It is Done

It is done. The memoir, that is. All ten chapters (c.70, 000 words in total) have been published online, free of charge, for your reading pleasure. Could I be more munificent?

Granted, the manuscript is not in perfect form. There are some errors along the way: misspellings, lost words and such-like. This is unfortunate, and not wholly the fault of my restless typists. When time bestows upon me several truckloads of hours, minutes and seconds, I will endeavour to put this straight. In the meantime, I am confident that the book does me proud. I believe that I have tackled a difficult subject to the best of my uncertain ability – and stand by the results, whatever one thinks of them.

In other news, I will shortly be taking another break from this blog. Relocation to a different country, coupled with a surprisingly busy work load, means that this particular blackboard will see little chalk for the next few months.

Whilst I’m away, allow me to remind you that there is always a lot to read (and re-read) in these regions. Over seven hundred posts on this blog alone, and over a hundred edifying essays on my sister site. Browse, by all means, but don’t forget that words are there to be read, not glanced at. It is in this spirit, indeed, that I have decided to stop updating for a while. I have written more than enough on the topic of obscure European literature during the last seven or eight years, yet very few of my ponderings have, I suspect, been chewed over as methodically as they deserve. Perhaps the power of my contribution to his little-watered field has yet to be fully appreciated? Let us hope so.


Books on Bikes

As noted in the most recent excerpt from my glorious memoir ‘Conversations with Speyer’, Johannes Speyer was probably the first critic to fully explore the concept of ‘read-cycling’ – that is, reading books on bikes.

Certainly, there are easier – and less perilous – ways of consuming literature than this. Having tried it itself, I can confirm that even the most talented ‘read-cyclers’ are likely to suffer a few bumps and bruises along the way. I know at least one man who broke his ankle whilst reading Scott Fitzgerald on a mountain bike. Another unfortunate reader was so engrossed in the latest novel by Fjona Uu that she cycled straight into a lake.

Reading and cycling are not natural bedfellows, whichever way you look at it. But that is the point of the activity. ‘Read-cycling’ puts the risk back into reading. Your experience of a book changes drastically under certain circumstances. Reading a poem in an armchair is one thing; reading that same poem whilst pedalling furiously with both feet is quite another. I heartily recommend taking this risk. (I also recommend wearing a bicycle helmet. And shin-pads. And some sort of upper-body protection).

Five semi-vigorous knocks…

It took only five semi-vigorous knocks to bring the great man to his door. The figure that stood before me, I thought, was very small and had just been crying and/or sleeping. I was wrong on both accounts. Speyer was in fact much the same size as me, but his front room, for reasons unknown, lay a foot or so below street level. His tired and swollen eyes, meanwhile, were caused by hay-fever. Why a man with hay-fever should chose to spend all his time sitting at the foot of a tree in his garden is a question I have never been able to answer – but there it is.

Like the stubborn mollusc inching towards the distant cabbage patch, so the memoir continues.

To Be Read, and Re-Read

To be read:

Tess of the Baskervilles – Nella Evades
Nadia Took the Night-Train – Lucien de la Grepes

To be re-read:

Sanctified Elders in the Semiotic Scrofulous Larboard – Martin Brunt
The Loudness of the Hummingbird Meets the Silence of the Ghostdriver – Kirios Quebec
Rabbit Pie – Ka Naurauch

To be tossed away:

Collected Essays – Aldous Egg


Having said I would explain the absence of a review for Henri Ossan-Ossaf’s In Case amongst my Greatest European Novels List, I’m not sure I can. I started commissioning reviews for this list almost six years ago, asking no more than a few thousand words for each novel. You’d have thought someone could have come up with something by now, wouldn’t you?

Ah, but you underestimate the peculiar humour of this world of ours. Strange forces, fuelled by hidden realities, with the close support of metaphysical powers lying behind the mysterious veil of the unknown, have clearly decided that no one should write a review of Ossan-Ossaf’s book. Why I do not know. Suffice it to say that they have made their point clear on more than one occasion.

One could get too hysterical about this whole matter. One could even write a novel about the attempt to write a review of this novel; a novel that would quite possibly be better than the original novel. Yes: one could definitely make more of this if one wanted to.

As editors go, however, I seek an element of reserve. Where others go over the top, I merely peek my head above the parapet for a moment or so. Ultimately, I have better things to do than submit to hysteria.

On which basis, let me keep this explanation brief. The facts are as follows: several writers have agreed to write this review over the last six years. All of them have failed to finish. At first these failures felt like a spooky coincedence. They have since begun to seem like something rather more frightening. I exaggerate, perhaps, but the death of so many critics working on the same project in such a short space of time does strike me as just a little odd. Some of them were quite old, admittedly, but the demise of the others certainly came as something of a shock. Nobody, not even his anxious mother, expected Per Hansen to choke on that satsuma.

The greatest sadness of all, of course, lies in the fact that, amidst all this chaos, the review remains unwritten. God knows that we’ve tried to remedy this, but God clearly has other ideas. What they are exactly is beyond even my critical powers. I guess we’ll have to wait for him/her to write a novel.

The Graffiti Novelist (Part Two)

There are records, of course. Most of the stories have been photographed by someone – a practice that the Graffiti Novelist refuses to condone, though it helps to spread his fame. For him, a record destroys the ‘essential eventness’ of the venture. And, after all, he is not writing to be known. He is writing to be read; in the correct conditions: as the author intended. But he is fighting a losing battle. If we do anything now, we record. Everything must be available and accessible. Nevermind whether it is or isn’t accessed.

Fame threatens to take apart his practice. One night he was discovered writing a story on a wall by a fan. The mood was spoiled. One simply can’t have fans getting in on the act. The Graffiti Novelist works alone, or not at all.

Last week he started writing on the road. In a cul-de-sac to the south of Stockport he wrote one of his longest stories yet. It started in the driveway of one house and stretched all the way to the crossroads. By the time someone got around to photographing it, half of it had been washed away by a man washing his car. Now we don’t know how the story ends. Unless of course we speak to those who read it. Two men, returning in the early hours, consumed the story whole. And yet they remain tight-lipped over its denouement. ‘You missed your chance,’ they say.

The Graffiti Novelist doesn’t give you many chances. Don’t expect that to change.