Wednesday, 23 April 2014

"The Way We Live Now"

"It was an unusually respectable bookshop for this area of Soho, quite unlike the bookshop which faced it across the street and bore the simple sign 'Books' in scarlet letters.  The window below the scarlet sign displayed girlie magazines which nobody was ever seen to buy -- they were like a signal in an easy code long broken; they indicated the nature of private wares and interests inside.  But the shop of Halliday & Son confronted the scarlet 'Books' with a window full of Penguins and Everyman and second-hand copies of World's Classics.  The son was never seen there, only old Mr Halliday himself, bent and white-haired, wearing an air of courtesy like an old suit in which he would probably like to be buried.  He wrote all his business letters in long-hand: he was busy on one of them now.

'A fine autumn morning, Mr Castle,' Mr Halliday remarked, as he traced with great care the phrase 'Your obedient servant'.  …
'I wonder if you've got a copy of War and Peace?  I've never read it.  It seems about time for me to begin. … I need a change.'

'The Macmillan edition is out of print, but I think I think I have a clean second-hand copy in the World's Classics in one volume.  The Aylmer Maude translation.  You can't beat Aylmer Maude for Tolstoy.   He wasn't a mere translator, he knew the author as a friend.'  He put down his pen and looked regretfully at 'Your obedient servant'.  The penmanship was obviously not up to the mark.

'That's the translation I want.  Two copies of course.'  "

[Postscript:]  "Mr Halliday said, 'I have a little present.  A copy of that Trollope you asked for.  You won't need a second copy now.  It's a long book, but there'll be a lot of waiting.  There always is in war. It's called The Way We Live Now. ' "

The Human Factor   Graham Greene


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