A vague answer arrived later when the Victory sailed into view again. Against all habit, I listened to BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime which, so far this month, has been Hardy's The Trumpet Major, read by Julian Rhind-Tutt. Great name. Despite being from Wessex, I didn't really know Hardy. So I listened with interest. Bob Loveday leaves Overcombe and his unrequited love to join Nelson's flagship. Is this really Great English Literature, this affected Mills & Boon tripe? I listened on. A Napoleonic love triangle. A 19th Century soap. One stilted sentence after another. A reticence in ten parts. Listening on, however, brought the indifferent calm, and sleep soon followed. Sentence upon sentence plumped up the pillow. Sheep and more sheep gliding over a gate. It's also why, I realise, that since beginning to read Thomas Bernhard's Frost in bed, I've been unable to read it anywhere else.
Today he admitted he had burned all his paintings. "I had to get rid of those things that were a perpetual reminder of my worthlessness." They had been like ulcers, opening every day and silencing him. "I did it quickly. One day I realized I'd never make it as a painter. But then, the way everyone does, I refused to believe it, and protracted the agony for years. And then, the day before I was due to leave, it struck me forcibly."In not being able to read the book anywhere else, nor at any other time except before sleep, I recognised the need for a calm that only one sentence followed by another and then another can bring. It's also why I can't stop reading even to take notes, to remind myself later on, in daylight, what it was that moved me so much. Not one about the repetition of 'jab' on page eight, nor the intriguing mention two pages later that the narrator was reading "a book of Henry James's" (so unThomas Bernhard), or the valley (so Bernhard) on page eleven in which the painter says "you can walk back and forth for hours, without the least anxiety" and was "like walking centuries before human settlement". It would be like waking up to annotate a dream. All these thoughts about reading, however, all these wonderings about the peace of descending into sleep in spirals of sentences however dark they are in themselves, all these thoughts came to me as I read, they were part of the descent, they were what I sought and what I sought to end.