This year, I moved a bit forward in time and read 54, set in 1954. It’s another creation by parts of Q‘s creative steering committee, except this time around they’re known as Wu Ming. Basically they’re a bunch of anonymous Bologna-based scribes who create playful pieces, which is just as well because their nom-de-plume is the Chinese phrase for anonymous.
The Plaguemightn’t have inspired a Cure song, but that doesn’t mean you should discount it. I mean, is it on the nose to be reading something with this title in 2020? It feels a little on the nose, but here I am, ploughing through Camus’s 1947 examination of the effects of bubonic plague on a city because frankly, there’s not much else to do in 2020 other than to try and avoid disease by any means necessary, as others seem hell-bent on playing chicken with it.
Ira Levin. You know the guy: novelist, playwright and the man whose stories became adapted into a dozen or so films, from Sliver to The Boys From Brazil. A jobbing writer, whose tight planning is a thing of wonder.
Nightmares is a collection of three of Levin’s novels in one book club-style hardback. It’s something that I came across in an op shop in a small town in the middle of the country, which is probably fitting because each of the stories are about people fitting in – or trying to fit in – to a community.
You like to read about drugs? And the internet? Murder-for-hire? Inter-agency squabblings?
You’re probably not all that interested in the last of these, but they provide a lot of the forward thrust of Nick Bilton’s American Kingpin, a book about the rise – and eventual downfall – of the man behind The Silk Road, an online emporium that taunted law enforcement for years.
So Pulp, eh? Possibly – nah, probably – the best band to emerge from the Britpop years of hype and arse-smacking heroin chic.
The group – in existence since 1978, if you can believe it – weren’t typically sexy. I mean, there was an effort to evoke a certain PR sexiness from lyricist Jarvis Cocker’s gangly frame, but it wasn’t the body that made him sexy: it was the combination of his writing, and of sex itself.
Well, I did it. I survived In Search of Lost Time. Admittedly, this is probably easier to do in a year where chunks were spent in mandatory lockdown than in a year when you can do … I dunno, anything. But here we are.
This review of the final volume of the Modern Library edition will probably serve as a review of the piece as a whole, as it’s difficult to view them as anything except interlinked, because the individual books don’t stand on their own merits – it’s only as part of this elephantine endeavour that they can be appreciated.
The thing I suppose I needed most this year was a balls-out story of daring, legal piracy and hard-nosed colonialism in the service of personal riches and furthering the drug trade. Either that, or everything else going on was balls enough to make me believe that that kind of story would be great.
Enter James Clavell, from beyond the grave, holding a copy of his 1966 tome, wordlessly gesturing that I should get that into me.
This review’s going to be shorter than my other Proust ones, which is amusing because, even with everything else going on this year, this book was an enormous fucking slog. I mean you’d think there was more to write about it, but ensuring I maintained the will to live seems to have taken precedence.
No, really, it was. That’s the set-up for White’s novel, famously made – with some alterations – into The Spiral Staircase in 1946. The film has, it seems, driven many to seek out the novel to sup at the story’s source, though I’m coming at it from the position of a heathen non-watcher, which means I’m likely not as irritated by the material changes which some argue made the film.
So, this is volume four of Proust’s epic, and it marks the point of no return, or at least where the presence of the sunk cost fallacy begins to make itself felt.
(I must admit that it was at this point I began to question whether I’d actually finish the text. But having cut through the first couple of volumes, I figured the only way out was through, so ONWARDS.)