I usually do this post at the end of December / beginning of January but now it’s halfway through February and one eighth of the year has already passed and… but… oh well… I thought I’d just do it anyway. These books haven’t gone anywhere, they still exist.
One of the first things I read last year was Today I Wrote Nothing, a collection of the work of early 20th century Russian weirdo Daniil Kharms. His insanely short, shortly insane stories conjur up such strange images and unlikely series of events that it is impossible not to be captivated by them, pleased that they exist, perplexed by the author. I guess Passages by Ann Quin falls into a similar category. A fractured and sprawling short novel clings to the idea of a narrative, but there is a fierce poetry at work which is trying to shake it loose.
I read Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Recuperation whilst on holiday, which is just when you want to subject yourself to this kind of relentlessly myopic piece of self-obsessed fun. It’s narcissistic, it’s slow, the narrator’s psychosis feeds back on itself over and over. It should be miserable, but is not.
My favourite short story collection I read was by Stuart Dybek, whose collection The Start Of Something : Selected Short Stories I checked out after hearing a couple of his pieces on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast. A poet and short story writer, Dybek’s stories are suitably image driven, twisting and bending in time and tone, so that it feels like the narrator is floating above and around the narrative, gloriously disregarding of the usual rules of gravity.
In the introduction to his slim (slim in theory, it’s only available as an ebook) work W C L D N, Glen Wilson admits that he is not sure what his book is – diary, confessional, something else…? It is an account of watching the 2018 World Cup in and around London, but also an account of depression. This is not a wild, manic depression, but a quiet one in which the author recounts an inability to socialise, a disconnection with the world around him. It could not be said that Wilson bends this into a narrative – and this is one of the book’s strengths. There is no tying of loose ends, just a flattening, a quiet plea for help.
My favourite novel of the year was Patience. I had already heard its author Toby Litt read some pages of it in 2018 when he was the tutor on a course I attended. The few pages he read were all about staring at a white wall – this is the perspective of the narrator Elliott, a boy with cerebral palsy who lives in an orphanage run by nuns. He cannot move or speak, and is often parked for the day in front of a white wall on which he now knows every scratch and blemish. So far, so grim. Except Patience is anything but grim – Elliott may be unable to move but he is nevertheless a force of nature. His understanding, his wit and his patience are incredible. Time moves differently in this novel – we are on Elliott time, in which waiting days or weeks for something to happen is no bother. I could ramble on about it some more but I’ll stop here – just read it.
Bonus Music Bloggery Content!: My Favourite Albums of 2019
1. RICHARD DAWSON – 2020
2. CATE LE BON – Reward
3. MARIKA HACKMAN – Any Human Friend
4. SELF ESTEEM – Compliments Please
5. THE COMET IS COMING – Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery
6. VANISHING TWIN – The Age Of Immunology
7. PURPLE MOUNTAINS – Purple Mountains
8. MOON DUO – Stars Are The Light
9. MATANA ROBERTS – Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis
10. MODERN NATURE – How To Live
Sleeping-dreaming was one of his favourite things but that night he had spent nearly all the dreamtime available to him trying to put his shoes on in his dream, which was more difficult because the laces and the coordination required to tie them were completely different from those in his waking life. He had finally got them on and started running to catch up with everyone else when the alarm scattered his dream to shattered pieces.
Feeling cheated, he snoozed it and tried to pick up the thread of dream again, but his new half-dream was something repetitive and unimportant. Though he could not be sure, it was something vaguely banal like raindrops falling on a pool, just that over and over.
Over and over again, waking up was exhausting. Having to swap the neutral no-temperature of his dream for the bone cold winter morning. Knowing that now he was awake he would have to, sooner or later, get up and get on with things.
After all that was done and he was on the bus, staring out through the window of the bus, he thought back to the dream he could remember – that pretty but boring scene of raindrops falling into a pool, each one sending out ripples that spread across the water until they ran out of energy or collided with another ripple coming the other way. He wished he could have fought his way back to discover the tantalising content of his original dream, which surely would have held something exciting and special, if only he had managed to get his shoes on more quickly.
He started to think about raindrops not just falling into a pool, but pelting down, smashing the surface of the water to pieces. The pool filling up – now containing the water with which it had already been filled, plus the water now being thrown down by the sky. He couldn’t remember ever having seen a picture of a drowned pool, but it must happen – in a flood there must be pools that were overwhelmed. They must sit there, square little bodies of water, submerged under brown torrents of floodwater.
And maybe, if you were brave enough, or quick enough, or clever enough… it might be possible to dive and swim down into the floodwater, through all those layers until you broke through the final layer, the final covering of raindrops, and into that original dream of water.