Friday, 30 August 2013

Weeks Sixteen to Thirty-Two - Jude

Troubles by J.G. Farrell (1970)
Recommended by Neil Stewart 

Hello. Remember me?

So, this tale of two readers has been a tale of one for four months now. That's a new year's resolution for you. That's also the difference between Jeanette, the brilliant queen of willpower, and me, queen of doing 327 other things that aren't engaging my brain properly and reading a book. (Jeanette - you've been doing an amazing job, by the way. I love reading your stuff. I also loved the brilliant week we had writing together in Suffolk. You rule, and all that.)

Earlier this year, I also had a tough time after miscarrying a pregnancy. It knocked me for six, really, and turned my mind to mush – I'd stare at a page of a book and my eyes would zone out. But now I'm fitter, happier, more productive, etc, and have spent time going away to great places, and doing work that I've really loved. And I'm bloody marvellous now, thanks. Jeanette told me I didn't have to come back here at all if it didn't feel right, too. But today, I decided it did. So here I am.

I don't know if this'll mean I'll be here every week, but I'd like to. I've already bought a few books for my holiday next week in Spain (a disclaimer already, I won't be posting next week as I'll be "en Espana sin wi-fi"). And who knows? I might even get the old book bug again. I hope that I will.

But before I go, a quick bit on the last book I read for this blog, way back in April, which I didn't write about then. It's called Troubles by J.G. Farrell. It was recommended to me by the lovely Neil Stewart, a friend that I've known since 2005. Neil is two days older than me, but funnier and more clever, although he basically loves most of the same things I do – especially weird films, and music from the early '80s which is in any way electronic. I covet all his Electro twelve-inches, and we had a brilliant time back in January at Koko watching Peter Hook have a go at playing New Order's first two albums. Neil and Peter met after too. Neil's beard was better.

Troubles is about an English soldier, Brendan Archer, who has just left the British Army, and arrives in Wexford in Ireland in 1919, at a strange, crumbling old hotel called The Majestic. He's there because Angela Spencer is there, with her family, and he thinks he proposed to Angela three years ago; they have written to each other for the past three years, anyway. His act of coming to Ireland is one of sweet-natured, bimbling propriety, an accident in a way, as if he didn't know what to do otherwise. The humour behind that act – melancholy, but also sharply black – runs right through this wayward, unusual book.

Reading this book is like being underwater, or in a dream. Farrell's prose is simple but languid, ordinary but wistful. (He's got quite a sad story on his own, has Farrell – overcoming polio as a child, he went on to write three novels, one of which, The Siege Of Krishnapur, won The Booker. He died after falling off rocks while fishing, then drowning, at the age of 44, in 1978). His protagonist, Archer, doesn't really know what's going on either, or what's really happening inside of outside the house. Newspaper reports alert us to the fact that not all is well in Ireland, that the War of Independence has begun, and that political tensions are increasing. The hotel is a fading, dark, dishevelled place in the middle of everything, slowly eroding. Yes, you're right, it's a metaphor, but a gentle, controlled one.

 J.G. Farrell in early 1978

The book is slow too – it has the pace of a tortoise inching along – and I found it tough at times, but Archer's character wins you over. When he obviously starts to fall in love with a girl called Sarah, you cross everything for him. But in Troubles' peculiar world, nothing could ever be straightforward.

This book was also 500 pages long – thanks for that, Mr Stewart, you rogue – and books like this demand sustained concentration, which is why it took me more time to get through. Not four months though, I assure you – the distance from book to screen was my problem. But here I am now, at the keys, quickly typing away, before pausing to hold a paperback in front of my face. It's good to be back. Let's cross everything for me.