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Now You Have Nothing

January was a good month for books. I read six, three fiction, three non-fiction. Of the fiction 2 were literary, 1 was crime – a not unreasonable breakdown of my general fiction reading.

In my last post, having read about the pleasures to be had of reading at whim, I said I was going to read The Girl Who Played With Fire. I ended up reading Murder on the Orient Express instead. That’s whim for you, so unpredictable. I had never read an Agatha Christie before, if you discount the half of one that I read when I was about 12 years old, which I do, because I don’t remember a thing about it other than it had a skull on the cover. 12-year-old Toby was mad for things with skulls on the covers.

Murder on the Orient Express was fantastic. I didn’t know too much about it. I have never even seen a single episode of Poirot. It was all completely knew to me but it was such a treat. Exactly the kind of fun-crime novel I like. Clever and polite, if you know what I mean. I think Poirot novels might become my new occasional treat.

I also read The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault. This one I had mixed feelings about while I was reading it, was very satisfied with it at the conclusion, and then a bit annoyed the extras that came tacked on at the end. It is about a postman who opens the mail between a man and a woman who are exchanging poems with each other. They only ever communicate in the medium of the haiku. Then, one day, the postman accidentally kills the man and adopts his life, taking over writing haiku to the woman and living in his apartment. It all seemed a bit unrealistic and unlikely, and was conveniently ignoring certain events as it went along. I don’t know about you but if I accidentally killed someone, renting their apartment and wearing his dressing gown and pretending to be him in poetry might cause me some emotional conflict. As the page count dwindled I couldn’t imagine how this could possibly be resolved satisfactorily, but it was. For me anyway. I really loved the ending.

But after that is a Q+A with the author. I’ll be honest, I didn’t read it all. A Q+A with the author is exactly what I don’t want to read once I have finished a novel. I felt like I was being hand-held toward an opinion. And it is not like it is a simplistic novel where the ending wraps it all up neatly, there is plenty to ruminate on afterwards. I felt like I had the author looking over my shoulder and making sure I had read it properly. It’s only a short book (120ish pages) so I don’t know if it was an effort to fill it out a bit, but it diminished the book a little for me, which was a shame because apart from that I would recommend it very highly.

I have always been into the idea that a book comes to exist when it is read, and that the readers interpretation is far more important than what the writers intentions might have been. What you find in a book is more real than what the author left behind. I think this is why I love truly ambiguous novels. They seem to drive some people crazy, but I think when a writer leaves plenty unexplained and open to interpretation it shows a respect for the reader. This is something I try to put into my books and it is really important to me not to didactically insist on every reader drawing the same conclusion. Like the literary equivalent of a Rorschach test.

There is a scene in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle where the main character is given a gift, but it turns out to be an empty box. My first reaction was to think, he hasn’t been given anything, which made sense at the time, in the context of the story. Later in the novel I came to think of it differently. Now he is in possession of nothing. Murakami doesn’t come close to explaining what he might have meant by it. It would have been so much weaker if he had.

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