First Sentence: I am my own barometer, he said as they stood peering at the barometer.
Before this, the only book of Nooteboom’s I had read was The Following Story. At the time I remember wanting to like The Following Story a lot more than I actually did, and now, years later I can’t for the life of me remember why, or even what it was all about. I was therefore a bit reluctant when I started this collection of short stories but I’m definitely glad I did. In a way this collection could even be read as a novel as there are a lot of recurring characters and the central theme, death, is present in all the stories. For example one story where a character is trying to contact his dead friend is followed by another story written by that friend. After her death. I’m not entirely sure why, but in some ways this book reminded me of Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, another fine collection of short stories which has one theme linking them all, this time music. The story to get the ‘First Sentence Last Sentence’ treatment is the 2nd one and it’s called Thunderstorm. In it a couple witness a tragedy during a thunderstorm and for me it captures the subtleties of human relationships perfectly in just a few brief pages. Throughout this book there are countless re-readable sentences and here’s just one:
There were myriads of stars, more than you ever see here, a whole sea of infinitely distant other worlds, signs, shapes, scrolls in the incredible stillness.
If nothing else, this book makes me want to go back and read The Following Story again. Just to see what I’d make of it now…
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Last Sentence: To not have a name.
Last Sentence explained: In this particular story a couple who are tired of each other witness another couple fighting during a thunderstorm. The girl is trying to photograph the lightning and her partner gets annoyed and storms off. He is then struck by lightning and killed. Afterwards, the man who witnessed the incident is sculpting a new piece (he is an artist) and his partner recognises the sculpture as the woman who was trying to photograph the lightning. She is clearly upset as he has been spurred back into creativity but she herself is not the source of his inspiration. She does not buy the newspaper to read up on the tragedy they saw. “To not have a name.”