‘Not still writing about that silly Russian?’ asks my wife, with an extra dollop of sneer.
I grin like a dog: my default setting in such circumstances. She knows very well that this is an important moment in Turgidovsky studies. His second novel has arrived at last – and the eyes of every editor of an obscure European journal are, quite naturally, pinned on him. They all want to know what to make of his new work, The Delicious Air of Life (or the Ugly God-damned Wife). Will it live up to the unrelenting misery-fest that was his debut, The Lunatic?
Misanthropic hermit as he is, we’ve learned a fair deal about Turgidovsky since his first book fell on our laps, infected our minds and used our souls as a punch-bag. Who doesn’t know of his daily routine, his ubiquitous black umbrella, his cousin, his fear of marshmallows, his love of funerals, his irregular teaching methods and his bravely consistent impoliteness? We feel like we know him – and that we rather we didn’t. And yet, for all his meanness, he remains a magnetic personality. What is it? Is it the faint possibility that below the almost endless layers of unhappiness, he might be having a laugh on all of us? I know that this is a conclusion Heidi Kohlenberg favours. But I am not so sure. I think that Turgidovsky takes wretchedness perfectly seriously and, though this doesn’t do much for his readers’ state of mind, it is to some extent an admirable approach. After all, happy endings aren’t for everyone, are they?
With all this in mind, I intend to start reading the new book this afternoon – and to throw out some thoughts on it as and when they occur to me. Call this an experiment in reviewing. Of course, I would usually wait until I’d read a book several times before judging it, but I see no harm in using another method for once; if not because I believe in it, then because it’ll allow me to get some words in before the other critics have finishing sharpening their knives.
More on this, therefore, later.