…Suicide by Edouard Leve, The Paris Review, and listening to American Gods by Neil Gaiman
…What we talk about when we talk about Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
One of the brilliant things about the Book Festival is the opportunity it allows to discover new writers. Nathan Englander is one such writer for me. He chaired the Writer’s Conference event about Style vs Content, with Ali Smith as the keynote speaker. They formed a formidable duo.
I later saw Nathan with his friend and fellow writer Junot Diaz, chaired by the brilliant Stuart Kelly. Junot is a favoured writer of mine and it was a thrill to listen to three very smart, very funny men in discussion.
It would be wrong of me to tell you I blew my budget for July by the twelfth day. What would be more accurate is that I snuck up behind my budget and violently pressed a wad of tissues drenched in chloroform to its mouth while simultaneously slicing its Achilles tendons so it would fall at my feet. Then I heaved it into the trunk of my car where I proceeded to beat it with a baseball bat. Next I drove it to the top of an abandoned quarry and drop-kicked it into the murky depths. Cos that’s how I roll. Now send money because I know where you live….
I’m pretty sure Harold Bloom will insist on my public beheading, but if I had listened to The Brooklyn Follies without knowing the author one of my first guesses would have been Stephen King. There I said it.
After you have counted the left-handed, those wearing glasses, calculated the boys to girls ratio and taken bets on who will be the first to ask for more paper and who will leave early, the only things left to do are guess the virgin among the boys and critically evaluate the foundation to skin tone match among the girls.
I like to finish by trying to vampirically syphon their youth through deep breathing, using my teeth to filter out germs.
…Remainder by Tom McCarthy.
This is just brilliant and you should either read or listen to it immediately. What excited me the most was a main character I didn’t like. I had no empathy for him, no sympathy and I disliked him way before he allowed cats to die.
I remember ‘doing’ Lord of the Flies in school and Mr Caw explaining the reason Jack was not described in as much detail as the other boys was so the reader could identify with him and walk in his shoes. I have been interested in protagonists that are easier to dislike than like ever since. It is easy to write a ‘bad’ character who no-one will like because of his behaviour, because of his actions, but I like exploring the unlikeable hero.
I saw Nick at the Edinburgh Book Festival and it was the link to psychogeography – and the presence of Will Self as the chair – that convinced me to attend his event. Nick is an unassuming, ordinary looking chap. The kind of chap who might be in front of you ordering coffee, the kind of chap who might pick up your discarded newspaper to read on the bus. Except it would seem Nick rarely uses the bus or any other form of transport other than his legs.
Although I have only started Scarp, Nick’s reportage of what he thinks and what he feels is honest and far-reaching, even though it comes in the thinnest wrapping of personal context. Reading, I felt a renewed sense of confidence of how to locate myself in my own scarp. I suddenly felt my flights of fancy – not just my writing fancies – were not so fanciful after all. They just need realising. I knew when Nick began to speak he was not an ordinary person; he thinks and feels very differently from me and yet instead of feeling alienated, I am enjoying a warm sense of shared discovery.
There is a whiff of Tolkien in his writing and having been devastated by falling in love with a chap who lived in the shadow of the North Circular, any author who can make East Finchley, Brockley Hill, Harrow Weald and Pinner sound magical has real power in his words and his world.
And I just love the word escarpment.