J-P Sertin writes again:
I returned to your house last night. It’s not a bad place, all told. A little damp for my liking, but that’s par for the course in this part of the city, is it not? It might also have something to do with the windows. Forgive me for pointing this out, but I do worry about your books. Don’t you think it might be better for me to look after some of them whilst you are away? Granted, my own flat has had its fair share of disasters (three months since the latest fire and counting) but at least they’d go down being read. There’s nothing sadder than a great collection of books sitting in an empty house. It is too cruel of you to have abandoned your babies! If you listen hard enough, you can hear them whimpering away. They miss their owners. They want to be read again; to be held again; to have their spines caressed by your fat stubby fingers.
Needless to say I am doing what I can to soften the blow of your departure. I have always been the consoling sort: you know that. If I see a book, or a woman, in distress, I put on my consoling hat, my comforting jacket, and my calming shoes, and I step forward into the fray. You cannot hold me back when a little light consoling is required. One loves to soothe, does one not? Oh yes, you have left your book collection in a fine pair of hands, dear Georgy. I will cradle your books. When they ask for solace, I shall provide. When they scream for relief, I shall come running. ‘Succour’ is my middle name. Jean-Pierre Succour Sertin. It has a ring to it, has it not?
As I march around your dear deserted house at night I like to think of myself as an officer in the foreign legion, defending a fort in the dark. And lord knows there is much to defend! Perhaps you should have employed an armed guard to ensure that your collection does not fall into enemy hands? We wouldn’t want anyone to get their grubby hands on your complete compendium of early twentieth-century Castilian comics, would we? And that peculiar sculpture of which I spoke last week. The more I see it, the more I am convinced that it is a masterpiece. I mean to say, it’s a horrible piece of work. But this is horribleness of the very highest order. It is the sort of thing which will not, nay cannot, be understood within our lifetime. It is too great for the times – which is why it needs to be looked after carefully. Future generations will thank us, profusely, for having the foresight not to throw it out, however much we feel we should. I only have to glance at it and I feel compelled to smash it to pieces. And yet I resist, if not for my own sake, than for the sake of future generations (god bless their little unborn souls).
When you gave me the key to your house (still lost, by the way: wherever could it be?) I must confess that I wasn’t too excited. By and large I don’t enjoy doing menial tasks for friends. My brother once asked me to water his plants for him whilst he took a holiday. I bowed out after the first day. It wasn’t the job for me. But this one has turned out rather differently. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am actively enjoying my role as guardian of your property. I am not only enjoying it: I am somewhere close to taking it seriously. It’s not often that one is given the opportunity to snoop around a friend’s house. And to snoop at one’s leisure, over the course of several weeks! This is too good to be true. You have spoilt me, dear Georgy!
I can only hope that you are enjoying yourself as much as I am (though I doubt it, having left all your good books back in England). You must write, you know, and tell me of your adventures. How is your dear wife getting on? How are you coping with her continuing success as a poet – and your enduring lack of progress as a writer and researcher? I simply must know!
Ever yours, in theory,
P.S. I suppose you are wondering whether I have tracked down your memoirs, as requested? The truth is that I haven’t yet found the time to step up my search. I’ve been looking, in a casual sort of way, but nothing systematic as yet. Maybe later in the week?
[see Sertin’s earlier letter here]