Thursday, 24 March 2011

On Perec and Memory

I’ve been talking about Georges Perec an awful lot recently; about how his strictures and magpie-ish mind, have, however tangentially, influenced me; about my love for his great work, Life: a User’s Manual. Last night I ended up talking about him twice, and I think I’ve ended up mentioning him in every interview I’ve conducted. It’s a funny kind of reverence, one borne out of memory rather than hard knowledge. When quizzed on the book itself, I find myself hazily recalling jigsaws and static rooms, curious men in curious positions just off the floor.

Over the last few months I’ve picked it up several times, wondering whether to embark on re-reading it: though I know that ultimately I won’t. The memory is like that of a drunken, impromptu night out; the feeling of the euphoria remaining but the details sketchy. I have no doubt that I’d fall in love with it again – just reading random pages gives me a glowing feeling of pleasure – but I’m not entirely sure that I want to be close enough to remember more than that glorious way the novel proper begins: ‘yes, it could begin that way . . .’

Books are unique in this way, and perhaps why they are the art form most attuned to life. Just as we can remember a good day, but not, perhaps, the exact itinerary; books, once read, become less physical objects, works of art or airport trash, but part of us. Film and theatre, any visual media at all, gives us stimuli that help with the remembering; for books we rely on ourselves utterly.

I have a visceral memory, for example, of one particular scene in Delillo’s Underworld, where they’re driving through the desert and reach the top of the ridge, the B52 bombers, painted and de-militarised, shining below in the hazy heat. I can’t recall the words, but can still feel the bump and judder of the jeep as Delillo drives us out into his imagination. At a seminar at the Manchester Literary Festival, a passage from the novel was printed out and I didn’t recall a single word; this from a book I considered a passion ever since I read it.

It is a deficiency as a reader, this lack of exacting memory. My girlfriend is the opposite: she can recall whole lines and paragraphs years after having read something. I envy this, wish that I could quote long from that Delillo passage that so excited me; remember exactly the jokes from Confederacy of Dunces, the swooning melancholy of The Great Gatsby. But that’s not how it works, at least not for me, so for holiday this year, I will be taking Life: a User’s Manual and heading back into Perec’s world. I can’t wait.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Being Jordan

Emma Young, who was emcee at the recent World Book Night evening, described the act of moving from writing about books to actually writing books as ‘like a Sun journalist suddenly turning into Jordan.’ I’ve been trying to find a more apposite kind of comparison, but have failed. I am therefore, Katie Price – which at least makes it easy to give up masturbation for Lent.

I was prepared for little coverage, if I’m honest. There are so many books out this month, so many novels that publishers have pinned their hopes upon, so many novels that their editors and agents can only pray will rise above the sheer volume of hopeful titles. Trying to get heard over the noise is difficult; there is a danger that truly important, wonderful books (such as the stunningly, swooningly good The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier) will be left unheard, standing at the far corner of the bar, ignored by the pretty boys and girls serving the drinks. I’ve been stupidly lucky in comparison; the box format intriguing enough reviewers to unwrap the cellophane and actually read the stories.

They’ve been nice reviews too:

“Evers happily acknowledges the influence of such American masters of short fiction as Raymond Carver, John Cheever and Richard Yates. Yet, by applying the same unshowy precision to alarmingly recognisable British lives, he achieves something both original and quietly devastating.” Daily Telegraph

“Brilliantly restrained and emotionally mature, I wish this had been a packet of 20, not ten” Scotland on Sunday

“Evers's writing is sequined with sparkling descriptions, usually of urban settings or human foibles . . . haunting.’ Independent on Sunday

“The humour is black as tar. That Evers manages to sustain our interest in these wretched lives is tribute to his skill. His writing is like the cigarette smoke that suffuses it - insidious and addictive . . . This exquisite slice of Anglo-Americana deserves to be read” New Statesman

“A Swindon motel, a pub in Benidorm and a Las Vegas casino are among the settings for these wistful tales of white-collar heartache.” Metro

“Inhaling each story is a hauntingly wonderful experience . . . Moving and thought provoking, there's a beautiful delicacy to the way these tales of disaffection burn down to the filter, searing to the core of fragile human sensitivity like a butt stubbed out on the flesh.” Easy Living

‘The best pieces here have surreal flourishes and the deadpan observational eye of the chronic doorway lurker.” Time Out

“Ten Stories about Smoking is a remarkably assured collection. Evers has developed a subtle, minimalist style loaded with implication - a versatile instrument capable of expressing humour and pathos in equal measure.” GQ

“Evers’s deadpan prose shows a casual knack for getting under the reader’s skins . . . the solid construction and Evers’s confidence are impressive. His next move will be worth watching” Financial Times

And to end on Being Jordan, nothing I think will ever top being reviewed by the Daily Sport, just underneath an article entitled: ‘Boobs, Glorious Boobs’ . . .