Friday, June 11, 2010

Olivia Manning's "School for Love"

Olivia Manning, 1908-1980

It's an extraordinary novel, School for Love, so much so that I want to keep repeating the title. Thanks to New York Review of Books Classics, Manning's novel, first published in 1951, is finally out in America.

Set in Jerusalem in 1975, School for Love tells the story of orphaned Felix Latimer. On his first night in the freezing house of the monstrous Miss Bohun, described by Jane Smiley in the introduction as, "a marvel, even a paradigm, of hypocrisy," he lies in bed grieving, completely alone until the cat Faro joins him. (Manning knew cats and wrote about them in the nonfiction Extraordinary Cats.)

The School of Love is worth reading if only for Manning's descriptions of Faro and her powers:

He [Felix] stared into nothingness, thinking he would never sleep, never feel warm again. At last Faro jumped on to his bed and he felt her paws, soft and heavy, move with cautious certainty up to his face; her whiskers touched his cheek as she sniffed to be sure of him, then, like an arrow-tip of ice, her nose pointed between the sheets. He raised the covers for her. Slipping like silk into his arms, she curled warm against his body and lay with her chin on his shoulder, purring contentment. He wrapped his arms round her. Comforted, kissing her between the ears, he whispered: 'I love you.' He pressed his face into her fur and said: 'Faro, darling little Faro . . . ' but in a moment, when he meant only to say 'Faro', he found he was saying: 'Mother' and all the tears he had kept back that day streamed down his face until he slept, exhausted.

Manning commands a number of tones, among them, ironic notes, and tender notes. Tonight I lean toward the tender ones. Just the word "Faro"--isn't that soft?


  1. I loved this book and now I must read it again. Thank you, Mim.

  2. oh goodness. I will have to read this book. The cat is pressed against my foot as I type this.

  3. Radish, wouldn't you know it--"High Wind in Jamaica" and now "School for Love": elective affinities in blog land. Please give me a better name than "Blog Land."

    Signs: You must. Yours for Faro beings . . .

  4. Mim - Blogosphere? What a lovely soft appealing post - and I don't even have a cat (a dog instead who would eat one...) Lovely to be reminded of High Wind in Jamaica too which I loved when I read it many many years ago. Sent you an email about the Tuesday Poem this week, Mim ...

  5. Hello, Mary, and thanks. I'm tuning in again after a retreat from the computer and have answered your e-mail.
    Until next time somewhere in Blogosphere or Sphero-airy Land. No, still don't have it quite right.

  6. Faro, which in Spanish translates as 'lighthouse'. The cat (in the excerpt you quoted) triggers a set of emotions in this man, culminating in the uttering of the word 'Mother'. What a sensitive piece of writing. I will certainly look out for this novel. Many thanks for introducing me to this writer.

    Greetings from London.

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  8. jackveronic, If you previously commented in Chinese, thank you for translating to English. "If you can, you can . . . " Is there more to this saying? If not, it remains intriguing as it is.

    Hello, Cuban. Doesn't the passage build! "Pharos," with a small "p," from the Greek name of the island famous for its lighthouse, is now in Webster's International Dictionary in English. You know how words cross borders. And we do too in airy Bloglandia.