‘This morning unexpectedly, sorting through a box of toys, I found that brass bell which stood beside my bed through all that childhood illness, and which, though I had long since forgotten it, kept still the power of summoning people to my room…’


A bland, small room – nothing about it accounts for the feelings that it lodged in me. Not the built-in wardrobe, the pine desk under the window, not the two shelves lined with books above my bed, not the high window which remade weather as a moving picture– I have set out the furniture as it would appear to someone standing in the doorway, looking clockwise, though in my memory, the room builds itself out from where I sit in bed, first as the presence, there, in front me, of a rectangle of light, then as the consciousness of that light’s shadow on the wall behind me. This moment, I know the room not as a place, not even as a memory, but as though some ghost of the future had whispered in my ear, ‘Here you are’, and permitted me to glimpse, this moment, the room as it will be when it exists only by my haunting. This trick of memory, this O, which builds itself out of fragments, out of a structure of shadows, in which I can no longer distinguish between memories and objects, in which the very door handle and skirting boards, as they assume their shapes, appear to me still in the unreal light of that first moment – it is by this that I enter into the dream that a place is mine.



In truth, that dreamt-up room has less in common with my room as it was than it has with those rooms that build themselves in my mind when I am reading – rooms which, the moment I pause to examine them, turn out to be made of one or two furnishings set among struts of light – a notion of depth and width and height built out of prepositions, out of a speaker’s tone of voice. Though they are sketched in light, I am conscious of them not as I would see them but as I would remember the formation of a room in the dark. My imagination has troubled to manufacture one detail fully: a blue and white teacup with a stone fleck in the porcelain an inch from its inside rim. A slightly tarnished teaspoon in the saucer shows, upside down, the reflection of a window. These rooms that build themselves in my mind when I am reading take their effect of truth – which, since they are not true, is an effect of feeling – from that first room, which, since it installed itself in me, has stood behind so many other rooms, concealed itself in so many other places, tricked me so many times into a feeling of homecoming – which has travelled so much farther than I have.