August 07, 2005

Aesthetics of bewilderment

I was speculating to myself at some point that there are at least three kinds of books (and by books I probably really mean fictions) : books you read addictively to the end as fast as you can and then feel loss and/or disappointment; books you read reluctantly but optimistically and then feel disappointment then loss; and books you luxuriate in, reading and re-reading slowly, trying endlessly to extend the experience.

There aren't many in the third category but Bartleby & Co is, a book of footnotes about 'writers of the No', writers who either gave up writing or never achieved it in the first place. There's something pleasantly languid and unnecessary about it, which makes it somehow indispensable. Any book which opens a section with 'I once spent a whole summer with the idea that I had been a horse' speaks for itself. More Vila-Matas translations please or I shall be forced to learn Spanish (and I don't really have the time).

July 26, 2005

Not books

In an attempt to widen my cultural horizons and distract from my failure to write about books, I have embarked on two allied cultural activities, a Laura Cantrell gig and a showing of Revenge of the Sith.

Laura Cantrell was charmingly ingenuous, won the crowd over by knowing the difference between Birmingham and Birmingham, and sang somehow more warmly than on her recordings. I heard people complaining about the excessive guitar heroics of her band, but I'm quite tolerant of that kind of thing when it's done in a country/rock n roll fashion rather than the interminable dronings of Pink Floyd's unfortunate reunion.

Interminable brings me to the dreadful Sith. Good to fall asleep in the cinema for the first (then second) time. Bad to wake up so soon afterwards. My son quite liked it, but at six he's approaching being too mature. At least the first Star Wars films had some degree of spirit and irreverence from the actors.
Kevin Smith thinks it's dark. It's not. I want my 2 and a half hours back.

June 30, 2005

Is it strange that Amazon will ask you to state whether you 'own' a recommended book or are interested in it, but they are not concerned about whether you've read it or not?

June 21, 2005

more elephant

And then the next day there was that nice Mr Coe writing eminently sensible things about his book. Which is an excellent book incidentally.

I am in awe at the moment at the sheer beauty, scale and sureness of touch of Heimat. Everyone must watch it.

June 16, 2005

Do book prize judges have to be arses?

Got mildly irritated by watching a little of the Samuel Johnson prize on TV with its wrong-headed, pompous judges who somehow managed to choose a very good book - Jonathan Coe's biography of BS Johnson. It pays to have the same name. It would be nice for Johnson not to be described as either 'experimental' or 'difficult' - the first is misleading and the second plain wrong. The Independent attempts to say some sensible things, but slightly spoils itself by claiming that he wrote Tristram Shandy. Some thoughts on Johnson's books will follow soon now I'm starting to get the hang of this blog thing again.

More sensible Guardian thoughts about Andrew Crumey's Möbius Dick recently. He seems cruelly unnoticed to me. Some thoughts about his books will also follow soon as I read more of them.

I'm dabbling in Iain Sinclair's Dining with Stones, another person who's described as difficult for some reason. It's like bathing in a dirty river. What is difficult, however, is lifting the hardback copy I am reading. I dropped it down the stairs today and they came off worse.

April 06, 2005

You wouldn't get away with that nowadays

'Work began on [St Vitus's Cathedral] in 1344, and was not completed until 1929, if such a building can ever be said to be finished.'
John Banville, Prague Pictures. Portrait of a City

And in an alternative reality, Saul Bellow dies at 89 and they cancel the repeat of Match of the Day with the comedy fight to spend 3 hours discussing his life and legacy on Sunday morning TV. Instead of that obscure and overrated Polish fellow with the dated attitudes.

March 31, 2005

Mysterious stranger

On the dustjacket of Clear. A Transparent Novel, it states: 'Nicola Barker is perhaps the most gifted young English female writer at work today'. It's that 'perhaps' that gets me - nothing like putting your money where your mouth is.

The odd thing about it is that, in positioning her so minutely, they choose to emphasise her youth (she's a little older than me and I don't seem, or look, that young to me) and femaleness when anyone attracted to the book on account of its author's gender is likely to be disappointed (at least if this Guardian article is anything to go by.) The English bit gets closer though - the thing about Nicola Barker is that she writes like no one else and particularly writes about England - the England of rundown Hackney, Canvey Island, Palmers Green - in a way which makes it seems much more alive, and much more interesting, than most other contemporary fiction.

Clear is written around the David Blaine in a transparent box business and as such is infuriating, captivating and astonishing, particularly in the way it adapts its subject to Barker's fictional landscape (for want of a much better phrase) so readily. The book seems quite rushed but this seems right somehow, adding to its charm along with the overuse of italics, the irritating narratorial voice, and the big gaps in the text. Towards the end one of the characters speaks of Blaine's magic being:

'Because he's a blank canvas. He's transparent. He's clear. So when people look up at him they don't hate what he is. They project everything they're feeling on to him.'

Which I think sums up why the book doesn't quite match its ambitions. It aspires to this same kind of blankness but ultimately can't resist spelling that out in a way that Blaine's activity/stunt, whatever you think of it, didn't and doesn't. But if this is a kind of failure, it's a fine one.

And it was only longlisted for the Booker which almost makes me want to read the winner to be able to go on about how much more life there is in Clear. But then I wouldn't want to give those arbiters of literary taste the satisfaction.