Apropos of nothing in particular except that I was thinking about it this morning as I picked up my copy of Cain’s Book, I’ve compiled a list of ten books I read more or less once a year. Certainly I have read each of these several times over. I’d rather read a good book a second, third or fourth time than an indifferent book for the first time, and these all stand several reads. Apart from anything else successive reads let you peak around the edges of the narrative at the mechanisms working the thing along. And I find this endlessly interesting: analysing the trickery.
So I picked Cain’s Book because I’ve been thinking about (and wrestling with) ‘doors’: the different ways writers slide from one scene, subject, tense or narrative stage to the next. Cain’s Book is a masterclass in how to arrange different tiers of narrative – the present, the recent past, and the distant past – and tones of recollection and meditation, whilst remaining faithful to the particular artifice of the book: in this case a drug addicted author on a scow, scrolling through his past and writing a book about, among other things, writing a book.
Here’s one particularly fine door:
” … And then I was quivering like a leaf, more precisely like a mute hunk of appetitional plasm, a kind of sponge in which the business of being excited was going on, run through by a series of external stimuli; the lane, the man, the pale light, the flash of silver – at the ecstatic edge of something to be known.
The flash of silver was from earlier; it was a long time ago in my own country and I saw a man come out of an alley. …”
Simple, abrupt and mesmeric.
And here’s my list. Ten isn’t long enough really.
Dirty Havana Trilogy – Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
Cain’s Book – Alexander Trocchi
The Emigrants – WG Sebald
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
A River Runs Through It – Norman Maclean
The Longest Silence – Tom McGuane
Hunger – Knut Hamsun
L’Etranger – Albert Camus
The Sportswriter – Richard Ford
The Whitsun Weddings – Phillip Larkin