Adhesive Colon Sticker Book

Further to yesterday’s post, I have received an update from Jaymer Veers’s publishers (HalleysCommaPress) announcing their intention to print a ‘adhesive colon’ (i.e. a sticker) for ‘readers who wish to correct the printing error in the title of Mr. Veers’s first novel’. I presume the sticker is intended for the cover of the book only, with instances of the error occurring within the pages of the book to be ignored as before. Or will we perhaps be provided with an adhesive colon sticker book, to cover up all those unwanted commas?

Whilst one praises the efforts of the publishers in this instance, one does wonder how far this sort of behavior could go. After all, some years (more than five, at least) have passed since the original publication of Poppies: Book One. Does this not mean that the mistake has now become part of the book? Try as they might, I doubt they can stop all readers referring to the work in question as Poppies, Book One. Indeed, I am beginning to doubt that I, for one, can be bothered to roll with these particular (and, some might argue, pointless) changes.

A Misplaced Comma

Like many readers of obscure european fiction, I have a habit of incorrectly reproducing book-titles and author’s names. For this I can hardly be blamed. Who can, after all, fathom the great ocean of mystery surrounding the accent (or lack of accent) in Luis Funnel’s surname? Who hasn’t mistyped the title of Eusen Eof’s novel : ? ; )? How many times have I been called Gregory or George by close friends and mere acquaintances – even by my own dear wife?

It comes as no surprise to hear, therefore, that I have been dropping commas and colons in the ‘wrong place’ in relation to both of Jaymer Veers’s novels. Over the course of these two posts, for instance, I refer to his first novel alternatively as Poppies, Book One and Poppies: Book One. Elsewhere I refer to its sequel as both Poppies: The Index and Poppies, The Index. Which is it?

It seems there is little  agreement. Sources close to the author suggest that it is the colon should be present in both titles. However, it is a certainty that the first novel was published with a comma; the second without. If this was an error in the first place, it is an error that has stuck – and will not be easily corrected. We can hardly collect all known copies of Poppies, Book One and insert a colon in the title of each, can we? Or can we?

Before You Begin

There is, as you probably know, a long and rich tradition of ‘scathing prefaces’: sometimes written by the author themselves; sometimes by a close friend; sometimes by a miscellaneous other (acquaintance/enemy/family member/delete as appropriate). The aim of such a preface, whosoever pens it, is simple. It is, first, to anticipate criticism (usually by dealing it out, thick and fast); second, to steal the show from the main event. A ‘scathing preface’ is a work of art in its own right – though it ‘belongs’, by right, to the words that follow, it can be read as a standalone piece. Indeed, the best prefaces (the majority of which are ‘scathing’) rise well above the novels/memoirs/stories to which they are, in theory, a mere forerunner.

Writing a ‘scathing preface’ is less easy than it sounds. There are, however, several masters of the form. I know one man whose best work as a writer can be found in his preface’s to other writers’ works. He’d probably rather this wasn’t the case, but it is, and I see no reason why he should be ashamed. The perfect ‘scathing preface’ – like the perfect blog post – is a difficult beast to tame, let alone conquer. The man should be proud of himself.

Speaking of prefaces, I can’t let these comments fade into nothingness without mentioning the work of Jaymer Veers, whose novel Poppies: Part One consists entirely of a overlong preface (or ‘Note on the Translation’) to a story that doesn’t yet exist. The sequel, Poppies: The Index consists (as you no doubt guessed) of the index to said story. We eagerly await the middle-section, ever-conscious that it may never come. And who cares if it doesn’t? To have the preface is, to my mind, more than enough.

The Poppy with No Seeds

My father was a big fan of indexes. An avid reader of non-fiction, he used the index as the portal through which to begin his passage through a book. A rabbit warren has many entrances: this was his. From the first page to the last? Never. From the index to page 24, then back to the index, then off to page 267, then back to the index, then to page 89 – and so on and so forth. He asked not of a book, ‘What does it mean to say in general’, so much as ‘What does it say about this thing or that’. Books were to him a buffet lunch; eaten in bits, in several trips.

What would he have made, I wonder, of Jaymer Veers’ latest work, Poppies: The Index, the ‘sequel of sorts’ to Poppies: Book One? (first mentioned here). He would have liked it, I think – albeit with reservations. That is to say, he wouldn’t have taken it seriously as a work of art, but he’d have enjoyed it for ‘what it was’.

But what  is it? It is an index to a book that doesn’t (yet) exist. A book which consists, otherwise, of a translator’s note. A book that lives, primarily, in the mind of its writer – and, to an increasing extent, his loyal readers. Poppies: Book One framed the non-existent work; Poppies: The Index adds a few splashes of colour. Or is it more than this? The index in question is, after all, comprehensive in its range. This isn’t one of those piddly indexes one finds at the back of a cheap academic book. This is the sort of index my father would have drooled over. Sub-headings abound. ‘Kingston, Harold; Character of: 34-7, 65, 110-3, 213; Sexual deviance and: 36-7, 69, 319-23; on foreign policy: 118, 401-3’. Imagine a fuller, richer, deeper version of this and you’re somewhere along the way to grasping the sort of thing that we may be dealing with here. This is a monster index. This is a book taken apart and put back together according to alphabetical names, places, events and themes. Here are the jigsaw pieces: now make the book.

This is more, therefore, than a few splashes of colour. This is almost the whole picture; albeit the picture fragmented; cut into segments: plenty of water, you could say, but no real river. Poppies: The Index gives us a very good idea of what the book is about; about what it covers – but how does it flow? Poppies: Book One offered a few clues in that direction, granted, but the book itself remains, quite deliberately, just out of our reach.

And so the tease continues – as we ought to have guessed it would. Where will Jaymer Veers go next? Poppies: The Critical Response? Poppies: The Souvenir Guide? Poppies: A Synopsis in Ancient Greek? Anything, I should think, than Poppies: Book Two. The Poppies project will always skirt the edge of what we may perceive to be an ‘actual text’. It refers to something other than itself, but it is what it is. And of this we can hardly complain. Poppies: The Index more than stands for itself. An index that questions the very nature of indexes: that comes before a story. This is enlightening stuff. It’s also clever stuff. And you know – sometimes it takes a poppy with no seeds to remind you what you never saw when the seeds were there. My father would have cradled his reservations close: I toss them out of the window, with the next-door neighbour’s cat.

Poppies…12, 19-21, 43, 58, 101, 151, 156-7, 267

Back in June, I presented readers with the following news: ‘Forgive me, then, for dumping on your eager shoulders the dank and despondent news that Poppies: Book Two will not, in fact, be published this summer – nor, indeed, this year. Why? It’s a mystery. Some argue that there are ‘small teething problems’, whilst others claim that there is ‘no book at all’. [Jaymer] Veers himself has been conspicuously quiet.’

Since then, further details have dripped from the leaky tap of literary news. And not all is as bad as it seemed. Poppies: Book Two (the sequel, of course, to Poppies: Book One) will definitely not be appearing. But Poppies: The Index, most certainly will. No word on those ‘small teething problems’.

A new question pops its furry head out of the burrow of ponderment: What does that actually mean? Poppies: Book One, you may remember, consisted of a note on the translation of a book which has not yet/may never exist. The narrative, as it was/may yet be, could be gleaned from the sub-text. The advent of Poppies: The Index suggests a similar approach, with significantly more obliqueness. So far as I can tell, the novel will consist of the index of the non-existent novel to which the first novel was the translator’s note. The central story will, thus, be expanded – albeit on the sly. We will be able to tell from the index what sort of themes, what places and what people will/might appear in the text. But to what extent will we be able to construct a story out of it? Only time can tell. Suffice it to say, it will be an interesting experiment. Jaymer Veers (himself an experienced translator) is a wily writer, who does nothing without subjecting it first to deep, deep thought.

A Few New Works

As noted earlier in the year, 2009 always looked as if it would be a good one for contemporary European literature. At least half a dozen of the authors who featured on my 2005 list promised us new titles, from Hamish Wishart (whose short story collection, Sore Chasm, was published at the beginning of April) to Dinos Tierotis (whose second novel, The Golden Bomber Jacket, hit the bookshelves, albeit lightly, in May). If I have failed to mention these two works before now, it is not because I haven’t given them any attention; merely that other books (Turgidovsky’s Delicious Air, for instance) have taken precedence. What is more, as you will know, I am not one to be rushed into thrusting forth my critical opinion. One takes the cake out of the oven only when it is cooked. Then one consumes the cake. Thus is one becrumbed (which is an entirely different matter, to be considered on another day).

The summer, meanwhile, was set to provide a fitting climax to the literary riches of the spring, symbolised by the possible appearance of the long-awaited Poppies: Book Two, by Jaymer Veers. Ah, what more could a fan of obscure European literature ask for than the sequel to Poppies: Book One? Does not the very thought of it make your earlobes tingle and small toes twitch?

Forgive me, then, for dumping on your eager shoulders the dank and despondent news that Poppies: Book Two will not, in fact, be published this summer – nor, indeed, this year. Why? It’s a mystery. Some argue that there are ‘small teething problems’, whilst others claim that there is ‘no book at all’. Veers himself has been conspicuously quiet.
More on this later, perhaps.

In the meantime I am pleased, nay relieved, to be able to counter this saddening announcement with the information that Boris Yashmilye’s new novel is due at the end of July. There is a tendency amongst many of the writers I admire, as you may have noticed, to toss out books at the rate of one or two a decade, if that. Yashmilye is a blessed exception. His last novel, Out, Damned, was only published a couple of years ago (though it never found an English publisher, translations are readily available – or you may choose to read it in the original Bulgarian if you so desire). Hot on the heels of this, now, comes The Bastard, which, if the the frantic wasp of rumour is to be believed, is set to confirm Yashmilye’s triumphant return to form (his second and third novels, you may recall, were largely disappointing).

More on this when more there is.

Fresh Coal

The most eager of my readers will have already noticed that a good many of the novelists who featured on my Greatest European Novels List are feeding this year’s steam train of new literature with the fresh coal of their particular talents. 

First up is the long-awaited Turgidovsky novel, Delicious Air of Life (subtitled The Ugly God-Damned Wife), due in a couple of weeks. This will be followed by Hamish Wishart’s ‘highly witty’ Sore Chasm (comment courtesy of the press release) – a collection of short stories, none of which will feature his most famous character Gavin McCloud (or Dunce, as he is better known) and will, thus, attract much less attention than they probably deserve. 

In May, then, we are promised Dinos Tierotis’s The Golden Bomber Jacket, a prospect that pales in the face of the possibility that Jaymer Veers’s Poppies: Book Two could be hitting selected bookstores sometime in the summer. Could it be true? Let us hold hands, murmur a pointless prayer, quaff a jorum of some warming spirit and hope for the best.

You can read reviews of earlier works by these authors here (as you should know by now).