MONDAY, 12 DECEMBER 2011 19:53

Cinnamon and Spice

I made the acquaintance of the English novelist Charles Lambert via the internet back in the autumn of 2008. He had written generously on his website about my work, but when I saw his photograph and learned that he lived in central Italy and that he had once taught for a year at the University of L’Aquila (my ancestors’ native heath) I could not believe he was an Englishman. To me, immediately, he was one Carlo Lambertini trying to palm himself off as un inglese.

        The other day, at long last, I read Carlo/Charles’s short story ‘The Scent of Cinnamon’, from the volume of the same name, and I was so impressed and moved by it that I want to shout my enthusiasm from the rooftops.

        First of all, it is a perfect story, as one or two of Borges’s tales are perfect stories. By perfect I mean it bears no trace of a human hand having written it. It simply came out of the ether, it exists, flawless and authorless. Of his tale ‘The Circular Ruins’, Borges said: ‘When I wrote ‘The Circular Ruins’ way back in 1940, the work carried me away as it had never done before and as it has never done since.’ I suspect the same happened to Charles Lambert when ‘The Scent of Cinnamon’ came off his pen.

        There is an intriguing timelessness and detachment about the story, a sinister atmosphere of which at first we are barely made aware. Description is spare and absolutely pertinent. Our imaginations are given free rein. We are not told where the action takes place, though there are some clues. As I said, from the first few pages one begins to feel an eerie unease, which keeps us glued to the text. The characters are Joseph, a bachelor farmer, and Miriam, the widow he has sent for from abroad. They exhange a few brief letters, plain, to the point, matter-of-fact documents that reveal all the little we are going to be told about them. The story is related from the man’s point of view, but while we share his hopes for the planned wedding we are not allowed to get inside him. The story betrays no sentimentality, almost no emotion. The bridegroom is simply given to us, like a fact; we follow the action and are granted no space to ask questions. It’s as though everything on the page is progressing, moving before our eyes, behind a glass wall that allows us to observe but that keeps us firmly shut out.

        The story is thirteen or fourteen pages long. Its end is haunting, breath-taking, hallucinatory. When we go back to re-read the tale from the outset we see that such an ending was inevitable, which, of course, is as it should be.     

        I’m up on that rooftop now, ready to exercise my lungs. Lambert’s is one of the half dozen best short stories I’ve ever read.

        By the way, one reads too much drivel on the net that goes under the name blogging. Lambert’s website is refreshingly serious, unashamedly literary. He writes beautiful full-length book reviews. He’s a must.


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