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Lovesong by Elizabeth Jolley
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Lovesong

by Elizabeth Jolley

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My 1998 review:
Told almost entirely in retrospect and in long, intricate sentences that keep the reader waiting for the main verb, this novel certainly conjures up the ramblings of insecure man’s mind, mulling over what has happened to him and not living in the present until the end. It is the “swift and silent movement of his mind” that we get from Dalton Foster or Elizabeth Jolley. Actually it isn’t really that swift at all but ponderous and repetitive. We only gradually find out about his sexual transgression, for example, as he keeps revisiting the memory.

Jolley wants us to feel, I think, that some people are unjustly down trodden in life. There is, of course, Dalton Foster, leading the group although towards the end, when he does take on more responsibility himself, he does say we shouldn’t blame parents for how we are but we are aware that he has been given a very distorted childhood where the lesbian relationship between his mother and aunt, in which at one stage he seems to be involved – ‘The laughter, starting as a soft breathless whispering and a catching of breath, began to change as Dalton lay encircled by the two women, their arms reaching across caressing each other so that immediately above him their breasts, escaping the soft folds of clothing, naked and scented, caught him lightly as they moved, touching and nudging his face and his lips till he too was caught up in the long low sigh, the forerunner of the magic of exquisite sensation’. I think we are meant to feel that a man, brought up in this way and to despise his loving father, is not such an awful person in his paedophilic attractions. We are meant to see some connection between the purity of music and eroticism so that we think his attraction to the boy singer is a natural development although the way he keeps following the girl in the park seems to condemn him to me as he deludes himself about tucking her up in bed and giving her presents. Perhaps, though, Jolley wants us to see the girl as a reincarnation of him as a vulnerable child.

Anyway, all the lonely people are there - Miss Mallow stealing to keep body and soul together, Miss Mallow’s Mr Afton unjustly accused of being a paedophile when the offence actually occurred before his time, Horsefly, a man who wanted to be accepted by his family but, although he was scorned, stayed there with them – ‘There was never any question or suggestion that he should give up, walk out, shoot through’ , a man who was starved of love just as he was starved of air as he died, Winch, the at first sinister man who with Perce follows Dalton, but who turns out to be a caring nurse but is clearly dying, EV who wears desperation in her eyes but who carries on valiantly, the old woman who is murdered over a sleeping spot under a bridge. They’re all portrayed as well meaning victims.

I think there’s a lot to do with sex in this book, though - illicit sex, that is, whether it’s the Consul’s wife and her children’s tutor or the brother and sister themselves, Conelius and Ursula who seem to have an incestuous relationship but it’s not one which is more than hinted at much and it’s not condemned in any way but portrayed as something supporting the two.

It’s am optimistic book finally after being so drearily desolate. Finally Dalton comes to some terms with the way he’s treated his father and, I think, isn’t going to feel he has to pursue his disappearing figure anymore. He’s going to take responsibility and help EV rather than run away. You could say that marrying her was a disaster but it seems to have given him a direction and if we look at the “Love Song” quoted at the start of the book and again at the end, i.e. embracing the whole thing to emphasize the way it works, we find that it is impossible for two people not to merge as a “single voice out of two strings” - so the music is there and seems to explain Dalton’s attraction to the choirboy but it also perhaps suggests that he and EV may come together in some way but I’m not sure about this. On the other hand, his final thought that she might even like him reading a poem to her does suggest the potential for considerable development. ( )
  evening | May 18, 2012 |
A convicted child sex abuser re-enters society ( )
  TonySandel | Sep 15, 2007 |
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Epigraph
"Fiction is . . . the response to a deep and always hidden wound."
-- Flaubert
LIEBESLIED (Love Song)

Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, dass
sie nicht an deine ruhrt? . . .
Doch alles, was uns anruhrt, dich und mich,
nimmt uns zusammen wie ein Bogenstrich,
der aus zwei Saiten eine Stimme zeiht.

Auf welches Instrument sind wir gespannt? . . .
O susses Lied.

How could I keep my soul so that it might
not touch on yours? . . .
Yet all that touches us, myself and you,
takes us together like a violin bow
that draws a single voice out of two strings.

Upon what instrument have we been strung? . . .
Sweet is the song.

-- R.M. Rilke
Dedication
First words
Sometimes during concerts he thought that, in the expression in the eyes of the conductor, he could see the reflection of the exquisite moment of perfection and of satisfaction achieved privately between the conductor and the musician concerned in the performance of the particular little phrase in the music.
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Thomas Dalton is intent on making a fresh start and takes a room at Mrs Porter's boarding house. Across the park from Dalton's cold, bleak room is the house of his childhood, where now another Consul's family lives. Intrigued and well-meaning, they welcome him into the house, unaware of his past links and yearnings.… (more)

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