Here at Thought Terrain, we’ve started reading your latest book, First Person.
So far, so great and wonderful. However, before I start gushing about the actual book, I think I’ll just make a few things clear. We’re not a book club. We don’t drink wine, waste time talking about our days, our work gripes, our families, the hilarious exploits of our children, the latest bargains at Aldi (ok maybe we did have a brief chat about the latest catalogue but it didn’t go on for very long and it was essential). We don’t prepare a gourmet meal to show off to our fellow club members what domestic goddesses we are. We are real people who like reading, We wanted to talk to another person about the actual book. Yes. I know. As far as we can tell, most book clubs are less about the book and more about the socialising.
We are all about the book.
Anyhoo on with the show. We thought it might be an idea to keep you updated with our reading adventures, our thoughts, our ideas, our sometimes confusion, and our questions. It will also help keep us updated with how we are going. You know. With the book.
So far, so many pages. We got up to p. 31. Why, you might wonder did we not get any further? Happy to tell you Richard. We read the book out loud. That’s right. Every word up until then. How was it, you ask? Fan-Bloody-tastic. That’s right. We’ve decided it’s the only way to read this book. It’s the best way. It made us giggle and laugh at the funny parts, exclaim over the beautiful parts and ponder at length the poignant, sad, profound bits.
Ok. Here’s how it unfolded. We ate a quick dinner. Instant Aldi pasta with some broccoli, tomato and parmesan. Then a cuppa was made, accompanied by dark chocolate and some raspberries. Then, we started.
We liked the prologue quote thing that you popped in first. It set the scene noicely. Immediately, we cottoned on to the fact that this was a book about books, writing, novels and the attraction of crimes, misdemeanours and those that are involved in that kind of palaver. Indeed, we’re picking up on the notion that the publishing industry might be filled with crooks and cranks – a sort “history of highwaymen” (Flanagan). Robbing the rich to make themselves richer perhaps? Perhaps I’m reading too much into that. Maybe once we get past p. 31 I’ll know more.
Then you got cracking for reals. You didn’t muck around. Straight to the point with your first person narrator (who we think swings between being a character and being YOU). “Of course”, you write, “he didn’t want a memoir written….But I only realised this later, much later, when I came to fear that the beginning of that book was also the end of me” (p. 1). Dramatic much? We thought so. And that was just the end of the first paragraph.
We laughed as we read your description of “literature”. Too often have we ourselves been baffled by books that feature “the tropes of time dancing” (p. 1). Perhaps we haven’t described it so eloquently, but we were happy that you did. And oh, those sentences that are longer than two lines. Ha. We hear you loud and clear. Such concentration is needed to read and inwardly digest.
By the end of our first 31 pages we had a pretty good sense of publisher Gene Paley. Yep. That’s right. Already. And Siegfried Heidl. Characters both. We can’t wait to see how they unfold further.
We read on. We lingered on this for a while “It may be someone else’s blood soaking into the dust, he wrote, but I am that dust”. (p. 5). Memories, pasts, inventing the self, renewing, fiction, non-fiction, unreliability of the authorial voice. Something. We returned to this and read it out loud a few more times, letting it soak into our brains, making an impression that was lasting.
And then we revelled in your depiction of the publishing office and the industry and its gradual decline, reminding ourselves that you were writing about the early 1990s in Australia. The recession we had to have. “Granular analytics” (p. 6). We writhed inwardly, having each sat through one too many meetings, in various sectors, where such phrases were bandied about as if that had some actual meaning. You repeated phrases like “the trade” and “the numbers” and in doing so showed us how empty they are/were, yet how they are wielded as a way of holding on to power.
“Hokey teak veneer” (p. 7). That made me smile. We’ve all seen that. And Jez Dempster. Firstly, great name for a blockbuster airport novelist. Secondly, his “cinder block tomes blinged” with his name are all too real and a little bit scary. I mean really, who wants their name in giant gold lettering on the cover of a book? Jez Dempster that’s who.
It just got more delicious the more we read. The “shoddy bombast” of the publishing company with its “faux Edwardian Laminex desk”. (p. 8). We were seeing it in our minds’ eyes as we read it aloud.
Is there a reason you don’t indicate direct and indirect speech with punctuation Richard? We found it a little bit confusing at first. What was being said and what was being thought? Perhaps though we decided, this was part of the joy of what you were doing. Confusing while building the confusion of your characters? Maybe I’m making that up. Reading too much into it. Just like Kif might have to do to understand and write about Ziggy Heidl. Wait, is that Ziggy infecting us now – with his obsession with the toxo?
“the torso of a daschund topped with the head of a cockatiel”. This delighted us and helped us see Gene Paley just that little bit more clearly. Thanks!
And then there was the line. My favourite line so far.
“The day smelled of damp stone”. (p. 16). Now, as far as I can remember, I’ve never knowingly sniffed damp stone, but immediately I knew what the day smelled like. You’re very good Richard. No wonder you won that Booker Prize.
We’re wondering who Ray is by now too. When are you going to give us a little bit more. We’re guessing he’s important because you casually drop into the conversation on p. 19 that he’s dead. At least we think that’s what you mean. We can’t wait to find out. But just a minute, we had to pick up our phones to Google the Melville quote from Moby Dick. “The unbodied air, wrote Melville” (p. 19). What is unbodied air? Is it empty of people? Just space? We haven’t got time to read all of Moby Dick. Thanks for assuming that we might have read it already. We’re flattered.
And that was the end of section 1. With glee we kept going, even though it was a school night and we probably should have stopped. But WE COULDN’T because in the telling of the story we found ourselves wanting more. Your bloody beautiful prose and your kicking characters had in 19 pages, got us hooked. It was beaut to read it and hear it come alive – out of thin air!
So we powered on and suddenly you’re bloody well quoting Othello and Heidl is Iago, the manipulator and we’re all over it now. Because we’ve just seen Othello on a recent trip to Melbourne and isn’t that a huge coincidence. Or serendipity. Or something. Clearly, your book was meant to be.
“I am not what I am, I said”. Indeed you are not Ziggy Heidl. And can the same be said for Kif, your narrator? We will see what happens to him.
Who is Papa Doc we wondered (p. 30). We’re aware of Pinochet and Walt Disney. This seemed profound “The achievement invents the life it needs in way of explanation”. (p. 31). Suddenly that seemed very true.
We meet again in a fortnight Richard so we’ll catch you then and let you know how we’re going.
Wendy and Adrienne (not a book club).