Quotes from ‘Fowlers End’ by Gerald Kersh

Read the review for the book

Sam’s witticisms

Your audience is like yourself. Who’s your best friend? Yourself. Who’s your worst enemy? Yourself. Who’ve you got to blame always? Yourself. Treat them as such. What are they, after all? The salt of the earth, the toe-rags!

Temptations o’ show biz! Oh, what a bastard ‘e was, that bugger Booligan! Every girl ‘e got into trouble. If ‘e looked at a … a … a brick wall, so it would bulge. Even a nurse ‘e got into trouble, that feller. ‘E got me into trouble.

The good neighbor is a kind of emotional pawnbroker, a usurer in everyday kindnesses who manages to sell you his undesirable proximity on the installment plan, and exacts a consultant’s fee for every word of unsolicited advice.

An’ always remember not to forget this: When in doubt, talk very slow; it makes up for not having nothing to say. Otherwise, when in doubt, talk very quick; it gives you time to think. But above all, when in doubt, shut up; then somebody else in doubt will talk and make a fool o’ himself.

People are so surprised to find that I am an easygoing, even a gentle, soul that they tend to fall in love with me out of sheer relief.

Fowlers end fb cover

You do not have to cheat people, he told me; leave them alone and they will cheat themselves.

A person like Lasky could be influential—more, he could be flu-ential.

Everybody in Fowlers End wears a muffler, and there’s a vulnerable point, son. Go for that choker and twist it. Whatever the bastards breathe, they can’t do without it for long.

I wish I ‘ad you in Russia. Euthanasia you’d get, not Greta Garbo. Where’s your bloody economic value, you and your Greta Garbo? Answer me that! Believe me, you wouldn’t last five minutes with me in Italy, you bleeding ulcer on the body politic.

Copper’s anecdotes

They gave me an abacus to play with; I took a fancy to the red beads and swallowed them, and I felt so bad about the anxiety I had caused my family that I did not dare to say anything about it. For all I know they are in my system to this day, or else they were digestible beads. I looked in vain for their reappearance with a view to putting them back on the wires, but they never turned up.

I always was of a contemplative turn of mind. Even as a child, before committing myself to writing, I took a good mouthful of pencil. Most of my milk teeth had gone in the airplane crash, but I still had my molars, and made the most of them. The paint did not appeal to me much, but I enjoyed the savor of the cedarwood. I did not spit out the lead, having been politely brought up; I swallowed it. Lead, cedar splinters, paint, abacus beads—they all went the same way home.

Daniel’s observations

There is a psychologists’ variation of the game of hide-and-seek: someone conceals a small object in a large room, and you have to find it. You do this by linking arms with the other man and walking as it were casually round and round with him. As you get closer and closer to the concealed object the man who has hidden it, by subconscious muscular contraction, will tend to pull you away. You concentrate your search, therefore, where the pull-away is strongest. In a manner of speaking, this is how you find Fowlers End—by going northward, step by step, into the neighborhoods that most strongly repel you.

Fowlers End is a special kind of tundra that supports nothing gracious in the way of flora and fauna. Plant a cabbage here in this soured, embittered, dyspeptic, ulcerated soil, and up comes a kind of bleached shillelagh with spikes on its knob. Plant a family, a respectable working-class family, and in two generations it will turn out wolves.

They lived, according to local report, on stale bread and margarine and tea, but I always thought that he found a source of nutriment in his mustache; otherwise, why should he be perpetually sucking it with such relish?

Man is my Dark Continent, and his heart is my jungle.

Traumata are a lot of crap. Anybody who says he remembers a physical pain is a liar. You are not constructed to remember pain, or you’d never survive being born. You remember only the fear of being hurt. It is fright, not hurt, that destroys you.

If all the clocks tell the wrong time at the same time, that’s the right time.

Hate is very lonely; nobody understands it. Love is never frustrated, but hate always is—it is never fulfilled, it wants always to be warmed and cosseted; but it has only its own bosom to fall back upon. So it goes mad; calls itself God, justifies itself, fears itself, adores itself; flagellates itself, licks itself into a shell of scar tissue, and forgives itself. Then, suspecting itself, it hires private detectives to catch itself being unfaithful to itself—and writes an indignant book about itself. Result? Literature.

If you hunger for physical love, the world is as full of full-blown female buttocks as a baby’s pipe is of bubbles; you may look and yearn, but you may not touch. An invisible portcullis has been let fall between you and your desire. Come away, satiated with the embraces of some object of your affection, and (as if you have invented a new kind of man) all womankind will make tracks for you. Again: Eat your fill of your favorite food— eat ad nauseam—and wherever you turn you will encounter the sight or the smell of it, or hear some voluptuous talk of it, to turn your stomach. Fast, dream lustfully of how right your good mother was when, after you turned your nose up at fat mutton broth, she said, “You may be glad of it someday”—brood over the semolina you rejected, the custards you had to be bribed to eat, and so forth—and wherever you turn there is sure to be some malevolent spirit in the form of a park-keeper, or what not, talking food, food, food!

It’s frightening when you pause to think to what an extent you live up to people and are being lived up to in your turn, how generally you fake yourself in blind obedience to somebody else’s fantasy. The time comes when you wonder if you really are yourself and not a character that has been read about or seen in a movie. Whoever you are, you are the victim of somebody else’s enchantment, doomed, like the people in the fairy tales, to go through life in an alien form—to hop as a toad, bray as an ass, or fly as a swan—until the kiss of true love honestly reciprocated releases you from your bondage and lets you be yourself.

Perfumed lady: I thought of my mother, who used lilac, and of June Whistler, who, if she could not find an appropriate perfume in one of the multiple chemists’ shops, exuded it by effort of will.

There is something about the atmosphere of an English police station that hardens the evildoer but strikes terror into the heart of the innocent.

Beyond the Common lay some scrubby, useless land studded with silver birches, called Samshott Heath. Perhaps you have seen, in some side street, a mattress thrown out for the dustmen as unfit to use even by the poorest of the poor? So was Samshott Heath thrown out by God.


  1. Amazing. On my to-read list now!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If all the clocks tell the wrong time at the same time, that’s the right time. -so true!


    1. So much in that quote, isn’t it? Sums up the argument against universal absolute morality in just one statement.


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