The first three advance copies of Luca Antara, the book, arrived on Monday, 23rd October, coincidentally the birthday of my younger son & my maternal grandmother. Looks good. Course, I can't actually read it anymore, having been through it so many times before, looking for errors. I pick it up, open it at random, read a few paras, put it down again. It's funny when you see a book for the first time. Apart from the glaring imperfections in the writing - which perhaps others won't see - there's also the anxious scanning for New Things. Except there are no New Things, just what you put in it ... but the production is fine & it is a nice object. I like the paper it's on. Booksellers & Publishers reviewed it & gave it 4 stars, but haven't seen the review yet & don't know if it's 4/5 or 4/10 or 4/100 ...


omai la navicella

(scroll down to Nov. 17)


will be posting my occasional pieces over here from now on & reserving this site for those things that concern the eponymous book. dérives (sigh) will remain dérives.


(click on images to read fine print ... )


the uncertainty principle

Came back from New Zealand a few weeks ago with two novels. My sister lent me her copy of Carry Me Down by Irish/Australian M J Hyland and my friend Pete, New Zealander Craig Marriner's Southern Style. Two novels by (notional) antipodeans, one set in rural Ireland, the other in London. Both second books by relatively young writers. That's just about all they have in common. I started reading them in tandem, something I hardly ever do with fiction books. I'd read a bit of one, then a bit of the other. But then Southern Style, which is a kind of thriller, took over and I raced through to the end before returning to Carry Me Down.

It's told entirely from the point of view of an eccentric eleven year old boy, an only child, and as such is a remarkable achievement. The tone never falters, you never once doubt the veracity of John Egan's voice, you share his confusions, his agonies, his increasing alienation, as he attempts to understand what is happening to him and to his parents, to find a place in the world. It's also one of the grimmest books I've read, and affected me so strongly that at times I had to put it aside for a while. And yet ...

Southern Style is about a group of twenty-something antips in contemporary London. They mostly work in a warehouse where electronic games and the machines that play them are disbursed to the masses. When they aren't partying, that is. The plot, which is intricate and for the most part deftly handled, deals with an attempt by some crims to organise a heist from the warehouse, though you don't really find this out until about two thirds of the way through. The point of view shifts from character to character, with an authorial voice drifting in to tell connecting parts of the story. It's as virtuostic in its way as Hyland's performance. And yet ...

Endings are hard things to pull off. Both books essay an upbeat end and neither is really convincing. You feel the intervention of some other intelligence, which is of course the intelligence that has crafted the book in the first place, but that moment when it becomes, as it were, visible, and visibly manipulative, is disconcerting. Suddenly the schematics start to show, as if bones protruded through flesh. Suddenly what should be reassuring, even comforting - the happy ending - starts to look contrived. You feel as you often do after a movie has ended, as if the sensibility of film has somehow infiltrated the world of books.

I'm reminded of something W G Sebald, who never hid his distaste for the traditional novel, said of his own writing: It's the opposite of suspending disbelief and being swept along by the action, which is perhaps not the highest form of mental activity; it's to constantly ask, 'What happened to these people, what might they have felt like?' You can generate a similar state of mind in the reader by making them uncertain.


southerly change

Why did you leave without saying goodbye? A redundant question - it has happened before. Before what? This latest occasion. The skies are grey, the moon is full, unseen behind those cloudy clouds. The palms bend in the wind that blew down the street some eight hours ago, and blows still. Still blows. Tremendously. Why did you leave without? We went swimming anyway, the pool was full of leaves, there was someone sunbathing in a pink bikini who reminded me so strongly of you I felt momentarily insane. Her husband, solicitously, covered her with a towel, later their son got out and then couldn't undo the knot on the plastic bag full of fruit drinks. We, my sons and I, came back here and sat on the couch while I read half a chapter of Treasure Island out loud. They don't really get the antiquated language, though every word speaks. Yet they're interested too, how could they not be? Treasure? Island? I want that map, it's not about money, doubloons or pieces of eight, nickels and dimes, those shiny bits you throw me now and again. It's a map of the future I want, I can dig, where to dig? I can search, where to search? I can ... endure. What for? A girl pauses out front and picks from the garden a hot pink geranium to add to her bouquet. I can see the sudden explosion in her eyes of the colour of the flower she has to bend and pluck. Can feel her happiness in the change in her walk as she goes on to her assignation. Why did you? I want not to wait and will wait. I want to go and will stay. I want not to want. Why?

Sidney Nolan: Rimbaud at Harar