Along with the common cold, the end of December carries in its deep and dirty pockets the equally dangerous disease of ‘list-making’. As you will have seen for your own poor selves, many blogs, journals and newspapers have been spending the last few weeks putting forward their end-of-the-year lists. In the former case, it is almost as if they fear that not doing so will result in their being disqualified from the so-called blogosphere.
So far as I know, this is not a liklehood. Or if it is, it is a very unlikely one. And should this be the case, I must have already received my eviction notice, since I have thus far denied the urge to throw forward a selection of books to represent the last twelve months or so.
‘Thus far’, I write – as if the urge is about to overtake me all the same. But no, I say now. No. I will not be bewolfenbuttled into arranging such a list as this. I’ve read a fair few books this year, of course I have, but I have absolutely no interest in ranking them. In fact, I cannot help but feel it’s a little too early even to be writing about them. After all, I am rarely confident enough to criticise a book until I’ve given myself the chance to actively re-read it. On top of this, books need a little time on the shelf: they need time to mature, like whisky and cheese, or children and wine. I would go so far as to say that one has as much chance of providing at present an accurate list of the ‘books of 2008’ as one does of losing weight during the last week of the year.
In which spirit I will happily shirk the urge to spill a list upon this page (watch me shirk, oh watch me shirk). I will, however, be taking a little time to mention two books published in the last five years, which I have recently got round to reading, actively, for the fifth and sixth times respectively. These short reviews will probably not be anticipated with excitement: they do not concern books which have been published in the last year, nor books which have been held under pronounced discussion at any point in the last few months. I am not about to say that these books are great in their own right – or any less great than other books. All I am saying is this: I have read them enough times now to have come to a greater understanding, and appreciation, of their ways – and I wish to communicate a portion of these to you.
The first book, Buoyant is, in fact, the type of book I might usually associate with the silly Christmas season. Being the partially true story of a lowly transvestite from Bavaria who grows up to run his/her own fetishistic circus, before accidentally killing his/her father in a manner too complicated to go into here, it positively reeks of sensationalism. Except that, as it goes, the book is not quite what you would expect from a work in this genre.
The problem (or saving grace, rather) is that as it’s author, Percy Gräss, is incredibly reluctant to tell his/her story straight, spending the vast majority of the book searching for the perfect metaphor for his/her confused condition.
The title itself derives from one such metaphor. It is based on a misunderstanding by the young narrator between the words ‘buoyant’ and ‘boyish’. A misunderstanding that some might mention, only to abandon (right or wrongly) shortly afterwards. Grass, however, does not abandon opportunities like this. Given half the chance to dive into the leafy swimmingpool of strange uncertain symbolism, Grass will freely indulge his/herself. Indeed, Grass rarely leaves this scuzzy natatorium. He/she likes nothing better than to stumble through a gloomy forest of metaphors, ever seeking, though never really finding, the silent hanging fruit of truth.
What he/she does find is, it must be said, frequently inferior fruit. This book is as full of bad metaphors and similes as my stomach is, at present, full of plum pudding. One wonders why, then, I recommend it to you. Ah, but you see: for all his/her errors, Grass’s fumblings are not quite in vain. I write that he/she never quite discovers the truth. Maybe. Still, every now and again, he/she does hit upon a version of it that is, for its part, sumptuously imagined. And it is for those moments that I value this work: for those precious moments in which Grass lunges reeklessly into the mist and, against all odds, hits a (though not always the) target.
(More on this later).
[Buoyant: That’s Me Bobbing on the Sexual Seas, Being A Semi-Autobiographical Personal Memoir by Percy Grass was published by Piggy-Winkle Books in 2005]