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After The Singapore Grip Jim was asked if he intended to write a sequel, as the omens in the principal love story were propitious and hinted at eventual reunion. ‘Oh, I don’t think so,’ he said flatly. ‘The relationship between Matthew and Vera would never last.’ The same cynicism infused his annual reunions with Roger Donald, who stopped over in London on his way back from the Frankfurt Book Fair in his capacity as editor-in-chief at Little, Brown in New York. A ritual had evolved of meeting for dinner, with Roger picking up the tab on his expense account and Jim choosing the restaurant. At the last moment in 1977 Jim phoned to ask if he could bring a date and, reluctant but curious, Roger agreed. On arrival, Jim brusquely introduced his companion, Judith Wright, and the evening’s acrimonious atmosphere was set. It was to be a repetition of the treatment of Judy Mitchell in the Irish cottage twenty years earlier, and similarly spun Roger through a variety of emotions. ‘I was slightly jealous when I saw this wonderful girl,’ he recounted, ‘because I had always been more successful in that way. But every time she said anything Jim turned on her – if she agreed, that was wrong, and if she disagreed, she didn’t know what she was saying. Before the dessert came she said to me, “Do you mind if I go home?” It was hell. As soon as she went I said what I thought. “Jesus Christ, Farrell, I wanted to talk to you and you insist on bringing a woman. She turned out to be very sweet and you were abysmal.” He was apologetic. “Oh God, I can’t stand these damn women. They’re all after me. We’ll repair the evening. Let’s go back to my place.”’ The rest of the night was spent drinking and bickering, with Jim proposing that Roger should publish The Singapore Grip in America and Roger accusing him of taking the easy way out by simply moving Krishnapur further east. He flew back to New York convinced that Jim had never come to terms with his changed physical appearance, 334 CHAPTER NINETEEN A Tiny Bit World-Weary 1978–1979 despite his literary success. ‘Why in God’s name had he brought that girl? To show his power? That had been my first thought. This incredible display of bad manners, then this reparation of our relationship afterwards. I had stopped being angry because he’d wrecked the evening, and I just felt sad.’ At the announcement that a spirited young American to whom he was attracted was about to get married, Jim joined in the general congratulations and later took her to her taxi, unable to hide an air of being abandoned. Ambiguity continued to pull him in opposite directions. ‘It must be wonderful to be married and have someone to talk over problems with,’ he said with heartfelt emphasis to Stephen Wall. To Brian and Rose Knox Peebles, who had known him very nearly as long as Stephen, he maintained his guard until the night he found Rose alone when he rushed back to collect his macintosh. ‘We were about to talk,’ she noted, ‘and he was on the verge of a confidence and then Brian came in and he stopped. I hadn’t felt as close to him for years.’ He mentioned Bridget O’Toole’s name so often and so fondly that many old friends were sure he loved her, and though six years had gone by since she had left to build her own career they had recently grown closer. He signed his letters ‘lots of love’; wary, but an improvement on the curt ‘Love Jim’ of the period when they were lovers. ‘She fitted him more than anyone else I knew,’ observed Malcom Dean regretfully, who was about to marry again and wished Jim could find the same compatibility. But Jim, for the moment anyway, saw it in different terms. ‘I thought we’d got [into] a more brother/sister relationship than the stormy time of yesteryear , or perhaps it’s old age and creeping Darby and Joanism.’ Suspicion of women had not been lessened by success; rather, it had been reinforced. In The Singapore Grip in every case it is the woman – even Vera, whom Matthew loves – who with ulterior motive makes the first move. Across a crowded room Jim gave no indication of trouble ahead; on the...


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