In recent years I’ve had a problem with novels. Time after time I think I’m going to enjoy a novel, only to put it up in the loft unfinished. I seem to lose interest in finding out what happens next, or maybe I think I know what happens next. There are some notable exceptions: Alan Spence’s The Pure Land, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. Alan’s book I read in one gulp, Mark Haddon’s took me slightly longer, and Murakami’s was the hardest. I enjoyed them all. As though to try and cure myself of this ailment, I’ve just acquired Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. It’s a monster book – nearly 1100 pages of small type – but I loved his earlier books – V, and Gravity’s Rainbow – when I first read them (1960s? 1970s?). I read V before I read Ulysses, and maybe that was the right order to read them in. I’m still haunted by some of the scenes and images I read back then, and my interest in Sud-West Afrika (now Namibia) and its bloody history stems from Gravity’s Rainbow. Pynchon is a fantasist, and a very skilled one, but he interweaves the improbable with a thoroughly researched reality. I know the background things he wrote about – the genocide of the Herero peoples and so on – really happened. Anyway, I’ll take the book with me when we go to babysit the grandweans – it’ll be more entertaining than telly, that’s for certain.
We were out for lunch yesterday, meeting up with old friends. Theresa asked me how I was getting on with my own novel (as yet untitled). I had to confess I’ve done nothing with it for months. Maybe when I finish writing it I’ll have more incentive to read others. And maybe the fact that I’m writing one gives me (quoting John Le Carre) “little heart for reading novels.” It’s true that the books I’ve most enjoyed this year have been non-fiction.