Summary – Chapter Nine continued
The patient continues to explain how Katharine returned to her husband and she described him (the patient) as becoming inhuman. He says she always wanted words, ‘whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water’.
Madox returned to England in 1939 and a month later, after hearing a sermon in honor of war, he shot himself.
The patient regards himself as the ‘mechanic’ among the others. He compares himself to Odysseus and says that to the others he was ‘a bit too cunning to be a lover of the desert’. Before he left, Madox said ‘Goodbye, Odysseus’ and told him the spot by his Adam’s apple is called the vascular sizood.
The patient says he does not know why Madox killed himself, but wonders if the sound of permanent flight near his home drove him to it. He also posits his sense of loneliness could have been a part of it too: ‘He was a man who knew two or three people in his life, and they had turned out to be the enemy.’
Madox shot himself in the heart in church and he says Madox died ‘because of nations’ and thinks of the Russian book he always carried: ‘Russia has always been closer to my country than his.’
After taking more morphine, the patient says that a month after the affair was over ‘Almásy’ was drunk and danced with Katharine until he fell over with her. Caravaggio wonders, ‘who is he speaking as now?’ and the patient goes on with his story. He says that when ‘Almásy’ was drunk and loud, ‘we usually dispersed’, but stayed then because it was Madox’s last night. He tells him Almásy worked in the museum in the day and frequented the South Cairo market bars at night.
He wakes to discover Hana washing him and Caravaggio is still amazed ‘at the clarity of discipline in the man, who speaks sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the third person, who still does not admit that he is Almásy’.
The focus shifts to the Cave of Swimmers and to when the patient took Katharine there after Clifford crashed the plane. He told her he was going for help and that he would be back soon.
He walked for three days without any food. When he reached El Taj the English did not listen to his story of the injured woman. He did not give her correct name, and said she was his wife. He was put in a prison and went berserk flailing around. He yelled her name and that of the place, Gilf Kebir, ‘whereas the only name I should have yelled, which would have dropped like a calling card into their hands, was Clifton’s’. They hauled him into a truck and saw him as just another ‘possible second-rate spy. Just another international bastard’. The war had started by now.
Caravaggio wants to leave, but also wants to know if the patient killed Clifton, and in so doing killed Katharine. He asks this because Clifton was with British Intelligence and had been keeping his eye on this ‘strange group’ in the desert. Clifton had been an aerial photographer and his death still perturbs ‘them’.
The conversation shifts and Caravaggio tells him that Hana’s father was killed in France and the patient says how she would not talk about it. He also says he wanted her to read to him as a way of making her communicate.
On being prompted, Caravaggio says how thieves were used during the war and were legitimized: ‘Whole campaigns were being run by this mixture of crooks and intellectuals.’ He also says how he was ‘all over the Middle East’ and that is where he first heard about ‘you’ (the patient): ‘You were a mystery, a vacuum on their charts. Turning your knowledge of the desert into German hands.’
Caravaggio then compliments him on being ‘heroic’ in the way he guided Eppler with his copy of Rebecca to Cairo, and also informs him that British Intelligence knew of the whole journey. They had to wait until Eppler reached Cairo to capture him or they would have revealed their sources. He says those working in Intelligence thought he (the patient) had killed Clifton and that he had ‘become’ the enemy when he began his affair with Katharine rather than later when he joined the Germans. They lost track of the patient in 1942 after he left Cairo.
The patient is referred to as Almásy in the narrative and he says it is difficult to realize he was ‘so discussed’. Caravaggio informs him that some people in Intelligence knew him personally (such as Bagnold) and then asks why they went to Gilf Kebir. ‘Almásy’ explains he went there to pack up base camp and Clifton was to fly in to pick him up. When Clifton appeared, he roared over him and then tilted and crashed. When he went to pull him out, he saw Katharine was beside him and that Clifton was dead. He took her to the caves and buried him that night.
He told her of deities associated with animals and of the ones linked to jackals (which he compares himself to). He describes himself as ‘the man who fasts until I see what I want’. He also says how when we meet those with whom we fall in love, we imagine or remember meeting each other earlier than we did.
He finishes by saying it is important ‘to die in holy places’ (as with Madox) and that this ‘was one of the secrets of the deserts’. He implies she died when her whole body shuddered.
Analysis – Chapter Nine continued
Despite the morphine and the knowledge that Caravaggio knows his identity, the patient speaks of Almásy (himself) in the third person. This allows the readers to interpret this character as dissociated and fragmented. His shift of allegiance to the German power in the war is never fully explained, but his treatment by the English soldiers reflects how his sense of being an ‘international bastard’ was born from the mistreatment he received.
This should be considered with caution, however, as the patient may also be regarded as an unreliable narrator. This unreliability has already been highlighted by Caravaggio, as he knew he was a spy helper, and this is enhanced with the use of self-distancing as when he refers to himself in the third person.