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I am a man of simple tastes. My greatest pleasure comes from simply standing still and thinking whilst the breeze brushes my cheek whilst I overlook the ocean. Or it comes from exploring some new part of my city – just yesterday I went to Bondi Junction, a place I never adequately explored.

Today, I discovered a new pleasure. Reading Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History‘ whilst listening to the Decemberists’ new album ‘The Hazards of Love‘.

I have waxed at length already about The Secret History, but I will say it again more succinctly. Every word is perfect. Every page drips with learning and wit. It reminds me of nothing more than Virgil’s Aeneid, his master work. Not these torrid paperbacks of the modern era, churned out like so many mass produced things. But also, unlike the ‘literature’ of this day, it has this brilliant readability to it.

Hazards of Love is an epic rock ballad telling the somewhat Mediaeval  love story of a faun and Margaret, with whom he falls in love and for whom he begs the Queen to allow him one night to transform and whatnot. Moving stuff, regardless of my inability to convey it. It is equally learned. As a reference point, the name of the band, the Decemberists, is an oblique reference to the Russian Revolution. Their last album ‘The Crane Wife’ is another epic ballad, this time modelled on an ancient Japanese fable/love story. In any case, equally dripping with knowledge.

They fit together perfectly. The Hazards of Love takes pleasure in sounding almost like poetry. My favourite part of the Crane Wife is “And stems and bones and stone walls too
Could keep me from you
This skein of skin is all too few
To keep me from you”

But unlike poetry, which I am far too much of a philistine to appreciate, it interacts so well with the music. The changing pitch of emotions, the struggle of wills between the faun and the Queen. The moments I admire most in life is when I feel I am truly dwarfed by another’s intelligence. Naturally, there will always be people better than me, even if fields I specialise in. But the Decemberists’ just blows me away.

Usually, when you put two such brilliant things together, you just have too much of a good thing and things clash and it all goes to hell in a handbasket. But the Decemberists makes good background music, and Tartt is so readable the dissonance from reading words and listening to words at the same time just melds away.

Who would have thought? Listening to a mediaeval epic ballad written by a pretentious band from the liberal west coast whilst reading a book on the classics written by an old school east coast writer is a good idea. Oh, and the people sitting next to me on the bus were French, and really added to the atmosphere.

I heartily recommend you read The Secret History and listen to The Hazards of Love. It’s not often I talk about what I read, I usually forget books once I read them. But the Secret History is something I think I will be ranting about for a while. At least till I finish reading it. It may take a while… I’m reading it in chunks so I don’t get tempted to quit this law degree and away to a small liberal arts college in New England.


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