Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Children's Book Pt. 2: Dissection

Byatt's capacity for creating a slow (470 page) lead up to the perfect scene is both frustratingly deliberate and then suddenly, inexorably impressed on your mind. There were so many in this brutal book, that I am going to restrict myself to one. Often bizarre, and, in anyone else's less capable hands, these scenes are almost comical in their blatant imagery.


"Quite suddenly and farcically, she fell in love. She fell in love with a demonstrator, Dr. Bart, during a dissection class. He was showing her the human heart, and how to extract it from the cavity where it lay and no longer beat. There was a smell - a stink - of formaldehyde. The room was ventilated by a small opening in the end wall, with a gas jet burning to draw up the heated air. The hospital was a converted house - the space was cramped and full of women, twenty living, one dead, soft and leathery. Dr. Barty asked Dorothy to make the cuts to extract the organ, a cross-shaped cut in the pericardium, then, with a larger scalpel, slices through the six blood vessels going into the heart, and the two that went out. Dr. Barty - a muscular, youngish man, in a green buttoned overall and surgical cap - congratulated Dorothy on the precision of her work. He told her to take out the heart, and place it in the tray for another student to continue. Dorothy put her hands round the heart, and tugged. She looked up at the bearded, severely smiling Dr. Barty, and saw him. It was as though time stopped, as though she stood there for ever with another woman's heart in her hands. She saw every lively hair of his black brows, and the wonderful greens and greys of his irises, and the dark tunnels of his pupils, opened on her. She saw the chiseled look of his lips, in the fronds of his rich beard, reddish-black, curling softly. His teeth were white and even. She must have been studying him for weeks, quite as much as the inanimate fingers and toes, tarsals and metatarsals he exposed to her.
   "Her helplessness made her furious. She took in a deep breath of tainted air and fell unconscious to the ground: the dead heart rolled damply beside her."

AS Byatt
The Children's Book, p. 470

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