"What do you read?" He wrote down my measurements in a little notebook.
"Oh… novels mainly. Poetry. And criticism."
"I have not a single novel here."
"The novel is no longer an art form."
"Why do you smile?"
"It was a sort of joke when I was at Oxford. If you didn't know what to say at a party, you used to ask a question like that."
"'Do you think the novel is exhausted as an art form?' No serious answer was expected."
"I see. It was not serious."
"Not at all." I looked at the notebook. "Are my measurements interesting?"
"No." He dismissed that. "Well-I am serious. The novel is dead. As dead as alchemy." He cut out with his hands, with the calipers, dismissing that as well. "I realized that one day before the war. Do you know what I did? I burnt every novel I possessed. Dickens. Cervantes. Dostoievsky. Flaubert. All the great and all the small. I even burnt something I wrote myself when I was too young to know better. I burnt them out there. It took me all day. The sky took their smoke, the earth their ashes. It was a fumigation. I have been happier and healthier ever since." I remembered my own small destroying and thought, grand gestures are splendid-if you can afford them. He picked up a book and slapped the dust off it. "Why should I struggle through hundreds of pages of fabrication to reach half a dozen very little truths?"
“Even if it had been syphilis—why could you not return to this girl you love?”
“Really—it's too complicated.”
“Then it is usual. Not unusual.”