Amphibious Green

Daniel Soar

  • First Verse by Barry McCrea
    Carroll and Graf, 355 pp, £14.95, June 2005, ISBN 0 7867 1513 8

Stand by a bookcase and shut your eyes. Run your hand along the spines of the books, concentrating on the question you want an answer to. You may feel a tug, a certain book demanding attention; you may feel that this is mere frivolity, that any selection will be random. Either way, your fingers will linger on a book. The important thing at this stage is to know, with absolute conviction, that the book contains your answer. Remove it from the shelf and, with your eyes still closed, flick through it, thinking only of the question. Run your finger down a page and stop. Open your eyes and read what’s written. I had just finished reading Barry McCrea’s first novel and – still slightly dazed and susceptible – asked: ‘What does The First Verse mean?’ I flipped through the pages of the first book that presented itself and found my finger pointing at the following passage:

‘No, no, master will never do that,’ here murmured the servant to himself, ‘proud Atufal must first ask master’s pardon. The slave there carries the padlock, but master here carries the key.’

His attention thus directed, Captain Delano now noticed for the first time that, suspended by a slender silken cord, from Don Benito’s neck, hung a key. At once, from the servant’s muttered syllables, divining the key’s purpose, he smiled and said: ‘So, Don Benito – padlock and key – significant symbols, truly.’

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