cast the whole of the scene in shadow.
-010- Away to the right was a clutch of outbuildings, the garage and disused stables. Over the stable door was a great white clock. ‘Twenty to nine,’ I said, smiling, looking at the stuck ornamental hands. Caroline nodded. ‘Roddie and I did that when the clock first broke.’ And then, seeing my puzzled expression: ‘Twenty to nine is the time Miss Havisham’s clocks are stopped at in Great Expectations. We thought it awfully funny, then. It seems a bit less funny now, I must admit . .
-011- . Beyond the stables are the old gardens—the kitchen gardens, and so on.’
-012- I’d never been out there so late in the day before and, with its uneven outline, it looked as though it were bleeding itself into the rapidly darkening sky.
-013- It was one of the tricks of the house, to have distinctly different atmospheres inside and out.
-014- The floor above was dimly lit, the floor above that even dimmer, so the staircase ascended into shadows; the glass dome in the roof held the last of the evening twilight, and seemed suspended in the darkness, a great translucent disc. The silence was perfect.
-015- The kitchen itself, I think, alarmed them, with its blunt Victorian fittings, its flagstones, its monster of a range.
-016- She had Barrett dig a grave for him among the marble headstones that formed a quaint little pet’s cemetery in one of the park’s plantations.
-017- I found her in the library. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor with a tray of leather-bound books in front of her; she was rubbing lanolin into their covers.
-018- His room, as it always did, had that muted feel to it, as if it were slightly insulated from the rest of the house.
-019- Some of the bulbs in the wall-lights had blown, and the staircase climbed into shadows, just as it had on the evening of the party; the effect, now, was a strangely lowering one, as if the inclement night itself had found a way in through seams in the brickwork, and had gathered to hang like smoke or must in the very core of the house.
-020- The grass-snake field—as I knew Caroline and Roderick had named it, as children—was just within the park wall, about three-quarters of a mile from the house itself. It had been hidden from view in high summer, but with the thinning of the trees in autumn it became visible from all the south- and west-facing windows of the Hall, a distant swathe of green and white and silver, rippling and lovely as fingered velvet.
-021- I had the feeling that he was trapped in his own bad humour and secretly abashed by it.
-022- The smoke was clearing, she said, but the room as she plunged back into it was like some small scene from hell: unimaginably hot, lit up at a thousand diabolical points, and thick with whirling embers and tongues of fire that seemed to dart viciously at her face and hands.
-023- my lungs feel just as though they’ve the bottom of a duck-pond inside them.
-024- The wind there was as solid as a velvet curtain; we had almost to fight our way through it.
-025- Soon we left our own dark trail, looking for drier ground, and approached the house by a different route, arriving at a spot where the garden fence gave way to an ancient ha-ha, its sides so collapsed and overgrown it was more truthfully, I suggested, a boo-hoo.
-026- My smooth-soled shoes weren’t made for that sort of treatment, and once I slithered very nearly into a splits.
-027- By now we had left the outskirts of Leamington and passed into unlit country lanes. The ground was frostier here, the road and hedges white and sparkling: they seemed to part around our headlamps, to froth and rush back into darkness, like water churned by the prow of a boat.
-028- ‘That girl Brenda I met tonight: I don’t much like her, you know.’ I said, ‘You don’t? I’d never have guessed. You greeted each other like long-lost sisters.’ ‘Oh, women always go on like that.’ ‘Yes, I’ve often thought it must be exhausting to be a woman.’ ‘It is, if you do it properly. Which is why I so seldom do.
-029- A couple of windows caught the light of the headlamps, sending it back with the soft, irregular sheen of oil on water.
-030- But the windows themselves were dark, and when I switched the engine off the great house seemed somehow to edge closer, until it was impossibly looming and forbidding against the densely starred sky.
-031- an old speaking-tube, which had been installed in the 1880s to allow the nursery staff to communicate with the cook, and which ran right down through the house from the day-nursery on the second floor, to finish at a small ivory mouthpiece in the kitchen. The mouthpiece was stoppered by a whistle, fastened to it by a slim brass chain, and designed to sound when the tube was blown into at the other end.
-032- clutching at the serpent-headed banister .
-033- This floor was laid out differently from the two floors below, with narrower corridors and noticeably lower ceilings.
-034- ‘A poem! All right.’ And she went on, in a prompt, perfunctory way: ‘ “ The frost performs its secret ministry, Unhelped by any wind.” Now go to bed, will you?’
-035- Even the interior of the house was subtly transformed by the weather, the glass dome above the stairwell now translucent with snow, making the hall dimmer than ever, and the windows letting in a chill reflected light from the whitened ground, so that shadows fell puzzlingly.
-036- I fetched her outdoor things myself, making sure she was properly dressed for the cold; I put on my overcoat and hat, and we went out by the front door. We had to pause a moment to let our eyes grow accustomed to the whiteness of the day,
-037- The snow lay smooth as foam there, almost silky to the eye, but crisp and powdery underfoot.
-038- The white ground had kept the day light, but the sky was now a darkening zinc grey.
-039- And you needn’t be frit—’ I used the Warwickshire word, almost unconsciously.

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
-001- …he concealed his feelings too closely, becoming by a hyperbole of reticence, reserved even about his reserve…
-002- Laura was not in any way religious. She was not even religious enough to speculate towards irreligion.

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