8Jul

Made Me Smile

Driving slowly through the rush hour traffic, sun leaking through thick clouds, a little humid and the kind of weather where fumes don’t seem to go anywhere. I paused to let a car pull out in front of me. The woman driving must have been seventy years old, easily, in a clean little red sports car, window down. I made a casual gesture to say it was okay, fine, drive forward—no one else was going to. And her face lit up—a proper movie star smile. She blew an outrageous kiss and then laughed genuinely, waving. I laughed back and out she sped. Then five minutes up the road she pulled over to pick up a smartly dressed gentlemen, all suited and in sunglasses. I never saw what happened next, but I’m guessing if she was that flirty and lively the rest of the time, they were in for a great afternoon. I hope I’m like that when I’m seventy. I wondered vaguely, for the rest of the drive, what kind of person she was like when she had been my age. People older than yourself usually have better stories to tell, since they’ve lived a little. I like to think she led an interesting life; and judging by her smile, she still was.

3Jul

Age And Male Writers

Interesting post on the Guardian website about what hitting the big four-zero does to male writers.

Perhaps the most complete accounts of midlife crisis come, as ever, from Shakespeare. Few would question the autobiographical nature of the The Tempest, in which an ageing Prospero breaks his staff and turns his back on “this rough magic”. It’s traditionally interpreted as a play about growing old gracefully, but granted that Shakespeare died in his early 50s – in an age when, by his own account, a man could expect to live to three score years and ten – could it not be reconstrued as the middle-aged bard of Avon chucking all his toys out of the pram? Then there’s A Winter’s Tale, when Leontes accuses his pregnant wife quite unreasonably of having it off with his best friend, consigning himself and her to 20 years of misery. If someone had only given him a motorbike, it might all have been over so much sooner.

Lord knows what I’m going to be like when I’m 40. I was full of preoccupation with age and death when I was writing the Nights of Villjamur (now at the age of 27). Not in a morose way, just in a kind of White Noise how come we avoid thinking about it kind of way.

But I’d like to think if I had enough money by that age, whatever crazy shit I’d be up to, I’d be doing it in style. I’ll pencil one of those babies into a future novel. Somehow.

1Jul

Back from the Dales

I have returned form the Yorkshire Dales, and should hopefully have something interesting to say soon. I’ve been finishing my marathon re-read of The Book of the New Sun sequence, by Gene Wolfe, surely someone who deserves a mighty heavy and shiny medal for services to literature. No way I can review it, or have the inclination to go into the detail. Plus, I want to stay away from genre reviews if at all possibly on here. But it really is something that improves on re-reads, and considering my tendency to give up on things, there was sufficient metaphor, insight, and sheer incredibly imagery. A chocolate box for the genre connoisseur, surely. You want cracking reviews of these books? Go see Larry.

To reward myself for the patience, I’m heading towards Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, which to my shame I haven’t yet read, and is a book I’ve been assured by many that will be a superbly sketched romp across the galaxy, in grand Dumasian style.

Finally, a congratulations to Mr Mark Chadbourn esq. for his new book deal with Transworld. He really is a thoroughly nice chap, and this is news of the ‘couldn’t happen to a nicer guy’ type.

24Jun

A Few Days Away

I shall shambling across the Yorkshire Dales for a few days, investigating, amongst other things, this scandalous affair.

Pubs in Yorkshire have been ordered to ban people from wearing flat caps or other hats so troublemakers can be more easily recognised… “Asking a Yorkshireman to take off his flat cap – whoever heard of anything so silly.”

I also intend to be revisiting this old place.

24Jun

Travels

5am. It always amazes you just how many people are up, which is a clear sign you’re not used to early mornings. They’re not even bleary eyed. They walk with an disarming purpose.

Then the train out into the country—a layer of fog mixes with the haze of the rising sun, forcing an uncertainty across the landscape. You could now be anywhere in this light, and million possibilities cross your mind, then before too soon you crash into the heavy discoloured brick of the city, every face looking anywhere but at you, every figure suited, flowing with a liquid purpose amongst the crowd. Only your own stillness surprises you.

The flight, always the same, but always just as humbling as you’re hurtled through the cloud-base, and even as you look at it you think it strange, that you’re witnessing the dawn of some new physics. Everything maintains some identical sheen from a certain height, and even industrial sites possess a strange poetry to their intense shapes on the landscape, becoming something natural themselves.

The coastline, then nothing but the sea.

24Jun

The Alexandria Quartet

Some thoughts on a book I read late last year. The Alexandria Quartet comprises of four novels, Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea. The first two are the most tightly linked, for everything you know in Justine is looked at from another angle, although still from the same narrator. Mountolive is more distant, and Clea certainly moves the three novels forward in time. But, as Durrell intended, they are all meant to be read as one.

The books follow a group of individuals based in Alexandria, Egypt, up to and including the Second World War. That’s about as general as I can get. There is sexual tension, and release; political tension that gathers throughout the story arc; there’s a whole wealth of Middle Eastern history. There’s religion and philosophy. There are momentous descriptions of place and time. The characters are the most complex and layered in any kind of fiction that I’ve read. From our often naive narrator, Darley, who is not really an ‘unreliable narrator’ because we have no reason not to rely on him. Then, the seductive and outrageous Justine, and her husband, the dark-hearted Nassim. There’s Pursewarden, who is one of the greatest fictional creations, layered with metaphor, representation of art, a dose of wit, and some incredible aphorisms. Perhaps my favourite character in any book, even when he wasn’t on the page. There are more, but a sentence here would to no justice.

I am in awe of Durrell for so many reasons. Firstly, for his experimental approach. For showing the relativity in his narrative, and how important that is to fiction—because it is real life. Not merely ‘point of view’, but showing us how one can never be certain of anything, in life or fiction. Secondly, the man brings alive Alexandria to be a character in her own right, a changing, liquid, grand place. (By the time you read Clea, the city has gone, as it was. A construction in the first place, only in words, when revisited after many years, it just isn’t the same place. It isn’t the same character.) Third, is his ability to carve a character to be just as unreliable as real life. In fact, more than any other novel, I was thinking, Here is the truest representation of existence.

This isn’t really a review, is it? I’m just gushing thoughts onto the page. Maybe I can’t really summarise it. Maybe, you just can’t? There are faults, perhaps. Some of the passages of text can make you sweat with their headiness. But that’s an aside. There’s so much to discover here. A history, a philosophy, a poem. I’m using very grand phrases, but you can’t do anything specific with a book like this.

Durrell is a phenomenal talent. He makes you pine for an age you never knew, as much for the quality of writing if nothing else. His ability to bring character and place alive are unchallenged. A thoroughly de-constructive narrative, too, the kind of thing to destroy the formula of a novel and rebuild it, brick by brick. And he often delivers some punching sentences:

  • ‘A city becomes a world when one loves one of it’s inhabitants.’
  • ‘There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.’
  • ‘A woman’s best love letters are always written to the man she is betraying.’
  • I wish I’d jotted more down as I’d gone through. Just get it. Read it. Take your time and enjoy it luxuriously. Feel the dust of those Alexandrian streets. Feel that warm air blowing off the ocean. Hear the palms fizzing in the breeze. Durrell will show you the rest, but go at his pace.

    22Jun

    Feist—Gatekeeper (Paris) & Some Dude Hating Second-Hand Books

    I think I love her. Yes, I really think I do.

    [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgZ8bZ9TuO0]

    And this piece in the Guardian, where some dude is discussing his hatred of second-hand books. You have to admit, he might have a point on one or two of the matters.

    It’s all those stains, thumbprints and creases that get me so queasy. I’m far from a gentle reader and by the time I’ve taken in the first few chapters of any brand-new tome, it will often be creased and coffee-stained beyond recognition. But they will be my creases and my stains, and that’s what matters.

    I hear you, bro.