Fred Astaire is dancing with Queen Celeste of Babar, complementing her that she has more rhythm than Ginger Rogers, while singing “..And that laugh that wrinkles your trunk…”
Harry Chapman, an aged actor lying in a hospital ward entertains the staff with poetry, while reality, memory and imagination intertwine in dreamlike sequences of repertory cameos that would please Shakespeare. The shipboy look-out Jack, from Henry IV, keeps watch over the future for his alter ego Chapman.
“Seal up the shipboy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafening clamor in the slippery clouds
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,..”
Through Aeschylus Clytemnestra, Dicken’s Pip, Melville’s Barnaby, Shakespeare’s King Lear, art, music, lover’s, lost souls, pets, and eccentric relatives, Mr. Chapman’s lightly dances into the night.
It is exquisite writing and storytelling; absurd, observant and funny. The author, Paul Bailey, has been short listed for the Booker Prize and is a recipient of other literary awards. I will seek out his other writings and I suggest you read this book.
If all that is left to us is memory, this is a nice way to go.