To dispatch one’s friends to a dictionary from time to time is one of the more sophisticated pleasures of life, but it is one that must be indulged in sparingly: to do it too often may result in accusations of having swallowed one’s own dictionary, which is not a compliment whichever way one looks at it.

How often have I noticed or, indeed, listened to him? We talk, but do I actually listen, or is our conversation mainly a question of my waiting for him to stop and for it to be my turn to say something? For how many of us is that what conversation means – the setting up of our lines?

This was what it meant to live in Botswana; when the rest of the world might work itself into a frenzy of activity, one might still sit, in the space before a house with ochre walls, a mug of bush tea in one’s hand, and talk about very small things: headmen in wells, goats and jealousy.

Nobody went to bed at seven in Paris, even French children. Les enfants stayed up late at night, he had heard, eating with the adults, sipping red wine, and discussing the latest books and films.

She had been tied to an incubus, the memory of a love that had been rejected and had had nowhere to go; she had been locked into a dead relationship and now the last dried skin of it had fallen away, like the scab on a wound, and she was free.

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