Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Book Lover's Tale

This is the only English book that I have brought to Beijing with me. Finish reading it last night.

The Independent got a good write-up about the story.
Here is the extract :

Matt de Voy, Ivo Stourton's anti-hero in this novel, has a mild manner concealing a psychopathic detachment from the world, but is nevertheless an attractive character for any book lover. For Matt is supremely well-read, full of sharp quotes and references, and living disproof of F R Leavis's theory that the study of literature is an improving activity. 

A rare-book collector who possesses a copy of Wynkyn de Worde's 1498 edition of the Canterbury Tales, he makes a living by working alongside his wife's interior decorating business. He advises the nouveaux riches which books to put on their shelves; even, in some cases, persuading them to open the tomes. In the course of business he encounters the lovely Claudia Swanson, who happens to have a miscarriage when Matt calls at her house. Claudia's husband is a self-made man, whose lack of education enables Matt to despise him in spite of his wealth. 

Matt's love for Claudia leads into what, for him, is extreme behaviour. He takes a very valuable first edition off his shelves in order to read it, thereby reducing its value by turning the pages. He sets up a very special book club with only his beloved and himself as members – erotic material is the recommended reading so that they can enjoy "the artistic privilege of discussing pure filth". Faced with the failure of this seduction technique, he takes a bold decision for an intellectual: he will kill the husband. But his simple plan to push his rival under a train proves far more difficult than he thinks. Though Matt is not exactly Camus's "outsider", he suffers from the failure of the passive intellectual to engage with the physicalities of life.

The following are some paragraphs that I enjoyed :

English, a language with such a superabundance of vocabulary that one can talk all day and never say the same word twice, is sadly under-endowed in the bedroom department. On the most basic level, what can you call it ? Cock? Obscene, the word is scratched on the bathroom wall, shouted by builders! Penis? Clinical, my po-faced biology teacher brandishing a banana wrapped in a condom. Member? Comic, would the honourable member please be upstanding. Strong sword of love? Absurd, poetry of teenager would burn. Purple-headed womb ferret? I like that one best, but my few attempts to bring it into common parlance have met with hostility. pg84 

Reading the first edition, which had sat on my shelf unmolested for almost five years, I felt the newness of the old ideas infuse me. Holding the sixty-year-old, £3000 tome, I felt too a continuity with the past, with the author and also with the first generation of readers who had had the good taste and foresight to read Orwell, and to recommend him to their friends. The words and the story and the style and the smell of the book folded into me as I read. pg160

Female beauty of even the most natural sort is something like the painting of the Forth Bridge - as soon as your work is finished at one end you have to begin again at the other, cycling from the painting of the toenails back to the plucking of the eyebrows. pg162

I think of that moment whenever anyone describes London as a tolerant city. It is an example of how completely one may misconstrue the character of a place by importing assumptions from one's own culture. French, Americans, even people from other parts of England, praise the city for its tolerance. London is not a tolerant city. London is indifferent. It's not that it accepts you, it just doesn't give a fuck who you are. pg222

It is a little-known fact the events of 9/11 directly occasioned a handful of divorces. These did not come about as a result of post-traumatic stress, survivor's guilt or metaphysical angst, but rather by the more traditional method of infidelity revealed. A small number of men and women working in the towers were conducting affairs in downtown hotels during their morning break. When they surfaced from the rooms with curtains drawn to find fifty missed calls on their mobiles, blissfully unaware of the changes in the world beyond, they phones their wives and husbands. 'Oh, thank God. Oh, thank God. Steve, are you all right?' 'Yes, yes of course. I'm fine, I'm in the office. What's the matter?' One can only imagine the strange mix of emotions that must result from knowing that by a miracle one's spouse is safe, but also that they are a bit of a lying arsehole. pg232

So funny and sarcastic. ^_^