Monday, December 22, 2008

The strains of 'Lillibulero'

At the LRB, a strange and mesmerizing bit of memoir from Hilary Mantel about her time in Jeddah:
I was ill in those days, and subject to a fierce drug regime which gave me blinding headaches, made me slightly deaf and, though I was hungry, unable to eat. The drugs were expensive and had to be imported from England; my husband’s company brought them in by courier. Word of this leaked out, and the company wives decided I was taking fertility drugs; but I did not know this, and my ignorance made our conversations peculiar and, to me, slightly menacing. Why were they always talking, on the occasions of forced company sociability, about women who’d had miscarriages but now had a bouncing babe in the buggy? An older woman confided that her two were adopted; I looked at them and thought: Jesus, where from, the zoo? My Pakistani neighbour also joined in the cooing over the offspring that I would have shortly. She was in on the rumours, but I put her hints down to the fact that she was carrying her first child and wanted company. I saw her most mornings for an interval of coffee and chat, and I would rather steer her to talking about Islam, which was easy enough; she was an educated woman and keen to instruct. Monday, 6 June: ‘Spent two hours with my neighbour,’ my diary says, ‘widening the cultural gap.’

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