by Alberto Manguel (Canongate Books, 2004)
Alberto Manguel is probably best known for his books about books, which include A History of Reading and The Library at Night. Despite my love of anything bookish, I haven't read him before, so I decided to start small with this slim little novella about the final months of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Set around Stevenson's home in the village of Vailima, on the Samoan island of Upolu, it relies upon the same concept of duality that Stevenson himself utilises in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the book, Stevenson meets a Scottish missionary, a rather odious man called Mr Baker, on the beach and finds himself caught up in a religious and ideological battle against Baker's Puritanical sensibilities. But all is not quite as it seems, and the reader is left to figure out who is wreaking havoc upon the Samoan islanders - Stevenson or Baker?
Perhaps a reader more familiar with Stevenson's life and works would gain more satisfaction from Manguel's tribute than I did, I don't know. At the very least, I can say that this was a quick and intriguing little read, and that it's inspired me to pick up more of Stevenson's books and to delve a little deeper into his life and travels. A gateway to bigger and better things, perhaps?!
- "In the midst of a large group of people, joyful or angry, mourning or seeking merriment, he felt naked, and he had tried, often, to overcome that feeling, which for want of a keener word he called shyness, but which his father had once branded cowardice, an accusation he had not forgotten."
- "I will not deny myself a good glass and a dish. And I would not deny it to another fellow human. Love of life is a strong passion, and I have always followed its pull, even in trivial things such as food and drink."
- "Our civilisation is a hollow fraud. All the fun of life is lost by it. All it gains is that a larger number of persons can continue to be contemporaneously unhappy on the surface of the globe. But there are so many moments of utter joy, glimpses of paradise, and for those I live."
- "I know my time will come soon enough, but I will not dwell on it. What is the purpose? We might as well dwell on the work of our teeth or on the mechanics of our walk. It is there, it will always be there, and I don't intend to spend my glorious hours looking over my shoulder to see death's icy face."
Source: I got this book free in a batch of Freecycle books and magazines a few years ago.