Sunday, November 16, 2008

hunting and gathering

When it works fiction can do many things - it can entertain, enlighten, educate or challenge.  I know I’ve read a good book when I walk away with at least a couple of these in my basket.  When a book dispenses a hefty dose of imagination it can also change the way you see something, so that you will never see that thing in quite the same way again.  Two recent reads did that for me The Night Country (Stewart O’Nan) and Firmin (Sam Savage).  After reading these books ghosts and rats are forever altered.  O’Nan doesn’t rely on the usual ghost reactions - instead he elicits our empathy for his ghosts, and shows us the fine lines between the living and the dead.  And in Savage’s creation of Firmin, the little book-loving existential angst-ridden rat, I feel I’ve found a true friend. 

Sometimes I get stuck in a run of poor books, ones that don’t hit the mark, that I trudge through beginning to end.  And then I hit a rich vein where every one seems to sparkle and shine.  And hot on the heels of those two came Astrid and Veronika (Linda Olsson) - the kind of book that tears me in two.  I want to linger over every page, savour every word.  I want to take time between chapters to contemplate what I’ve just read before I return for another dose.  But at the same time I can’t tear myself away, I feel bereft when I lay the book down.  Not because of a page-turning plot, but just because I feel at home within the pages, and a little more lonely when away from them.  This is the kind of book I want to write.  A simple story about two women and their unlikely friendship.  But within that the whole of their lives.  Two stories, more stories, meeting in one.   There is perfect attention to detail throughout, colour, texture, light and sound.  Little images connect to create a memory space for the two characters to dance in.

And finally for something a little different.  Usually I’m content with any old paperback copy of the book I want to read, but very occasionally I hold out for a particular version.  And The Book of Imaginary Beings (Jorge Luis Borges) was one such case.  I saw that there was a hardback version with quirky illustrations (by Peter Sis) and I knew that was the way I wanted to come to this book.  It’s my first experience with Borges and won’t be my last, although I acknowledge its not a full dose of him, being a kind of encyclopaedia.  Within these pages I’ve met many wondrous new acquaintances along with more familiar faces.  Two of my favourites have been The Ink Monkey ‘whenever people write, it sits with folded  hands and crossed legs, waiting till the writing is finished, when it drinks up the remainder of the ink’ and Swedenborg’s Angels where ‘Things’ appearances change to correspond to states of emotion; each Angel’s clothing shines in proportion to its intelligence’.  Both of who would be handy to know in day to day life!