Ah, August reading! From the date of this post it is clear that the days of August reading are gone. School and work and house and chores have breached the walls and flooded back in to cover that prized, fertile land, with its flowers of leisure that bloom but once a year.
August means holidays, which means, most often, camping somewhere warm, and thus the chance to do that thing I never really liked to do on holidays before I had kids: lie by a swimming pool, slathered in suncream, while obnoxious children (not all of them my own) and undressed, unlookatable (for a variety of reasons) adults screech and splash and loll, and give myself over to the hour-by-hour mental massage of immersion in a good, long book. How else do you think I read 2666? Or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle?
This year I decided to take with me the final volume of Javier Marías’s mammoth novel Your Face Tomorrow, which comes in seven parts: Fever, Spear, Dance, Dream, Poison, Shadow and Farewell, two parts each in the first two volumes, the last three in the third. I remember when I read the first volume, it was on a different kind of holiday, in a cottage on the damp, misty north Norfolk coast, not so sure about the second, but after a couple of failed housebound attempts at the 544pp third volume I knew I needed time and space to read it, which I definitely wanted to do.
Time and space is needed not just because of the length (you don’t need to go on holiday to read Ulysses, it suits itself quite naturally to the jittery stop-start motion of modern city life) but because of Marías’s writing style, which isn’t that far removed from that of Thomas Bernhard in the length of its sentences and paragraphs. Pages look like dry plateaux, with the cracks of a former riverbed only appearing occasionally, Continue reading
Going out to sit in a doctor’s waiting room I picked up Lars Iyer’s Dogma to keep me company and, in the few minutes the sadly super-efficient NHS kept me waiting, I was reminded quite how enjoyable it is. Just pitched in to the middle and came up with stuff like this:
What is it that keeps him from cutting his own throat?, W. wonders. What is it that keeps me from cutting mine?
We want to see how it all ends, he says. We want to see how it will all turn out. But this is how it ends. This is how it will all turn out.
Wonderful, beautiful stuff, that sticks its neck out, then pans back to see what the rest of the body is doing – it’s twitching convulsively, of course – and to show how much further out the rest of the body is than the poor old neck and head.
When I covered Dogma briefly in my January reading round-up, I said I thought it worked better as tweets or blog posts than a novel. Now I’m not sure. I think it benefits from being on paper – the veneer of respectability it gives – but I still don’t rate it as a novel particularly (though I doubt Iyer is aiming for it to be that kind of novel). It works best as a book picked up and “dipped into” (in that godawful phrase) and put down again. The tantalising thought that all these bits and pieces might coalesce into some kind of fulfilling, developing narrative is present on every page, and is rewarding as such even when you know that no such thing occurs. Continue reading