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?