Follow monroe_aly on Twitter

Friday 28 May 2010

Ludwig & Norbert

Despite my intentions on April 29 (see previous post 'Northern Brightness') I have since succumbed, and read Sally’s in the Alley by Norbert Davis (The Rue Morgue Press). As I said then, apparently Wittgenstein was a fan of Norbert’s language, his humour, and his lack of sentimentality.

What this description doesn’t make clear is the extraordinary separation of the hard-boiled from the low-down in the book. According to Jack Adrian (pseudonym of Christopher Lowder), Norbert Davis’ “fatal flaw” was his ‘sense of humour’ - preventing him from being published more frequently.

That's not quite right. Sally’s in the Alley, at slightly short of forty thousand words, has a plot that is as consequential as that of an early Lubitsch film or even a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie. It also has farcical elements of the Wrong Box variety – bodies get moved around; there are a couple of set pieces – a chase through an old Hollywood film set and a flash flood in the desert; and there are some contemporary references to WW2 – Goering gets a going-over and Doan, the private eye, uses the alias I Doanwashi when pretending to be a Japanese spy. He also uses the name H. Pocus.

Far more time is spent on Carstairs - a sort of canine Jeeves of immense size and usefulness in a pinch - than on most of the human characters. I’d hesitate to call him a precursor of Brian in Family Guy, but there is something there of a conventional moral sense (the only character who has one in the book) having to come to terms with being a dog.

The attraction for Wittgenstein? For most people language meets mathematics in logic. Take this passage:

‘Start at a town called Heliotrope.’
‘Where’s that?’
‘Either in California or Nevada.’
‘You said either?’ Doan asked.
‘Yes. The State of California is now suing the State of Nevada in the Supreme Court to
compel Nevada to annex it. Nevada has started a countersuit to compel California to annex it.’
‘What’s the matter with the place?’
‘Just everything. ….’

I can see how such an exchange would appeal to someone who wrote ‘A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.’

Though perhaps a better quote here from Wittgenstein, given what happens in Norbert’s story to Susan Sally (in a room, not in an alley) would be ‘Death is not an event in life.’

No comments: