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James Whyle

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

“All Time’s delight hath she for narrow bed.”

The journalist’s problem is that he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know how long the adjournment will last. He has to talk through it, describing what has happened. That is what he is paid for. Sometimes the court adjourns at eleven. Sometimes later. He has learnt that the adjournment for tea should last only fifteen minutes. But often it will be half an hour or more before the court reconvenes. During that time the journalist is obliged to talk.

He has learnt a method, the journalist. He takes notes. He works through his notes from the beginning.

Well, says the journalist, paging back. That was interesting. What did the deceased say? What, if anything, were the princess’ last words?

It isn’t like people aren’t listening. He cannot not make that complaint. People are listening all over the world.  When he has worked through what happened in court, he reads out their messages.

I’m obsessed! When H is talking I feel so sorry for him, but can’t see how he can be innocent. #headvheart #trial

H is going down! #Trial

If they keep at it, this expert gonna to end up crying He’s started not to “remember” things. #Trial

Head versus heart.


Gonna end up crying.


It will end in tears.

Citizens take sides, as in a sporting contest.  They groan when there is a delay. What will they watch? What will they do?

#Trial. Can’t they bring on the H-man again? This expert guy is boring me!  LOL.

The expert, in truth, is strangely apt. He  shares a crucial quality with the prince. He is unable to directly answer a direct question.  He is the enemy of the simple declarative sentence.

If the professor, he says, was to categorically state that that is his opinion, then that would be the categorical opinion of the professor.

The expert is Mr Polonius. That is his name.

Breathe his faults so quaintly, he says, that they may seem the taints of liberty, the flash and outbreak of a fiery mind.

This is the defence. The prince, of fiery mind, feared the other, armed, scaling the walls.

It is the state’s case that prince and princess had an argument. There was falling out at tennis.  The prince became angry.  The princess, fearful of general assault, fled to her bower.

Wherefore would he do this, the prince?

I object, my lady. He did not intend.

My lady, the prince is an expert with a blade. The question applies. Wherefore, sir, would you do this?

It was a mistake.  I was mistaken.

Oh prince. Oh my prince.

I wished to protect her. There was someone in my lady’s chamber. In her bower. One up.

She wears her rue with a difference, the dead girl.  It has been placed in the record.

Never never never never never never never.

Who said that?

I will come to it, my lady. We must bear witness. It is important. It reveals us. It throws light on what we are. The expert stands before us in the box.

He stands, you say, the witness?

But not the accused, my lady. The prince does not have that luxury. He has no leg to stand upon.

There is laughter in the court. It cannot be born, this tragedy. There must be relief in laughter.

When I was striking the door upon its lower panels, I was striking in a striking posture. But my lady, a shot refers to a gun.  With ball and powder. This was a strike. In my attempt to assist the court, I took up the club and struck the door in a striking posture. I was investigating the nature of the sound, my lady.

Are you a sound expert, Mr Polonius?

I’m sorry?

Are you a sound expert?

I hope that my evidence is sound.

That is not the question. I ask you: are an expert in decibels, sound?

I am not, my lady.

Yet you claim that the sounds were similar. In the night. Why?

My lady, will you give me leave to lay my head in your lap?

I beg your pardon?

It is what the accused said, my lady.  It is not contested.

Howl howl howl howl.

Who said that?

It is a concerned parent, my lady. A father.

What is his name?

It is the king, my lady. He kneels there with his bloodied daughter in his lap. He speaks. Listen.

This feather moves. Her breath moves it.

There is no feather, no breath.

But there are witnesses who have testified.  There was falling out at tennis. A pillow burst.  Give me up the truth.

I object, my lady. The princess cannot answer. The princess is dead.

But if she lives…

If she lives, my lady, it is a chance which does redeem all sorrows that ever I have felt.

She does not live, my lady.

She sleeps?

I cannot say, my lady.

What did she say?

I do not remember, my lady.

What was her message?

I cannot say.

I ask again. What did she say?

Life’s troubled bubble broken.

That’s what she said.

“Strangers in a strange land”. Darrel Bristow-Bovey reviews Walk

In other hands these encounters between Europe and Africa would be lousy with meaning and allegory and retrospective wisdom, but there are no morals here. Everything is an inexplicable sequence of often terrible events without cause and effect, the way life can be. Things just happen, one after the other like feet walking, and the sand and salt scour away symbolism and significance until what’s left is a brutal poetry of indifference, another verse of a violent song of a violent land, neither consoling nor too pessimistic.
Whyle’s writing is lean and spare – a much abused phrase when describing male South African prose stylists – but it generates hard beauty: “They were weak and very thin, like assemblies of driftwood draped in tattered cloth and knocked about by the wind, jerking puppet mendicants on a fine firm sandy beach in the rain. Each one carrying fire.”

Read the full review here.

Other reviews and back ground can be found here.