Thursday, March 22, 2012

What ho, more reading? Absolutely.

I promised Jeeves I would post something on here about each book that I finished this year. This isn't going very well. Every morning when he brings me my warm and hearty, he's been eyeing me in such a way as to strongly suggest he's been checking this blog on his ipad and come away empty handed.

This is not because I haven't been reading and not because I haven't wanted to blog. I just haven't yet read a book good enough for me to finish.

What an awful thing to have to say. I can't bring myself to tell Jeeves directly.

The latest disappointment (and it was a whopper) was the latest book by one of my favourite novelists.

If it weren't for Paul Auster, I would not be a writer. I might never have started reading novels again if I hadn't picked up his 'New York Trilogy' and I might never have been blown away by the amazing possibilities of storytelling if I hadn't gone on to read 'Mr Vertigo'.

I've read all his books. I think he's wonderful and if I could write or tell a story a tenth as well as he can I'd die happy. (How do you measure fractions of writing ability by the way? Never mind. It's an expression. As I frequently tell Jeeves whenever I see his eyebrow twitching at one of my more inspired turns of phrase, language must always trump logic.)

Anyway, this probably why reading Paul Auster's latest book, 'Sunset Park' made me so angry.

I'm going to skip over the fact that it's written in the present tense. Everyone knows I hate this. I won't go into why here. Another time. Mustn't ramble. But it's worth saying that there are a couple of books (literally two so far) that have overcome the fact that they're in the present tense. I enjoyed them. For both of them I could see the point of them being in the present tense. It worked.

Sadly 'Sunset Park' has other problems.

Strangely, one of them is not the story. There's plenty of story there and it's all intriguing stuff. I always felt like I wanted to find out more, to delve deeper, to hear the next bit. (Especially if Jeeves was reading it to me and 'doing the voices', as he calls it.)

The trouble with 'Sunset Park' is that Paul Auster didn't seem to want to tell the story. Instead he was giving me a description of the story. There were very few scenes, just list-like passages of things that happened or had happened.

When I did settle into a scene I started to enjoy it, and that's what made me read on as far as I did (about 6 tenths of the way through. Fractions again. Don't lie - you love fractions.) But all the juicy character stuff was dumped on me as huge passages of lazy fact-filling. A lot of the story events were thrown in that way too.

Exposition City: a sprawling metropolis where huge signposts tell you something you want to find out by witnessing it yourself. Then the signposts fall on your head with a painful whack.

I'd have felt OK, I think, if the story being wasted was not worth telling. I think I'd also have been OK if I hadn't got the strong impression that this was all a deliberate stylistic decision by the author.

So frustrating.

The first thing writers get told (and usually over and over again) is SHOW DON'T TELL. It's a very annoying phrase. It's annoying because it's not as simple to understand as it seems, but it's also dead right.

No book has ever made such a swift journey as 'Sunset Park' from the bookshop, through my home to the charity shop.

After a succession of duds, I've been desperate to read something wonderful, something brilliant, something I had no doubt I was going to at least be able to finish.

The fact that I'm loving every sentence has been a bonus. I'm about to snuggle down for another night with a book I wish would go on forever. I can't remember the title. 'Something something Jeeves or somesuch.' It's by P.G.Wodehouse.