Although melancholia originated in black bile, the authorities rejected black as a defining colour. It had too many negative connotations. They drew on earth instead, which was the melancholy element, and which was generally personified in ancient iconography as a woman in green garments; it was to the Green Quarter, therefore, that melancholic people would belong.
Is it true that we are "characterised by introspection, pessimism, and an inclination towards the intellectual"? Perhaps. As true as anything else here, as true as anything we can say is true, because "truth", of course, is a slippery idea. It gives me pain, it makes my liver hurt.
It was late now, almost one in the morning, but lamps still burned in many of the windows. This was a land much troubled by insomnia...
I find it easier to write at night, after the rest of the world has gone to sleep. There's something alive in my mind then, something that during the day is covered in fog and listlessness.
Night figures prominently in Divided Kingdom, and I am not ashamed to admit I found the night scenes preferable to the day. There is a lyricism to them, a lyricism tinged with a certain ... what word will do? ... horror? cynicism? absurdity? (The problem with words is that they let us down. Perhaps everything we rely on lets us down because everything we rely on is built, finally, from words.)
I didn't take up smoking, but I drank and wept with the rest of them, and I laughed the peculiar, giddy, almost hysterical laughter of the melancholic.
I think Divided Kingdom is a profoundly funny novel, but funny in a rare way -- not the funny that makes you giggle, but the funny that wounds your soul. It's funny in the way Beckett is funny, or the way Buster Keaton's face is funny, topped by that ridiculous hat. I never laughed while reading Divided Kingdom, but what else could we call it but a comedy? How can you not laugh at the thought of Brendan, who is convinced he is made of butter, and will melt soon if he is not careful? And yet his delusion, so believable, so full of yearning, only made me want to cry out against a world where such people are not given love.
In recent years, Iron Vale had become home to the Museum of Tears, and it was the inalienable right of every melancholic, no matter where they might live, to have a sample of their tears stored within the museum walls.
Moments of Divided Kingdom brought tears to my eyes, which, despite my melancholic humour, is a rare thing for a book to do. There are moments so accurate, so forceful in their quietness, so haunting that a few tears seemed a small price to pay.
Or perhaps it is simply that I tended to read the book late at night. It's always easier to cry at night, when the world is silent, and there is no escape from recognizing how truly alone we are, our beings caged within our skin and bones.
"Think about happiness for a moment, Martin," Clarise said. "Can you remember being happy?"
Horowicz let out a snort, as though he found the question absurd.
There was a fundamental problem with happiness, Clarise went on, quite unperturbed. Happiness had a slippery, almost diaphanous quality. It gave nothing off, left nothing behind. Grief was different, though. Grief could be collected, exhibited. Grief could be remembered. And if we had proof that we'd been sad, she argued, then we also had proof that we'd been happy, since the one, more often than not, presupposed the other. In preserving grief, therefore, we were preserving happiness. The Museum of Tears stood for much more than its name might initially suggest. It wasn't just to do with rows of identical glass bottles -- though that, in itself, said a lot about equality, if you thought about it. It was to do with people trying to hold on to such happiness as they had known.
Grief is deeper than happiness, because it lasts. That is what we see all around us, the lasting effects of grief -- we call them poems and songs, we call them late-night parties, we call them shadows and dust. What is Brendan's delusion but a scream of grief, a metaphor drowning him in insane literalness. (I, too, am made of butter, Brendan, and I too may melt into nothing.) Happiness is ephemeral; sorrow stays with us and haunts us to our dying days, because all our days are filled with dying. The only truth is death.
A boy could balance on one leg for hours. A man could make a book from his wife's shoes. A couple could stand on a road in the middle of the night and call their son's name, only to have him turn his back on them. Candles burned in windows all year round, memorials to those who had gone but were not dead. There were very few who didn't live in the shadow of some separation or other. The divided kingdom was united after all, by just one thing: longing.
I longed for Divided Kingdom to continue, I longed for an ending full of guns and explosions and utopia, but it's a better book than that, a more honest one. I won't give the ending away here, but I will say a number of my less melancholic peers found the end unsatisfying or bewildering. They are wrong. It is a glorious end; ambiguous but suggestive, rich with possibility but not blind to the reality the book creates.
There are other things I could say, but what good would it do? I could praise the brilliant idea of the White People or the magnificence of so much of the prose, particularly the evocations of the natural world. ("Natural" world I should say, for what shall we say is nature and what is not? But that is an argument for another day.) It's not like you'll agree with me. (No-one ever does. They keep me around because I amuse them enough that it's not worth throwing me out into the wilderness from which I came.) You will make up your own mind, and your opinion will be calibrated by your desires and your griefs, your memories of happiness and your experience of longing. I'll leave you now with some words written by a failed poet, a lifelong denizen of the Green Quarter who scribbled these words on a scrap of paper to become, like him, a fragment tossed to the breeze at night and lost to the ages, as everything is lost:
longing outlives lust
dry earth in the wind
the rain held my breath
when yesterday collapsed
shadows in darkness
old footprints, muddy dreams