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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A purse of kisses (#42,43 Nick Hornby & Alexander Dumas)

The new arrivals trolleys were somewhat disappointing this evening; a blur of misery memoirs, maps and diet books. The highlight, a real highlight, in a suitably handsome cover, was a new edition of Alexander Dumas’ lost novel The Last Cavalier, which was rediscovered after 125 years and published in France in 2005. What a treasure! Four of those we got tonight and one copy each of the matching editions of Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

This kiss is from the latter:

“Madame will be tired to-night,” continued Monte Cristo,” and will, no doubt, wish to rest. Desire the French attendants not to weary her with questions, but merely to pay their respectful duty and retire. You will also see that the Greek servants hold no communication with those of this country.” He bowed. Just at that moment voices were heard hailing the concierge. The gate opened, a carriage rolled down the avenue, and stopped at the steps. The count hastily descended, presented himself at the already opened carriage door, and held out his hand to a young woman, completely enveloped in a green silk mantle heavily embroidered with gold. She raised the hand extended towards her to her lips, and kissed it with a mixture of love and respect. Some few words passed between them in that sonorous language in which Homer makes his gods converse. The young woman spoke with an expression of deep tenderness, while the count replied with an air of gentle gravity. Preceded by Ali, who carried a rose-colored flambeau in his hand, the new-comer, who was no other than the lovely Greek who had been Monte Cristo’s companion in Italy, was conducted to her apartments, while the count retired to the pavilion reserved for himself. In another hour every light in the house was extinguished, and it might have been thought that all its inmates slept.

And then when I was making space in H, I came across Nick Hornby again; a green-covered version of High Fidelity. The copy I read wasn’t green, I can’t remember what colour it was, but it wasn’t kool-aid green. Despite the cover, the lists are the same, his employees Dick and Barry are same (the three of them kind of like 21st century Musketeers) and of course, Rob’s first kiss is the same too:

I started going out with one of them … no, that’s not right, because I had absolutely no input into the decision-making process. And I can’t say that she started going out with me, either: it’s that phrase ‘going out with’ that’s the problem, because it suggests dome sort of parity and equality. What happened was that David Ashworth’s sister Alison peeled off from the female pack that gathered every night by the bench and adopted me, tucked me under her arm and led me away from the swingboat.

I can’t remember now how she did this. I don’t think I was even aware of it at the time, because halfway through our first kiss, my first kiss, I can recall feeling utterly bewildered, totally unable to explain how Alison Ashworth and I had become so intimate. I wasn’t even sure how I’d ended up on her side of the park, away from her brother and Mark Godfrey and the rest, nor how we had separated from her crowd, nor why she tipped her face towards me so that I knew I was supposed to put my mouth on hers. The whole episode defies any rational explanation. But all these things happened, and they happened again, most of them, the following evening, and the evening after that.

What did I think I was doing? What did she think she was doing? When I want to kiss people in that way now, with mouths and tongues and all that it’s because I want other things too: sex, Friday nights at the cinema, company and conversations, fused networks of family and friends, Lemsips brought to me in bed when I am ill, a new pair of ears for my records and CDs, maybe a little boy called Jack and little girl called Holly or Maisie, I haven’t decided yet. But I didn’t want any of those things from Alison Ashworth.


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