The dissolution of the colonial presence (exactly mirrored by the floundering marriage of Victor and Fenella, and alluded to in the title) continues apace in this second book of Burgess’ trilogy. Victor Crabbe and his wife Fenella are about to take off for the northern feudal state of Negeri Dahaga, where the sultan still holds sway – or more precisely, The Abang. The Abang is to the Sultan as the Prime Minster is to the Queen. Crabbe has been appointed Headmaster at a school there. Coincidentally, an old school acquaintance is also there, Rupert Hardman, who has a floundering law practice. A marriage to a twice widowed rich Malay, ‘Che Norman, it is hoped, will solve his career issues. To marry her, Hardmann will of necessity have to covert to Islam, something his friend Father Laforgue tries to discourage.
In this book, there is increasing talk about the end of days for the white man in Malaysia. Crabbe is asked why he has come to Malaysia, the East, anyway. What was the point, the purpose?
‘I can teach them how to think. I can inculcate some idea of values.’
‘You’ll never teach them how to think. And you know damn well they’ve got their own values, and they’re not going to change those for any high-minded, pink-kneed colonial officer. They’re ready to take over now. It’s probably going to be a hell of a mess, but that’s not the point. Whether the fruit’s going to be good or rotten, the time is ripe.’
As in this observation on the mores of Islam, here celibacy, Burgess writes on serious matters with an underlying sense of humor.. Father Laforgue had once had a housekeeper, but
lubricious eyes had suspected and tongues eventually broadcast the worst: a Chinese boy had meant pederasty, and old woman gerontophily, an intelligent monkey would have meant bestiality. It was best to do for oneself and risk the charge of auto-erotic practices. Celibacy is not merely unknown to Islam, it is unintelligible.
(Some) Words That I Learned From Burgess That Will Be Difficult To Work Into Conversations:
Ha. Seems like a Burgess character had the same thought!
prepuce: the fold of skin that covers the head of the penis – Haji Zainal Abidin is messing with Hardman on his possible conversion to Islam.
‘He has seen the light. I have shown him the light, But still he has a prepuce.’ He laughed raucously, showing a red throat and uncountable teeth. ‘That is a good word,’ he said. ‘I said that today to my boss. “Mr Cheesy,” I said, “the time is coming when there will be no prepuces left in our country. The prepuces”‘ I said, “will be sent home with their owners.”
plenilunar buttocks: pertaining to the full moon
bathycolpic: having a deep bosom. I couldn’t find this word even in the OED.
She was lavish in build, with great thighs but a slim waist, bathycolpic as any Homeric heroine.
cantilenas: A sustained, smooth-flowing melodic line. An interesting usage, as Burgess describes an obese person
This fatness was Kartar Singh: it was the flesh singing, in bulging cantilenas and plump pedal-notes…
adiposity: the state of being fat. (“Why this sudden concern about adiposity?”). Interestingly, at some point in word history, the “d” was changed from an “l” – as in “lipos”, hence “liposuction.”
edentate: “A Malay elder crawled on to the veranda, greeted Crabbe with an edentate “Tabke” and then crouched in a dark corner, chewing a quid of sireh with hard gums.” The elder is toothless.
pullulate: to increase or multiply rapidly. Father Laforgue gets into a conversation with Crabbe about “birth control and the need to enforce it in the pullulating East.”
apneumatic (for when “flat-chested just won’t do”!).
He wanted comfort, even the comfort of that apneumatic bosom and thin thighs.