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The Snow Geese: Fiennes, William The Snow Geese: Fiennes, William The Snow Geese: Fiennes, William

The Snow Geese

Fiennes, William

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ISBN 10: 0330375784 / ISBN 13: 9780330375788
Edité par Picador, 2002
Etat : Fine Couverture rigide
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Fine in jacket. First UK edition, first printing. Signed by William Fiennes. N° de réf. du libraire 180

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Détails bibliographiques

Titre : The Snow Geese

Éditeur : Picador

Date d'édition : 2002

Reliure : Hardcover

Etat du livre :Fine

Etat de la jaquette : Fine

Signé : Signed by Author(s)

Edition : 1st UK

A propos de ce titre

Extrait:

Chapter 1
The Snow Goose

We had no idea the hotel would be the venue for a ladies' professional golf tournament. Each morning, before breakfast, competitors gathered at the practice tees to loosen up their swings. The women wore bright polo shirts, baggy tartan and gingham shorts, white socks, and neat cleated shoes that clacked on the paved walkways of the country club. Their hair was furled in chignons that poked through openings at the rear of baseball caps; their sleek, tanned calves resembled fresh tench attached to the backs of their shins. Caddies stood beside hefty leather golf bags at the edge of the teeing ground, and the women drew clubs from the bags with the nonchalance of archers. Soon, rinsed golf balls were flying out from the tees, soaring high above the lollipop signs that marked each fifty yards down the fairway.

In addition to the golf course, heated swimming pool, and two tennis courts, hotel guests had at their disposal a peach-walled library, lit by standard lamps. White lace antimacassars lent fussy distinction to the dark red sofa and matching armchairs. Between the bookcases, in a simple gilt-wood frame, a colour print showed a suspension bridge, rigged like a harp, with staunch arched piers and high support towers lifting the curve of the main cables. Gold-tooled green and brown leatherbound books occupied the shelves alongside more modest clothbound volumes, the dye faded on their spines where light had reached it. The books were not for reading. Their purpose was to impart the atmosphere of an imperial-era country house. What the designer wished to say was, This is a place to which gentlemen may retire with cigars.

The shelves held arcane titles in strange conjunctions: an Anglo-Burmese dictionary next to a set of Sully's memoirs; G. Marañon's La Evolución de la Sexualidad e los Estados Intersexuales alongside Praeger's Wagner as I Knew Him; Carl Størmer's De L'Espace à L'Atome between J. R. Partington's Higher Mathematics for Chemical Students and the second volume of Charles Mills's History of Chivalry. An entire shelf was devoted to editions of the Dublin Review from the 1860s, containing such essays as "Father de Hummelauer and the Hexateuch," "Maritime Canals," "The Benedictines in Western Australia," and "Shakespeare as an Economist."

One morning, after watching the golfers at the practice tees, I found a familiar book, a thin fawn volume almost invisible among the antique tomes. When I pulled The Snow Goose from the shelf, the books either side of it leaned together like hands in prayer. I settled back into an armchair and began to read, remembering how I had first heard this story, aged ten or eleven, in a classroom with high windows, sitting at an old-fashioned sloping desk with a groove along the top of the slope for pens and pencils to rest in, initials and odd glyphs gouged deep in the wood grain. Our teacher, Mr. Faulkner, was a tall man with scant hair, flat red cheeks, and teeth pitched at eccentric angles. He wore silk paisley neckerchiefs and cardigans darned with wrong-coloured wools, and he kept his sunglasses on indoors for genuine optometric reasons. He was approaching retirement and liked to finish term with a story. One of the stories he read us was Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose.

I could feel, on the back of my head, the starched filigree imprint of the antimacassar. The library had no windows. Hotel staff wearing bold name badges walked briskly past the open door. I stopped noticing them. I imagined an Essex coastal marsh, an abandoned lighthouse at a river mouth, and a dark-bearded hunchback named Rhayader, a painter of landscapes and wildlife, his arm "thin and bent at the wrist like the claw of a bird." Fifteen years had passed since I'd listened to Mr. Faulkner reading this story, but its images rushed back to me: Rhayader's bird sanctuary; the October return of pink-footed and barnacle geese from their northern breeding grounds; Frith, the young girl, "nervous and timid as a bird," who brings Rhayader an injured goose, white with black wing tips — a snow goose, carried across the Atlantic by a storm as it flew south to escape the Arctic winter.

Rhayader tends to the snow goose. Time passes. The snow goose comes and goes with the pink-foots and barnacles. Frith gradually loses her fear of the hunchback; Rhayader falls in love with her but is too ashamed of his appearance to confess it. In 1940, startled by planes and explosions, the birds set off early on their migration north, but the snow goose stays behind at the lighthouse. Frith finds Rhayader loading supplies into his sixteen-foot sailing boat, preparing to join the fleet of civilian craft that would cross the Channel to rescue Allied troops from Dunkirk.

Much later, in a London pub, a soldier remembers details of that retreat: a white goose circling overhead as the troops waited on the sands; a small boat emerging from smoke, crewed by a hunchback with a crooked hand; the goose flying round and round above the boat while the hunchback lifted men from the beach and ferried them out to larger ships. The soldier compares the goose to an angel of mercy. He has no idea what became of the hunchback or the white bird, but a retired naval commander recalls a derelict small boat drifting between Dunkirk and La Panne, with a dead man lying inside it, machine-gunned, and a goose standing watch over the body. The boat had sunk, taking the man down with it.

Frith had been waiting for Rhayader at the lighthouse. He doesn't return. The snow goose flies back in from the sea, circles, gains height, and disappears. A German pilot mistakes the lighthouse for a military objective and blows Rhayader's store of paintings to oblivion.

I closed The Snow Goose, returned it to the shelf, and left the library for the fairways. But the tournament itself seemed lacklustre after the morning's pageant at the practice tees: the streaked blond chignons; the easy rhythm of the swings; the fine baize finish of the green. Each caddy attended to his lady with devotion that verged on medieval courtliness: if she complained of a dirty clubface or perspiring hands, he would take one step forward, offering a fresh white towel. Sometimes women swung at the same time, and you could see two or three balls sailing out alongside one another, coterminous, holding still above the trees before inclining, as if by common assent, towards the flag.

*****

I fell ill when I was twenty-five. I was a graduate student, working towards a doctorate. I went into hospital for an operation two days before Christmas. The surgeon did his rounds dressed as Father Christmas while a brass band toured the wards playing carols to requests. Between verses you could hear the bleeping of cardiac monitors and drip stands. I longed to go home. I heard a doctor tell another patient she could go home; he seemed to be granting her a state of grace. A few days later my mother and father picked me up and drove me home after dark, and I slept in a little room adjoining their bedroom, a room that my father had come to use as his dressing room but that had been my bedroom when I was very young. That night I dreamed I was skiing. I was skiing on a wide-open slope under blue sky, with no limit to the width or extent of the piste, and a sense of boundlessness, of absolute freedom. And then the snow had gone and a woman I had never met was leading me by the hand across a field, saying, "Shall we go to Trieste? We must go to Trieste!" The window was ajar and a cold December draught blew through onto my head, and I woke up early, thinking my head was encased in ice. My mother swaddled my head in a folded blanket: I felt like an infant discovered in the wild and tended to by Eskimos.

I hoped that within two or three weeks I would be back at work, but there were complications. I went back to hospital for another ten days, and then my mother and father picked me up again and drove me home. I slept in the little room. I could smell my father's clothes. The bed was tiny — a child's bed. I slept on the diagonal, corner to corner, across the sag in the unsprung horsehair mattress, and when I woke up the first thing I saw was my great-grandmother's watercolour of Mount Everest, with a biplane flying towards the mountain, the word everest embossed in black capitals on the cardboard mount. The picture hung above a table I'd always loved — it had a secret compartment, one flap hinging where you least expected, with a knack to tricking the latch and always the same things inside: an old Bible; pairs of cufflinks in a tissue nest; a clothes brush shaped like a cricket bat, the handle wound with waxy black twine.

There were further complications: hospital for the third time in as many months, a second operation. And then the need for serious convalescence — a few months, probably, for rest, for things to settle down, for my strength to come back. I gave up hope of meeting the university's requirements that year, and did not wish to be anywhere but home. My parents had moved into this house a few months before I was born: it had been the hub of my life, the fixed point. And now that everything had turned chaotic, turbulent, and fearsome, now that I had felt the ground shifting beneath my feet and could no longer trust my own body to carry me blithely from one day to the next, there was at least this solace of the familiar. The house was my refuge, my safe place. The illness and its treatments were strange and unpredictable; home was everything I knew and understood.

A medieval ironstone house in the middle of England, miles from the nearest town. The stone was crumbling in places, blotched with lichens and amenable to different lights, ready with ferrous browns, ash greys, and sunlit orange-yellows, with paler stone mullions in the windows, and a stone slate roof that dipped and swelled like a strip of water from gable to gable. A wood of chestnu...

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