Thursday, December 01, 2005

Current books

I've spent much time recently in Edinburgh - where, in that insalubrious area known by locals as the Pubic Triangle, there are not only lap-dancing clubs but also fabulous second-hand bookstores. I have, needless to clarify, been frequenting the latter. Amongst the goodies recently hauled back to Hampshire, I recommend Unlikely Stories, Mostly by Alasdair Gray, Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs, and the essays of R.L.Stevenson. Of these last, 'Pulvis et Umbra' and 'A Christmas Sermon' are perfect examples of bravura miserabilism.

On a similarly grim note, I've been reading with great admiration and some wincing Jim Crace's Being Dead. Crace, if you'll pardon a rhyme, writes with astonishing grace about murder, love and decomposition. It's a bracing read, like tackling Beckett, where the only consolation is in the creative act itself. Crace could write about a paper bag and make it interesting. Consider, for instance, this description of waves breaking on the shore, their crest curls wrapped round tubes of air, like brandy snaps. Crace is an atheist (writing his masterly novel, Quarantine, saw to that) and he writes the truth movingly. Should we expect their spirits (of the murdered couple) to depart, some hellish cart and its pale horse to come and take their falling souls away to its hot mines, some godly, decorated messenger, too simple-minded for its golden wings, to fly them to repose, reunion, eternity? Might we demand some ghosts, at least? Or fanfares, gardens and high gates? Or some dramatic skyline, steep with clouds? The plain and unforgiving facts were these. Celice and Joseph were soft fruit. They lived in tender bodies. They were vulnerable. They did not have the power not to die. The whole novel is suffused with writing as feeling yet unflinching as this. My book, then, of the week.


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