A bitterly comic novel. The main character, Jonathan, is a 53 year-old bachelor who owns a bookshop. He's not interested in others except physically, sometimes. He says "Bit by bit I've somehow rid myself of people and the problems that come with them. I'm safe. Sometimes a little lonely but it's a price I've been willing to pay for a bit of peace and quiet". Early on however, we read that "he moved inevitably toward the edge of himself - and quietly slipped over", p.5
His life's capsized by the visit of the embodiment of Truth, a young man. His capricious omniscience takes over from the novel's earlier solipsistic viewpoint. Truth reveals the secrets and past of other characters to Jonathan. Truth makes Jonathan curious, tempts him to ask questions, and also to reveal himself. Truth is entertaining too, coming out with monologues like "It's like Everest, the laziest mountain in the world (you read that joke in your Fantastic Four Annual), Tenzing got there first but everyone thinks it was Hillary. Actually the Goons got there a month and a day earlier. Who gives a bunch of dried figs about the truth nowadays? No one realises that Tenzing was his first name either. It's like Jesus never being born on Christmas Day but back in the early hours of October the Second. And 2 BC at that", p.40.
Towards the end Truth monopolises with moralistic/philosophical monologues. Given the situation I guess that's fair enough. I liked the comparison of love to water that starts on p.159, but some of the rest goes on too long. On p.165 Truth says "I'm telling you you've never known real love". Later, just in time, he tells Jonathan how close he got.
There's hardly a quiet moment. One keeps wanting to read on
- "She had been saving herself for the right man and the interest was accruing nicely", p.43
- "Why? What's wrong with the word? It's a perfectly valid euphemism." "But do you have to euphemise so loudly?", p.89
- "The doorbell did its stuff. Truth's eyes lit up and his mouth shifted into first gear, though the handbrake was still firmly on", p.99
- There's a fun scene about Jonathan's sister playing Winnie in an am-dram Christmas version of Beckett's "Happy Days", a couple of songs added for good measure.
If anything the comedy and the striving to enliven each sentence (as in the "doorbell" example above) is too relentless, but I guess that's the point. The prison episode seemed a wee bit of a detour though.
Spot the poem
Some of the ideas from poems in This is not about what you think have another outing here -
- We learn that sexual "coming" in the Orient is "going", p.4
- "Jonathan didn't believe in destiny but he did in inevitability", p.6
- On p.14 there's mention of Laing and Truth.
- "Memories? Well he could do without them", p.21
- "He could usually be found in the library making notes for tomorrow's tests. Or more often scouring the art books for naked women. Somehow their art never quite reached him", p.24
I do the same thing. Why waste a good line?
Sometimes a sentence surprizes - going outside the story or "going meta"
- "Overseeing all the foregoing to-ing and fro-ing was a solitary magpie on the back wall who, not feeling all that symbolic that morning, contented himself by repeating an unimaginative mantra over and over again", p.26
- "He had all the personality of one of those minor characters writers insist on introducing to pad out their novels", p.109
Two typos (I think) -
- "if you headed due east, within a couple of hundred years, you were in the country", p.128. "yards" rather than "years"?
- "Now, strand straight", p.134. "stand"?