Nourishment - Book of the Month
by Gerard Woodward
Woodward's humour is satanic, but only if I find his footprint in the sand will I see the cloven hoof. His touch is so light that the bruise he leaves is in a hidden place, and I peep at it in private, for is it not more a badge of honour than a mark of shame? Where he leads I will follow, brimming with trepidation, only to meet him coming back. His prose is the music of pan pipes; he admires my wide straw hat, but he has visited my alter ego and has uncovered her and has known the dirty girl, and teases me the more for her, even as I deny her existence. And if my husband is a selfish brute, Woodward kisses me for observing my wifely duties, but not to the point of martyrdom. Never that.
Tomorrow I will find myself a buttercup: he loves me, he loves me not...but tonight let me hear the music of the satyr and breathe in the feral smell of him, and live again my waking dream. And the spectre in pyjama bottoms, dawn lit, bearing tea? Well, but there is nothing quite like a nice cup of tea, especially for a very dry mouth.
NOURISHMENT is the story of Victoria Louise Pace (Tory), who lives with her mother at No. 17, Peter Street, in South East London. It is 1941, at the start of the blitz. Her three children have been evacuated to Lower Slaughter, a pretty village in the Cotswolds, and her husband is a prisoner of war somewhere in Germany. Tory works long hours at a gelatine factory, and her mother, known to all as Mrs Head, cooks and cleans and queues for food. When Old Parade, their little shopping centre, is bombed, and the butcher's shop receives a direct hit, Mrs. Head considers herself lucky to detect a dust covered leg of pork in the rubble. Never having seen a whole leg of pork for many months, she hurriedly pops it into her shopping bag, and, after washing it at the sink, she cooks it for their supper. Only as she carves the precious joint of meat does it occur to her that it may not have been pork, after all. But hunger wins out, and, in any case, it tastes very good indeed, and she mops up the last of the juices with some bread. A few days later Tory receives the first letter from her husband. Its contents have been censored by both sides of the war and have taken four months to reach her.
The letter begins:
My dearest darling sweetheart Tory,
I'm doing pretty well considering. Was captured near Libyan border, defending an airfield, and was shipped over the Med and transported north through Italy, don't know where the hell I am now though. Good crowd here, some Australians and Canadians. We play cards quite a lot. Food not so bad. Nothing else troubles me, apart from not being able to pull your knickers down and give you a good fuck. Instead, could you write me a dirty letter, by return of post? I mean really filthy, full of all the dirtiest words and deeds you can think of?
I require this most urgently.
Love to your Ma.
Well! In the days when ordinary people like the Pace family seldom uttered a blasphemy and knew very few dirty words, and none that they would use, the last paragraph came as a stunning shock to Tory. What horrors of war, she wondered, could have changed her husband, with whom she had never discussed sex or exchanged dirty language, and with whom she had only ever had sex in their bed in the dark, into such a depraved monster? They had never even seen each other naked!
Frozen with shock, but conscious of her wifely duty, Tory sets about finding pornography at the Public Library (they had none), bookshops, public lavatories and even manages a sly look in at the barber's. Her quest is answered unexpectedly, but when Donald returns home at the end of the war, she has some explaining to do...
What is the Man Booker Prize for if it is not awarded in appreciation of flawless and original writing that fully engages and captivates the reader? NOURISHMENT is nothing if not that.
Read our interview with Gerard Woodward.