Sunday, 31 August 2008

riveted horror; all other mirrors were in public relations.

More from The Information, by Martin Amis:

He spent his first two hours in New York wearing an expression of riveted horror. This expression of riveted horror was not a response to American violence or vulgarity, to the disposition of American wealth, the quality of American politicians, the condition of American schooling or the standard of American book reviewing (hopelessly variable but often chasteningly high, he would later conclude). No. This expression of riveted horror Richard came to know well. He looked horrified and riveted, and he knew he looked horrified and riveted, because he was staring into the riveted horror of his own face.

In the bathroom, at the hotel. It was a shaving mirror, on a retractable arm, supplementing the broad background of the regular mirror (itself implacable enough). The shaving mirror had a light above it; it also had a light
inside it. He thought there must be a lot of people who imagined they looked okay, who fancied they could pass for normal, until they met a shaving mirror in an American hotel. Then the jig was up. Presumably, with the human face, the worst possible representation will always be the truest. This was the best mirror, and it was the worst mirror. All other mirrors were in public relations. After an audience with such a mirror, only two places to go (and maybe the hotel took its cut): the cosmetic surgery, or the church. Richard tried to tell himself that he had looked terrible in London too. And memorably terrible. A week before departure he found that his passport, disused for some while, had quietly gone out of print, or been remaindered. So he breezed along to Woolworth's in Portobello Road and slipped into the booth, expeditiously, without even pausing to arrange his hair. Three minutes later he was shredding the strip of photographs with his fingernails -- photographs in which he looked, at once, incredibly old, incredibly mad and incredibly ill. He returned to the beauty parlor of Calchalk Street, and then tried again; and he spent another six quid before he came up with anything he could seriously present at Petty France . . . The mirror had the power to hold him in position, like a vise. His face, it was nothing. It was scorched earth.

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