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Louis Greenberg

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Palliative care

Palliate: to lessen the unpleasantness of (e.g. a disease) without removing the cause.

His mother had a drip inserted to rehydrate her during the last renal-oncological crisis, and now she has a tap. Every few days she lets out a little more of her life into a plastic bag lying on the floor. It is important to keep the bag on the floor and not to let its contents run back into her body. That would not be good.

All he seems to hear these days, even in the shattered night, echoing against the muck-lined cavity of his head, are loud, certain voices debating whether to stay, whether to go. He knows that like his ancestors before him he has been saying goodbye all his life. He has not yet managed to leave.

Does the man crouching on his doorstep with a shard of glass in his needful, fidgeting hand answer the question? Or does he only pose it again?

His mother doesn’t pray for sinners. As she lay in her high-care bed she watched the abortion girls come and go, her slack back turned to the missal and the crucifix, her God gleeful in her impotence.

In a film he sees, a woman gets cancer too young. If I got cancer now, he thinks, I would regret wasting my healthy years justifying my life of fear. I would regret not living in the world without guilt.

His mother sold her house and at last had some money. She meant to travel along a coast which she had never seen, or even fly to the island of her ancestors. But instead she gets nauseous creeping from her rented bed to the kitchen. Her God is a bitter distillation of humanity’s malevolence, its cruel jokes.

He crouches at the window in the middle of the night, watching the man in shadows on the doorstep. He holds a whispered conversation with a private security control room. His voice echoes back to him in his ear. The man fingers the shard of glass, watching, unlike a cat or a lizard, shifting impatiently, needfully.

In the past, in Eastern Europe, his grandmother allowed a soldier to rape her in return for the safe crossing of her children. That’s how his father came to live in this country and why he rejected his mother and her religion.

He crouches at the window, wondering what the man with the glass would do if he got into the house. Trying not to think too hard about what has happened in local stories to wives and sleeping children. What would he do? The vestiges of his parents’ Gods delight in his impotence.

His Catholic mother will not be granted her wishes. The Jews you hear about in stories often hang on to hope a little too long, stubborn, until it is too late. He listens to people arguing about whether to go or whether to stay and wonders at their certainty. He’s learned to start saying goodbye as soon as he stops running, before it’s too late.

His mother lived in a big house all by herself. She believed God would protect her. The attack, when it came, came from inside.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    January 9th, 2009 @13:47 #
     
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    Sparse, tense, fraught with anxiety. Whiffs of Knut Hamsun's Hunger, Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground. Is this the start to a longer piece? Notes for a novel? I wish it was longer.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    January 9th, 2009 @14:19 #
     
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    Thanks, Rustum - comments like this might encourage me to make it a longer piece. But sometimes it is so tempting to reduce generations of unpleasant backstory to a single line. Makes one feel potent!

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    January 9th, 2009 @14:53 #
     
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    Beautiful and awful all at once, Louis. Is it part of something bigger?

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    January 9th, 2009 @15:05 #
     
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    That's the truth, Ruth.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    January 9th, 2009 @15:10 #
     
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    Nothing planned yet, but I think this guy may be the same guy as in a couple of post ago, so obviously there are some characters brewing. Characters in search of a story.

    As I said above, it's very tempting to condense long, painful stories, but I suppose the trick is to extrude them while keeping the sense of control. A while ago, Rustum noted the desirable balance between rage and control and I'm keeping that in my mind. Balancing all sorts of emotions that could tip into melodrama or cliche, and retain an (almost pathological) feeling of distance and control.

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    January 9th, 2009 @15:19 #
     
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    I admire your approach to back story - it's one of my many weak spots. This is a brilliant piece of writing; really got me in the gut. Ouch.

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    January 9th, 2009 @15:26 #
     
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    Touches all my raw nerves, Louis. Very fine writing. I will add my voice requesting more of this narrative.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    January 9th, 2009 @15:44 #
     
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    What I like about the balance between rage and control in the posts is that that balance is itself a kind of mania. I.e. while reading, you can sense the mania of the narrator in trying to keep the rage under control. The tone could so easily be one of resignation, a different form of controlling rage; or, a form of un-control. Instead, I find I can see into the mind of the narrator and that mind is churning, working at keeping the rage under control. That is what draws me to the pieces. And it's a voice I envy.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    January 9th, 2009 @16:03 #
     
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    Thanks, all. Very encouraging comments - I am right now considering where I can expand this.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 9th, 2009 @16:08 #
     
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    Ouch ouch ouch. Very painful for this Catholic girl to read. Haunting.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    January 9th, 2009 @16:30 #
     
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    One word keeps coming to mind: vampires. Pitch: expert approached to write a vampire novel is confronted with his own lust for blood.

    Yeah-yeah, I know.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    January 9th, 2009 @16:33 #
     
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    I like it Richard - the anti-Meyer vampiric domestic drama.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 9th, 2009 @16:36 #
     
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    What IS it with vampires? The only vampire book I've ever enjoyed was Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    January 9th, 2009 @16:37 #
     
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    Suck Me Dry

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    January 9th, 2009 @16:42 #
     
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    Uhmm...just to clarify, that last comment was @ Louis. A working title, of sorts.

    Perhaps the suspense element could be that the reader is kept in constant doubt as to the identity of the vampire, only to discover...

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    January 9th, 2009 @17:07 #
     
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    Hee hee, I love the broken telephone effect of a comments thread. For about two startling minutes, I thought Richard was addressing Helen...

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    January 9th, 2009 @17:10 #
     
  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 9th, 2009 @18:43 #
     
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    Just come in from the garden, and found Richard's comment. Gazed at it pop-eyed (I believe Keat's phrase is "with wild surmise") before reading the rest of the thread -- and starting to laugh. Still laughing...

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 10th, 2009 @10:45 #
     
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    Ben, I think the spammers might be trying to Suck Us Dry.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    January 10th, 2009 @12:42 #
     
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    Vampires are sadly done to undeath, but there is one amazing vampire book I read recently that restored my faith in the genre (as Sharp Teeth made me interested in werewolves again and World War Z put a new journalistic global political spin on zombies). Highly recommend Fangland, It's a scathing contemporary re-telling of Bram Stoker's Dracula by former 60 Minutes producer John Marks and while the plot absolutely stays true to the original, it asks a lot of hard questions about the media and the atrocities we visit upon each other

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    January 10th, 2009 @14:14 #
     
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    On the subject of vampires - would also add Let the Right One In. Read it a couple of weeks ago, amazing Swedish novel. Apparently the movie version is terrific.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 10th, 2009 @14:20 #
     
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    I think I prefer vampires to dating spammers preying on desperate souls. I've always had a soft spot for werewolves, though. Best absolutely groansome werewolf joke: "I used to be a werewolf, but I'm alright now-woooo-woooo-woooo-woooooow."

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  • <a href="http://henriettaroseinnes.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Henrietta</a>
    Henrietta
    January 10th, 2009 @14:52 #
     
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    Hey! I just got Let the Right One In for christmas!

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  • <a href="http://henriettaroseinnes.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Henrietta</a>
    Henrietta
    January 10th, 2009 @16:59 #
     
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    Nice title. Love those Swedes.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    January 10th, 2009 @23:48 #
     
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    That Swedish title brings to mind a knee to the groin I once got.

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    January 11th, 2009 @08:42 #
     
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    Someone loves you, Henrietta! Think you'll really enjoy it - very dark and deliciously amoral. Richard - what can I say, except WTF? And hahahahahahaha, naturally.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 11th, 2009 @09:28 #
     
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    Richard, had you just made the owner of the knee an indecent proposition? (accidentally, of course)

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    January 12th, 2009 @01:06 #
     
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    All of my propositions are pretty decent, Helen. But all of that counts for nowt in tae kwon do.

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    January 12th, 2009 @08:19 #
     
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    Selfishly, I'm glad you're back at work and plugged in again Louis.

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    January 12th, 2009 @10:58 #
     
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    What I like about your blog Louis is that the writing is so true and not kitsch. This makes it a much-needed refuge for me from my own blog, which is careering towards an all out fandango of kitsch denialism [?] (especially with the advent of Olympia, the bitch from the whisky box novel)…it’s starting to get like a hot peanut butter cheddar tortilla round there. It’s more like avo on rye here, I live on avo and rye.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    January 12th, 2009 @11:38 #
     
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    Gosh, Alex. Your blog is fabulous - a fireworks display of embracing creativity and colour. I don't think my generally inane whinging punctuated by the odd bit of successfully mood-spoiling gloom is in the same universe.

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    January 12th, 2009 @15:36 #
     
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    Louis, thank you, that’s a nice way of describing it... I like fireworks (there’s something enchanting about them even though they’re definitely kind of kitsch)… and I like coming to your blog; it has a particular and distinct atmosphere.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 12th, 2009 @16:13 #
     
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    Louis, I am not sure your brand of existential angst counts as whingeing or mood-spoiling. And it's never inane. But I do think you need to watch more cricket. And visit Cape Town now and again. Kalk Bay harbour wall, Louis. With a hip-flask. See you there.

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