“So I took a good look at his face in the mirror. He looked as if he had been beaten to death with a wine bottle, but by doing it with the contents of the bottle.”

– p. 112, The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966, Richard Brautigan

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“Rare joy of truancy, of bold escape…”

With the news today of Alan Rickman’s sad passing, there’s been plenty of online reminiscence about his most memorable roles.

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One of Rickman’s performances that has stayed firmly with me is of the narrator in The Song of Lunch, a film adaptation of Christopher Reid’s nostalgic narrative poem of the same name. The poem tells the story of an unnamed publishing editor (and unsuccessful poet) meeting an old lover in a Soho restaurant, 15 years after their affair. It’s poignant and sad, but resists sinking into soggy sentimentality; touching, clever, and funny.

Sometimes, though, a man needs
to go out on the rampage,
throw conscientious time-keeping
to the winds,
help kill a few bottles –
and bugger the consequences.

In the film adaptation, Rickman plays the unnamed editor, Emma Thompson his former lover, and both put in typically fine performances. It’s a lovely film on its own, and a lovely, thoughtful interpretation of Reid’s poem. It’s well worth tracking down a copy of the film to watch, but for now we can be grateful to whichever cheeky soul has put the audio up in full on YouTube:

“And I talked in a jumbled way about how beauty had another side to it… all related to whether you could love even what was unpleasant and abandoned, whether you could love the landscape during all those hours and days and weeks when it rained, when it got dark early, when you sat by the stove and thought it was ten at night while it was really only half past six, when you started talking to yourself, speaking to the horse, the dog, the cat, and the goat, but best of all to yourself, silently at first – as though showing a movie, letting images from the past flicker through your memory – and then out loud, as I had done, asking yourself questions, inquiring of yourself, interrogating yourself, wanting to know the most secret things about yourself, accusing yourself as if you were a public prosecutor and then defending yourself, and so arriving, in this back-and-forth way, at the meaning of your life. Not the meaning of what used to be or what happened a long time ago, but discovering the kind of road you’d opened up and had yet to open up, and whether there was still time to attain the serenity that would secure you against the desire to escape from your own solitude, from the most important questions that you should ask yourself. And so I…sat in the pub every Saturday till evening, and the longer I sat there, the more I opened myself up to people… and I saw how the people here were eclipsing what I wanted to see and know, how they were all simply enjoying themselves they way I used to enjoy myself, putting off the questions they would have to ask themselves one day, if they were lucky enough to have the time to do that before they died. As a matter of fact whenever I was in the pub I realized that the basic thing in life is questioning death, wanting to know how we’ll act when our time comes, and that death, or rather this questioning of death, is a conversation that takes place between infinity and eternity, and how we deal with our own death is the beginning of what is beautiful, because the absurd things in our lives, which always end before we want them to anyway, fill us, when we contemplate death, with bitterness and therefore with beauty.”

p. 227-8, I Served the King of England, Bohumil Hrabal