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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Indian Nocturne


I do not know if I exist... it seems possible to me that I might be someone else's dream... I might be a character in a novel, moving through the long waves of someone else's literary style... — Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. by Richard Zenith)

Most traditionally published novels come with a recommendation on the cover from as famous an author as the publisher can get their hands on and this book is no different apart from the fact it’s probably the shortest one I can every remember reading as it consists of a single word, from Salman Rushdie, an author not exactly known for his laconism: “beautiful.” I was curious if that was all he had to say and so I did a search and I suspect that the quote comes from this tweet:

The great Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi died today. Read his beautiful, dreamlike Indian Nocturne (Notturno Indiano), translator Tim Parks.

That was on 25 March 2012. Indian Nocturne is not, however, Tabucchi’s final book. It’s actually an old one, his fifth, written in 1984. The book won the French Prix Médicis étranger in 1987 and is, arguably (at least according to the Boston Review), his “most acclaimed work”. About a dozen books are available in English translations that I could see but the only other by him I’d read is Pereira Maintains which I reviewed here back in 2010. I just read through that article and this quote jumped out at me:

His characters, like Pirandello's and Pessoa's, are often endowed with a multitude of personalities and his plots are full of reversals. He is particularly effective both in suggesting a dreamlike atmosphere of mystery and ambiguity and in conveying a message of libertarian commitment. He often presents an intellectual quest, which may take the form of travel to exotic places or purely of a journey in the mind, which allows him to create enigmatic and ephemeral realities. –

That last sentence could almost summarise Indian Nocturne in fact. Oddly the book reminded me a little of Ian McEwan’s 1981 novel The Comfort of Strangers in which a couple get lost in Venice—at least it’s Venice in the film—and encounter a strange couple. The protagonist in Indian Nocturne (a writer as it happens) is never lost—he always knows where he is geographically—but then there’s more than one way of being lost. What he has ‘lost’ is his friend Xavier and the plot—I use the term loosely—of the book involves his travels around India looking for him. Of course Xavier isn’t lost—he knows exactly where he is—but does he want to be found? I found the book discomforting and I think that’s why the McEwan jumps to my mind and for no other reason. This is how Tabucchi describes his novella:

Author’s Note

As well as being an insomnia, this book is also a journey. The insomnia belongs to the writer of the book, the journey to the person who did the travelling. All the same, given that I too happen to have been through the same places as the protagonist of this story, it seems fitting to supply a brief index of the various locations. I don’t know whether this idea was prompted by the illusion that a topographical inventory, with the force that the real possesses, might throw some light on this Nocturne in which a Shadow is sought; or whether by the irrational conjecture that some lover of unlikely itineraries might one day use it as a guide.


On the next page he lists the twelve locations, one for each chapter, that are the various settings of this novella. They range from a bus stop in the back of beyond to a luxury hotel and at each location he encounters an intriguing individual.

RequiemAn insomnia is an odd description for a book isn’t it? But then he describes The Last Three Days of Fernando Pessoa as “a delirium” and Requiem as “a hallucination” (yes, ‘a’, not ‘an’). But what about the word ‘nocturne’? The first thing I thought about was music to be honest—Chopin wrote several and Mozart before him wrote a Notturno and a Notturna—but the term dates back to the Middle Ages: the canonical offices consisted of eight daily prayer events and last one, the Night Office—sometimes referred to as Vigils—comprised of a number of sections called 'nocturnes'. Later on the artist Whistler took to using musical terms to describe his painting—e.g. the famous Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl—and the term has come to be applied—retrospectively in some cases—to any painting of a night scene, or night-piece, such as Rembrandt's The Night Watch. The thing is, most of this book doesn’t take place at night and even where it does it isn’t important: a conversation in a hotel room is just a conversation and frankly I’d have to wade through the book to see what the time of day was in each of the chapters because it didn’t register with me as important. Clearly Tabucchi is using the word allegorically or symbolically here. Rushdie called the book “dreamlike” but how can “an insomnia” be dreamlike? I agree totally with him; the book is like a dream, a waking dream, and in that respect I suppose it can be both insomnious and asomatous at the same time. To be fair there is actually a bona fide dream sequence in the eighth chapter so would that be a dream within a dream then or a dream within an insomnia? It gets very confusing. The best I can come up with is that our protagonist is travelling in the darkness of ignorance. I’ll leave it there.

The book opens with our narrator—this is a first person narrative—in a taxi on his way (so he thinks) to the Khajuraho Hotel on Suklaji Street in Bombay; his driver has other ideas:

‘The hotel you mentioned is in a very poor district,’ he said affably, ‘and the goods are very poor quality. Tourists on their first trip to Bombay often end up in the wrong sort of place. I’m taking you to a hotel suitable for a gentleman like yourself.’ He spat out of the window and winked. ‘Where the goods are top quality.’ He gave me a sleazy smile of great complicity, and this I liked even less.

Moments later his passenger has exited from the cab and is making his own way to the the Khajuraho Hotel. Irrespective of his motives—maybe he gets a bung for redirecting customers—the Khajuraho Hotel is exactly what the driver described. The nicest thing the man can think to say about the lobby “if you could call it that” as he enters the place is that it “was merely ambiguous without being sordid;” the hotel’s restaurant menu “promised an infinite variety of dishes but … they were all off. Except for number fifteen.” The variety of prostitutes on offer is slightly better: “from thirteen to fifteen years old, three hundred rupees, over fifty, five rupees.” And that is the reason he is there but whereas he was content to eat the fish and rice dish earlier he’s unwilling to be fobbed off with any piece of tail: “I want a girl called Vimala Sar.” Vilama Sar is also off the menu but he insists and, with the aid of two twenty-dollar bills, she is located and delivered to his room. Not for anything sordid I should add. The girl has written to him about his friend Xavier and so this is the logical place to begin his search for him.

        ‘When he found out I’d written to you he was very angry.’
         ‘And why did you write to me?’
         ‘Because I found your address in Xavier’s diary,’ she said. ‘I knew you were good friends, once.’
         ‘Why was he angry?’
        She put a hand to her mouth as if to stop herself crying. ‘He’d got to be very hard on me those last months,’ she said. ‘He was ill.’
         ‘But what was he doing?’
         ‘He was doing business,’ she said. ‘I don’t know, he didn’t tell me anything, he’d stopped being nice to me.’
         ‘What kind of business?’
         ‘I don’t know,’ she repeated, ‘he didn’t tell me anything. Sometimes he wouldn’t say anything for days and days, then all of a sudden he’d get restless and flare up in a furious rage.’

She has little else to offer him other than that the people Xavier had been doing business with were in or from Goa, someone was writing to him from the Theosophical Society in Madras and before he disappeared he burned all his writings:

         ‘Xavier had written a great deal,’ she said, ‘then one day he burnt everything. Here in this hotel, he got a copper basin and burnt everything.’
         ‘Why?’ I asked.
         ‘He was ill,’ she said. ‘It was his nature. He had a sad destiny.’

That about summarises the opening chapter. Where to look next? She said Xavier was ill so a hospital maybe. And that’s where we jump to, literally mid-conversation with a doctor (something Tabucchi does in most of the chapters which I suppose is dreamlike but it’s also a bit jarring, suddenly shifting from one location to another and into the midst of the action); we’re now having a brief tour of the Breach Candy TajMahalHotelHospital. Xavier’s not there; that would be too easy. From there he moves to a better class of hotel—on the recommendation of the doctor—the Taj Mahal Inter-Continental Hotel, still in Bombay. The next day we witness a conversation between him and a Jain, a follower of Jainism, an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings; it is one of the oldest religions of the world. This takes place in the Railway Retiring Rooms in which one can have the use of a bed as long as one is in possession of a valid railway ticket. On to Madras where he has a strange encounter with the former occupant of his hotel room that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with his quest for Xavier but everything’s not about that. A meeting with the Theosophical Society was on the cards and although the conversation dwells on Hesse and Pessoa I was not entirely convinced that the ghost of Kafka wasn’t lurking in the shadows there too.

We’re now up to chapter seven, the bus to Goa where one of the book’s two (for me) most fascinating encounters takes place at the waiting room adjacent to the bus-stop on the Madras-Mangalore road about fifty kilometres from Mangalore; the place has no name. There he encounters one traveller who catches his eye:

Sitting on the bench at the far end was a boy of about ten with short trousers and sandals. He had a monkey with him, hanging onto his shoulders, its head hidden in his hair and its little hands clasped together round the neck of its master in an attitude of affection and fear. […] I thought it strange, this boy alone in this place with his monkey, even if it is common to see children alone with animals in India; and immediately I thought of a child who was dear to me, and of his way of cuddling a teddy-bear before going to sleep. Perhaps it was that association that led me toward the boy and I sat down next to him. […] [O]nly then did I realise with a sense of horror that the tiny creature he was carrying on his shoulder was not a monkey but a human being.


The boy stroked the hands clinging together over his chest. ‘He’s my brother,’ he said affectionately, ‘he’s twenty.’ Then assuming an expression of pride … he said: ‘But he knows the Scriptures, he knows them off by heart, he’s very intelligent.’

The “monster” we learn as the conversation progresses is an Arihant, a Jain prophet.

        ‘He reads the karma of the pilgrims, we make a lot of money.’
        ‘So he’s a fortune-teller.’
        ‘Yes,’ said the boy innocently.

The man agrees to have his fortune told. The result is unexpected:

        ‘So,’ I asked, ‘can I hear it?’
        ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘my brother says it isn’t possible, you are someone else.’
        ‘Oh, really,’ I said, ‘who am I?’

Jain_hand-180x300Most of us know about karma—we equate it with destiny—but what about maya and atma? They were new to me. The Ātman is a philosophical term used within Jainism to identify the soul. The boy describes maya as “the outward appearance of the world … but’s it’s only an illusion, what counts is the atma.’ Needless to say the man wants to know where his atma is and, after a little pressing (and an additional ten rupees), the brother tells him, “He says you are on a boat.” After that the head is buried again and it’s clear the audience is over.

The second (for me) most fascinating encounter is in the final chapter which I’m saying nothing about other than to say if you’re a fan of metafictive writing (as I am) you will enjoy it. And, no, is doesn’t take place on a boat. Not sure a boat’s ever mentioned again actually.

So what and/or who is our narrator searching for in India? In an interview Tabucchi said:

Tabucchi: I've always been drawn to tormented people full of contradictions. The more doubts they have the better. People with lots of doubts sometimes find life more oppressive and exhausting than others, but they're more energetic—they aren't robots. I prefer insomnia to anaesthesia. I don't go for people who lead full and satisfying lives. In my books, I'm not on the side of the authorities. I'm with those who've suffered. My first novel, Piazza d'Italia, was an attempt to write history that hasn't been written, history as written by the losing side, in this case the Tuscan anarchists. My books are about losers, about people who've lost their way and are engaged in a search.

Lopez: What are they looking for?

Tabucchi: They're looking for themselves through others, because I think that's the best way to look for oneself. The main character in Indian Nocturne, who retraces the steps of a friend who's disappeared in India, is involved in such a quest. And so is Spino, the character in The Edge of the Horizon who tries to find out the identity of an unknown corpse. I don't know whether these people are going to find themselves, but as they live their lives they have no choice but to face up to the image others have of them. They're forced to look at themselves in a mirror, and they often manage to glimpse something of themselves. – Asbel Lopez, ‘Antonio Tabucchi: A Committed Doubter’ UNESCO Courier, November 1999

In a review back in 1989 when the first English edition appeared Amy Edith Johnson, writing in The New York Times had this to say:

Christine, a traveling acquaintance who makes her living “photographing wretchedness,” urges the narrator, over dinner: “Tell me about your novel, come on. . . . I'm intrigued, don't keep me in suspense.” “But it's not a novel . . . it's a bit here and a bit there, there's not even a real story, just fragments of a story. And then I'm not writing it, I said let's suppose that I'm writing it.” Clearly we were both terribly hungry.'' You will be, too, minutes after swallowing Indian Nocturne. – Amy Edith Johnson, ‘In Short: Fiction’, The New York Times, 16 July 1989

Okay, at 135 pages Indian Nocturne is not a feast, no, but it’s the difference between nouvelle cuisine and a Lancashire hotpot. This isn’t a book that will fill you up. This is a book to savour. I didn’t come away from it satisfied. I still have questions. I want to go back and read it all over again to see what I missed. I don’t see this as bad writing; far from it. It’s also not perfect writing—and I don’t just mean the lack of semicolons—but perfection is not open to interpretation.

Doubts are like stains on a shirt. I like shirts with stains, because when I’m given a shirt that’s too clean, one that’s completely white, I immediately start having doubts. It’s the job of intellectuals and writers to cast doubt on perfection. Perfection spawns doctrines, dictators and totalitarian ideas. – Antonio Tabucchi, from a 1999 interview

Why India though? Could this have taken place in, say, Venice? Yes, perhaps, but India is evocative of so much more. Carl Jung wrote an essay in 1939: ‘The Dreamlike World of India’. Is there any better place in the world to stand in for a dream landscape than India? Western sensibilities crumble as soon as you step off the plane. I suppose this story could’ve been told in Japan—I’m thinking Lost in Translation here which explores similar themes of loneliness, insomnia, existential ennui, and culture shock—but India is just perfect. The book has been filmed—a French version exists, Nocturne indien—and I was interested to see that they cast the same actor as Rossignol and Xavier. Odd choice of name for the lead especially as, towards the end of the book, he says, “I’m called Roux,” so it’s not right to say the narrator is nameless (assuming Roux is his real name) but the filmmaker’s choice is still an interesting one. Are Roux and Xavier the same person? And why was Shadow written with a capital letter in the author’s note? That’s very Jungian. I’m not sure how Roux and Xavier were rendered in the original Italian but I can’t help but notice that Roux begins with an ‘r’ and ends in an ‘x’ whereas Xavier begins with an ‘x’ and ends in an ‘r’. Or am I stretching? The shadow of doubt is unavoidable.

I thought this was a lovely book and I’d have absolutely no problems reading this guy again.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Silence of Gethsemane

The Silence of Gethsemane

…ecce homo…­ – John 19:5 (Latin Vulgate)

Basically there are three kinds of novels: novels where everything is made up (e.g. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), historical novels where the author aims to be as accurate as possible and often goes to great lengths to research the topic under discussion (e.g. Wolf Hall) and then there are the novels that are based on an historical event but play fast and loose with the facts (e.g. Stephen King’s 11/22/63). I mention this because on the cover of The Silence of Gethsemane is says, “A Novel” and I’m not sure what kind of novel it is. It’s based on the life of an (arguably) historical character and is a result of “thirty years of private research” and yet I found myself nitpicking my way through most every chapter. The problem is the author is writing about the gospels—we talk about the gospel truth, don’t we?—and yet just look at how people squabble over what’s written in those four short books. Some refuse to believe that a man called Jesus even walked the earth despite the Bible’s meticulous chronology, others are willing to accept his existence since there is some historical evidence that he existed in addition to the accounts in the Bible but they still think he was only a man, still others believe him to be the son of God and some even think he was God. They can’t all be right. As a work of fiction the Jesus in this book can be anything its author decides he ought to be and none of us can whinge about his decisions but as the author of a work of historical fiction he owes it to us to get his facts straight. There is nothing readers of historical fiction hate (or love depending on their persuasion) more than finding something that’s factually inaccurate like a character popping a Polo mint into their mouth in New York when it should be a Life Saver. The problem with ‘facts’ is that they aren’t always as factual as we might like them to be.


The ‘Facts’

In this account Jesus is an ordinary flesh and blood man; there’s nothing divine about him; his father is a local carpenter and his mother was no longer a virgin at the time of his birth. This is not the first time Jesus has been presented this way. I remember well—even though I was only nine when it was first broadcast—watching Dennis Potter’s Son of Man with my family and my father’s bitter criticisms of Potter’s play.

There are no miracles, no resurrection, no Mary Magdalene, no Last Supper and no thirty pieces of silver. In their place it offers an occasionally violent, frequently fascinating dramatisation, focusing on the psychological underpinnings of the characters. It opens with a powerful juxtaposition: Jesus in the wilderness, shivering in an agony of self-doubt, while religious agitators in the city are murdered by the Romans during a mass gathering. – Sergio Angelini, ‘Son of Man’, ScreenOnline

The entire play is currently available on YouTube here.

Benoît’s book presents a much calmer Jesus. We first meet him in the Garden of Gethsemane. His disciples are all asleep and Jesus is reviewing the events that have brought him there. In effect then this is a fifth gospel and it’s a first person narrative which is unusual as it’s the first I can remember ever reading. Even with Potter we have to stand on the outside and wonder just what’s going on in Christ’s head.

Laidlaw novelsLet me digress for a moment. William McIlvanney wrote three novels featuring his detective Jack Laidlaw. The first two have third person narrative but the last book, Strange Loyalties, is written from Jack’s perspective and I didn’t take to it at all at first. I’d already formed my internal picture of who Jack Laidlaw was and it was like some other guy had come along and taken over the part. Well, that’s a bit how I felt reading this book. The Jesus in this book just didn’t gel with the Jesus I had been brought up with. The man in my head was physically and mentally perfect, was sure of himself and understood his life’s purpose even as a young boy. He wasn’t searching; he had no doubts; he was very much in charge of his own destiny. Benoît’s Jesus took some getting used to.

My biggest problem was with the ‘facts’. Let’s examine a few. First point: We’ll all have heard Jesus at one time or another referred to as “the Nazarene”

…and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophets: "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:23)

but was he also a Nazirite as Benoît casts his Jesus? So, what’s a Nazirite? Simply put they were individuals who took special vows of service. The word means ‘dedicated one’ or ‘one singled out’. The vows were voluntary as was the duration during which they agreed to serve as a Nazirite although Jewish tradition eventually imposed a minimum time limit of thirty days on them. During that time they agreed not to drink alcohol, not to touch a dead body and not to cut their hair. I know of three individuals who were lifetime Nazirites: Samuel, Samson and John the Baptist, the latter two being designated as such by God. The Bible says nothing about Jesus being either a God-appointed Nazirite or him taking vows voluntarily and yet Benoît chooses to make him one. (See the article Nazirite or Nazarene if you’re interested.) Of course the Bible doesn’t say he wasn’t one either. Benoît concludes he was one because Jesus is so often portrayed with long hair but who said he had long hair? Not the Bible. Long hair was actually frowned upon.

Second point: Jesus does meet John the Baptist in Benoît’s book but he doesn’t know him. This puzzled me because as far as I was concerned they were second cousins. Everything hinges on a single verse:

And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. (Luke 1:36)

This is the angel talking to Mary and later on, of course, Mary visits Elizabeth. The question is: In what way were they related? The Catholic Encyclopaedia gives us as much of an answer Champaigne_visitationas there is: “All our information concerning … the parents of Mary … is derived from apocryphal literature.” So maybe the two women weren’t cousins but if they weren’t fairly closely related why was Mary visiting Elizabeth? Seems reasonable. And yet Benoît’s Jesus is a complete stranger to John. That I found a bit harder to swallow but, again, it’s not impossible.

And so I stumbled on, nitpicking here, nitpicking there. The subject of prayer bothered me. Third point: We all know when asked by his disciples how they should pray—in fact they actually interrupted him praying—Jesus outlined what’s become known as the Lord’s Prayer and the book does cover that but it wasn’t until page 141 that we get to see Jesus say in so many words, “I decided to spend the night praying on my own.” Up until then he’s slipped off on his own to enjoy a moment’s peace and quiet and he talks often about how much he needs silence but he never discusses praying up until this point in the book. I found that very strange. Stranger yet in the Afterword Benoît talks about how he sees Jesus’s notion of prayer:

Meditation. I can think of no other word to describe his way of praying, which was unheard of in Judaism, and was met with surprise and a total lack of understanding by those closest to him. He never shared the secret of this private, inner world, although from what we are able to tell it was not dissimilar to the practice used in Hindu-Buddhism.

Why when his disciples approach him, when he “had gone off to be alone for a while as was [his] wont” doesn’t he teach them this form of prayer? Why provide them with a rote prayer which is what it’s become nowadays? And it’s wrong to say that meditation was unknown to the Jews: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)

Fourth point: the miracles. These get split into three: the ones Benoît completely ignores (all the “miracles involving the natural world”), the ones he provides alternate solutions to (the turning of water into wine, the feeding of the multitudes) and the cures, including the various resurrections from the dead (which he accepts). I can see why he makes the distinction because Benoît places a great deal of emphasis on the faith of the person being healed—as Jesus says to the once blind man in Mark 10:52, “Go … your faith has healed you”—but dead people don’t have faith so that argument kind of falls flat.

That Benoît accepts supernatural healings and attributes these to God opens up some interesting issues like, Fifth point: Satan the Devil, a.k.a. “the Evil One.” Jesus does go off for a wander in the wilderness—albeit after his baptism by John:

Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized (Luke 3:21)

Now Jesus, full of holy spirit, turned away from the Jordan, and he was led about by the spirit in the wilderness for forty days, while being tempted by the Devil. (Luke 4:1)

not before it as Benoît states—and there he is tempted by the Devil but rather than describe the Devil as an individual with whom he can interact this is how Benoît writes about Jesus’s temptation:

And then strange apparitions started surging up inside my head. Let loose by the lack of thoughts, a fearsome opponent was attacking me, harrying me until my inner life began to ebb away. I knew it was the Evil One, whom Israel traditionally portrays as Satan or the Devil, he who divides. He danced round and round inside me, as if mocking me in that ironic, fiendish way of his, knowing that I was in his clutches, that my attempt to escape was just the result of my pride.

So, a voice in his head, self-doubt perhaps, and yet later in the book there are instances where the Evil One possesses people in the crowd to stir them up. On occasions Jesus orders him to leave them. Now that’s demon possession and if the demons are real and can be exorcised then why after Jesus successfully resisted Satan in the wilderness did God’s angels not appear and minister to him?

Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Matthew 1:11)

If demons are real why not angels? Or were they the “Essenes from Qumran” who Jesus identified by their “brilliant white smock(s)” who, at the start of his wandering, provide some practical advice?

No one can survive on his own in the desert, he said. You seek the solitude that cleanses? This is where you will find it. Behind you lies utter destitution. Travel far into its depths, far enough to forget about us but not too far, so you can come and drink regularly from our springs. Sometimes you will find a few dates on this rock. They will help keep you alive without breaking your fast.

That’s believable. Remember when Lot encountered the angels at the gate to Sodom he thought they were just weary travellers (Genesis 19:1,2). Benoît might have done better though if he had simply presented the Evil One in human guise, as did George Stevens, when he cast Donald Pleasance gsetas ‘The Dark Hermit’ in The Greatest Story Ever Told. That way the man could have continued to reappear as does the Dark Hermit throughout the film thus avoiding the whole issue of whether the Devil is a person or a force.

These few examples are just here to illustrate how open to interpretation the source material is. Don’t get me wrong Benoît gets an awful lot right but I doubt too many who pick up this book will be as well-read on the subject as I am. Those who are, especially those who accept Jesus as either a perfect man or as God incarnate, will have loads of problems with this book—Jesus, for example, had to be born in Bethlehem for prophecy to be fulfilled; you can’t just change that to Capernaum even though he did live there for a time.

Putting all that aside as best I can let’s consider the book as a work of fiction.


The Fiction

Benoît has the same problems here as Ron Howard had when he made Apollo 13: how do you make a story interesting when everyone knows exactly how it ends? Benoît handles the ending cleverly: he—wisely in my opinion—skips it completely. The book begins and ends with Jesus sitting waiting in the Garden of Gethsemane along with his sleeping disciples for his imminent capture. While he’s waiting Jesus reviews his time as a rabbi. So, as I’ve said already, what we really have here is a fifth gospel, The Gospel of Jesus. And his truth is nowhere near as assured as the four others are. You get a definite sense of a man finding his way.

Before a man finds his way he probably needs to realise that he’s lost his way and that’s what we see in the opening chapters, a Jesus who’s looking round at the religious leaders and the growing number of sects and realising that the entire Jewish nation has lost its way. Then he hears of a voice in the wilderness and goes to hear what this John the Baptist has to say for himself. He never looks back afterwards:

John the Baptist’s grim, ominous tone made a deep and lasting impression on me. Once I got home and reimmersed myself in the humdrum routine of the workshop, the voice I had heard by the Jordan kept on echoing in my mind incessantly. I knew that my life had changed forever. John had held up the blazing inferno of the apocalypse before my eyes; dazzled by it, everything about the life I had led up till then suddenly struck me as prosaic, occupations and people alike. On the shores of the lake nothing had changed, yet to me it was now flat and colourless. This world of ours was doomed, the end was upon us: the axe had already fallen on the tree of Israel.

He begins going to the synagogue outside of normal services and studying the scriptures. He realises that, if John is the man spoken of by the prophets, his role is to “[p]repare the way of the Lord.” He’s no clue at this point that he is the person whose arrival John is heralding. He returns to the Jordan and becomes a disciple of John. Later when John announces that one stands among you who you do not know Jesus suspects that he’s talking about him but he hasn’t connected all the dots yet. This is, however, where he encounters four other disciples of John: Andrew, his brother Simon, Philip and Nathanael—who are the first to accompany him on his wanderings—and a fifth character known only as “the Judaean” who I thought would turn out to be Judas Iscariot (as I knew he was from Judea) but as he turns up later it couldn’t be him; actually “the Judaean” is never named but he appears often throughout the book as do individuals like Lazarus and Nicodemus both having their roles expanded beyond what we know of them from the four Gospel accounts. imagesI assume “the Judaean” is the “So-and-so” referred to by Matthew (26:18) since later on he is the one to offer up his house so that Jesus can celebrate what we now know as the Last Supper. He would also appear to be the mysterious “thirteen apostle” that Benoît discusses at length in his book The Thirteenth Apostle. (This wee list of a possible thirteen is interesting though and it doesn’t include either Matthias (who replaced Judas Iscariot) or Paul who became the “apostle to the Gentiles”.)

The first place this small group travel to is Cana where there was due to be a wedding. Here is where I would have expected the first miracle but here’s what happens in this account:

She [Jesus’s mother] had a quiet word with the servants who took me to an alcove where there were six large water jars that were being kept cool. Looking inside, I saw they contained that bitter and quite undrinkable syrup which in hot climates like ours is used for making wine. It had to be diluted in just the right proportions to turn it into a drink fit for the gods.

So no miracle. The only thing to come of it is that the Judaean witnesses everything and realises that there is more to this man: he “wasn’t just a country carpenter.”

And so the book progresses. The first healing occurs just two chapters on—the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law—and this is how Benoît describes it:

An elderly woman was lying on a bed, struck down by one of those fevers that can bring death in a matter of days. Unable to give voice to his fears, [Peter] leant over and wiped the sweat from her face, then stood up and looked at me. In his eyes burned a slightly wild look of expectation, a mute desire.

I straight away knew what he wanted. Unlike the simpleton in the synagogue [whom Jesus alone had encountered the day before], this prostrate woman didn’t appear to be possessed by Evil, She wasn’t screaming and shouting, she posed no threat—she was just going to die.

I took her by the wrist and helped her sit up. Startled, she got to her feet and just stood there, swaying slightly. Then without a word of thanks she walked out of the room. A moment later we heard her bustling round the fire, wielding kitchen implements and getting the menfolk’s supper ready.

Jesus never questions where this ability has come from or what his limits are and when shortly thereafter, word having spread from house to house, ailing people arrive at the door from every quarter he sets about healing “most of them” irrespective of what was wrong with them.

And on we go. It’s like we’re wandering through an alternate universe. Everything’s the same only not quite the same. Perhaps one thing Benoît does make a little clearer than the Gospel writers is just how Jesus could do what he did and be seen by so many and still end up being hated. Simply put everyone would’ve been quite happy for the Messiah to arrive as long as he did so on their terms. The religious leaders weren’t opposed to change but any changes were made at a painfully slow pace—there was no room for sweeping improvements—whereas the common people would’ve been more than happy to see the back of the Romans; they didn’t want to have to wait for the kingdom of God.

Where I think this account falls short is in Jesus’s voice. It would be easy to blame the translator here but I don’t think that’s the case. I just found him a bit dull. At the time of writing this review there’s not much online to see what others thought but two made comments worth mentioning: Kirsty on Goodreads said, “Benoît's interpretation of Jesus was one of the least likeable characters I’ve come across in a while,” whereas Rebecca over at newbooks says, “I wasn’t sure whether it was the voice of Jesus or that of the author which came through most strongly.” This is a man who is expecting to be arrested in a few hours and painfully executed within a couple of days most likely and yet there’s a wearisomeness to his storytelling. Grated there’s a lot to weary him—his bickering disciples would test the patience of a saint (and this Jesus certainly isn’t one of them)—and the religious leaders, the Scribes and the Pharisees, just drag him down at every opportunity plus there’s the Evil One’s constant efforts to undermine his work. At least Potter’s Jesus had a bit of life about him. There’s not enough man here for my tastes. Benoît’s intentions are commendable and it’s not a bad effort, I’ll be honest, but great literature this is not. It’s storytelling—or retelling if we’re being honest.

I’m not sure who this book is for. Those who have a faith already will probably enjoy picking holes in it as did I and I’ve no faith left, not even a smidgen. Those who are looking for some kind of spiritual connection probably won’t be able to relate to this guy because he’s too good. He’s never seriously tempted by anything, not even a woman who he admits he has little interest in. If you’re going to present the Jesus as the imperfect man then we need more of the imperfections for him to feel real to us.

You can read the first nineteen pages here.


AVT_Michel-Benoit_109Religious scholar and novelist Michel Benoît (which I believe is a pseudonym–see here) was born in Madagascar in 1940 (then a French colony). In 1962, having studied Biochemistry under Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod and obtained a PhD in Pharmacology, he entered the Benedictine order as an unordained monk at the abbey of Saint Benoît sur Loire, remaining there for twenty-two years. Because of his ideological non-conformity, he was eventually “discharged” by the Catholic Church and decided to devote himself to research and writing.

His first book, Prisoner of God, an autobiographical account of his life in the monastery, became an international bestseller when it was published in 1992. This was followed by two religious essays, a travel book based on a trip to India, and then the thriller The Thirteenth Apostle, “the story of an ancient sect detailed within papyrus sheaves hidden in the caves at Qumran”.

Sunday, 12 May 2013



I think that there are empty ecological niches in the literary landscape crying to be filled and when a book more or less fills a niche it's seized on, even when it's a far from perfect fit – Edmund White

When I think of niches I think of porn. As a kid growing up like most kids it was where I learned much about sex and the female anatomy along with words I couldn’t pronounce because I’d never heard them spoken aloud—honestly it was cun-i-ling-you-is for years. Not so much about males but we are talking Scotland in the sixties and seventies; I’d seen enough willies down the baths or the beach to realise which way my boat floated. My mate used to raid his dad’s Penthouse collection and share it with me. ‘Twas a sizeable collection, too, for none were missed or if their loss was ever noticed their disappearance was certainly never remarked upon.

Some years later the first sex shops started to appear north of the border and, unable to contain my curiosity, I scuttled into one in Kilmarnock and had my eyes well and truly opened. There were magazines and videos that catered for every conceivable quirk and fetish (at least it felt like that): women with big boobs, small boobs, long legs, dainty feet, pert bums, in all sorts of uniforms and outfits made of rubber or leather, big women, young women, wives, lesbians, mature women, hirsute women, hairless women, black and Asian women, tied-up women… It was a far cry from the Penthouses I’d thought were so wonderful only a few years earlier.

And I didn’t get it. You see I never talked to anyone bar my mate about sex and if you imagine a Scotiafied version of Steve and his mates from American Dad, well, that was us; all talk, nothing more. To my mind sexual preference meant you were gay or straight and that was it. Once I started to look around I realised that there wasn’t much even vaguely female that I wasn’t attracted to. The notion of only getting turned on only if my bird wore some sort of weird rubber get-up and had a ping pong ball stuffed in her gob didn’t register. Words like ‘kinky’ or ‘perverted’ were always swimming around in my head, although I didn’t like to judge. But the idea of only getting turned on by one thing—any one of those things I’ve listed above—didn’t gel. I liked just about everything, just not all the time.

And I’m the same with books. I knew a bloke once who read every western the library had to offer and only then did he make a start on the war novels. I have no idea if he read all of them—he wasn’t a youngster when I met him—or what, if anything, he moved onto next but that would have driven me mad. It’s like having chips every day for twenty years. Now I like chips—especially chippie chips—but every day? It would take a while but I would get fed up with them. And then rice for the next twenty and pasta for the twenty after that and couscous until I croaked. No thanks. It’s like the scene from the film version of Shirley Valentine:

Joe: It’s Thursday. We have steak on Thursday. We always have steak on Thursday.
Shirley: We’re having egg and chips for a change. You like egg and chips.
Joe: On a Tuesday. I like egg and chips on a Tuesday. Today is Thursday.
Shirley: Well pretend it’s a Tuesday.
Joe: Where’s me steak?
Shirley: I gi’e it the dog!

My dad was never like that although he could easily have been.

mivviPreferences I do get. If you have a choice between a Pineapple Mivvi and a Strawberry Mivvi you make your choice. I would have preferred the pineapple one but, at a push, I wouldn’t eaten the strawberry rather than have nothing. But I wouldn’t’ve wanted a Pineapple Mivvi every time. That’s what I don’t get. The Mivvis were ice lollies made by Lyons; the original with the strawberry-flavoured coating came out in 1954 and the Pineapple Mivvi in 1973. I was looking down the list of their products and noticed this one from 1972: Angel—For teenage girls, a strawberry and vanilla kreem ice, half of it choc coated. What is there about that that screams: “teenage girl” I ask you? Probably nothing more than the wrapping. I don’t remember it but I bet I wouldn’t’ve bought it because it was for girls and I wouldn’t’ve wanted to be seen with a girls lolly unless a girl was holding said lolly in one hand and holding my hand with the other. Yeah, only in my dreams.

John Locke famously sold one million ebooks in five months. His secret? He wrote for a niche. A niche he’s identified, investigated, and delivered to over and over and over as fast as possible. And all credit to the guy. He worked the system. Did he sell his soul to do it? I don’t think so. I suspect he wrote what interested him and was in the right place at the right time with the right product and the right tools to promote said product.

Find a need and fill it. That’s good business practice. Seriously though does anyone need any more books?

But that’s the thing. After I saw my first pair of boobs I wanted to see another pair. Right away, please. And once I’d seen them and they weren’t that different to the first pair I wanted to see more just to make sure but after I’d seen several dozen—okay, hundred—and realising that there wasn’t that much difference between the first pair I’d seen and the last pair I’d seen I still found myself interested every time an opportunity arose where I could see someone else’s. Nothing ever seemed to satisfy my curiosity. And it wasn’t just boobs. I was the same with every other part of the female anatomy and was for a very long time; in fact only recently did I notice a change. I handed my wife my tablet the other day on which there was a photo of Dita von Teese and said to her, “You know, it’s a sad day when presented with a bosom like that that one notices the belt buckle she’s wearing.”

Books used to excite me like that. I visited one sex shop just assuage my curiosity but I’ve never grown tired of book shops. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a posh shop of some smelly second-hand place I like to be surrounded by books and, had I the funds, I would walk out every time with armfuls of the buggers. But I’ve never had those kinds of funds and so I’ve had to be selective and that’s hard because I don’t really go for a niche. Okay I prefer literary fiction but not all the time. Just look at the books I’ve reviewed over the years.

There are loads of articles online talking about niches, sub-niches and even micro-niches. It gets a bit silly after a while. This is how silly:

shitinwoodsKathleen Meyer found a niche market and wrote a small thin book that took the outdoors backpacking and camping world by storm. Her book, How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art, was released in 1989 and has become a year round best seller. At last count, it had sold over 1,500,000 copies and has been translated into several foreign languages. Kathleen's book is THE book on the subject of defecating in the woods. The lesson to be learned is not to dismiss any subject just because it is an off the wall topic. – John Vonhof, ‘Identifying Your Niche’, André Anthony’s Niche Market Know-How

It is a real book. Just click on the link if you doubt me. It’s 128 pages long and onto its 3rd edition. Whoda thunk there was that much to say about pooing?

But that’s nonfiction and it’s somewhat easier there to drill down to see where a need exists and fill it. It’s like chip shops, book shops and even, I dare day, sex shops. We don’t have a chip shop near where I live although a van comes round most nights and parks down the hill; the nearest one is a twenty minute walk which is about as far as the nearest one was to my parents’ house when I was a kid, only there wasn’t just the one there; there were two and there had been two for years and both were clearly turning a nice profit, but what if a third had opened across the street or a fourth round the corner? I took the bus down into Glasgow a couple of weeks back and passed PC World. Across the road a small, independent retailer had opened up Priceless Computing hoping, obviously, to skim off some of the passing trade; it’s been there for about fourteen years I would reckon. This time, though, I noticed that there were now at least another six small shops all bearing similar-sounding names along a stretch of road of maybe fifty yards. Seriously I know Glasgow can handle a pub on every corner but how many computer shops does Finnieston need?

The same goes for vampire romances and sagas about boy wizards.

What comes first, the niche or the product? Whatever the product is there will be a niche for it so that’s not a problem. There is someone out there for every book even if it’s just your mammy. I bet you that JK Rowling never thought to herself: Hmmm I haven’t read any good books about wizards. That means there’s a desperate need for a book about wizards. She’s more likely to have thought: Hmmm I haven’t read any good books about wizards. I guess no one’s interested in wizards any more but I’ll write one anyway. And it’s not just a time thing. Cowboys and Indians used to be a game that all kids played when they were wee but I don’t see a resurgence in interest in westerns coming soon. There have been efforts but none of them have sparked off any real passion with the public. That said, for some reason DC’s butt-ugly western anti-hero Jonah Hex keeps managing to stay in print even if he isn’t in his own title at the moment.

When I wrote Living with the Truth I never gave a second thought to niches or demographics. As it happens I found one. I’ve never seen a book or a film yet where Truth is a character. And by that I mean the personification of Truth. There’s a character called The Truth in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and one in the comic Enigma but that’s about it. Yay! I’ve found my niche. And there’s no competition. Surely I’ve hit the mother lode here.

Or maybe not.

GwenThe American Girl line of dolls debuted in 1986. The dolls depicted figures of various ethnicities and attributes that were instantly popular with children and collectors. A line of books was released, as well as a clothing line and various accessories, all to excellent sales.

One of the dolls produced was named Gwen Thompson, and her unique attribute was that she was homeless and lived with her mother in a car. It is hard to say who was the intended target audience for this doll, but it wasn’t on store shelves long enough for anyone to find out. Gwen Thompson disappeared from store shelves after just a few months. – 10 Toys that Failed,

Apparently one out of every 45 children – some 1.6 million – in the United States is now homeless, according to a report released in December by the National Centre on Family Homelessness. As far as niche markets go that’s a sizeable demographic if only they could afford the dolls which retailed at $95 when they were first produced in 2009.

And that’s the problem with niches. My niche needs to be literate, book buyers and financially well enough off to be able to waste money on fripperies like paperbacks. The first two are not so hard but with so much free and almost-free stuff out there, who is going to search for a product that’s a perfect fit when there are plenty that will do. The jeans I’m wearing just now cost about £10. They’re not a perfect fit, not quite the shade I’d prefer but they were ten quid and what do you expect for ten quid. These days more and more it seems.

Sex still sells. I expect sex will always sell. I don’t completely avoid sex in my books but if you’re looking for titillation then I suggest you fork out for Fifty Shades of Grey.

My problem is I read ‘niche’ and I hear ‘rut’. Yes, I wrote a sequel to Living with the Truth. I did it because it felt right and not to capitalise on the popularity of the first book because I’d not even tried to do anything with that first book and didn’t for about five years. I look at all that I’ve written over the past forty years and it is really hard to categorise. There will be people who’ll like my first two novels but won’t get the next two; there’s no guarantee that any of them will take to my short stories and my poems are something else entirely. And who knows who’ll like the plays if they ever, ever get staged. Oh, and there’s the children’s book and I’m really not sure where that fifth novel fits in with any of it. I’m not even sure I like it that much and I wrote the ruddy thing.

Can somebody please tell me who the hell should I be pitching to?

I’m finding it a real problem because I don’t think I’m a niche kinda guy. Yes, there will be a few people, a few dozen people, hell, I’m even willing to accept that there might be a few hundred people out there who will like any one thing that I’ve written or will someday write but the only person out there who will like everything that I’ve written—or at least just about everything to take account of my previous comment—is me.

And don’t get me started on brands.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Humans


Mark Shermin: "Have people from your world been here before?"

Starman: "Before. Yes, we are interested in your species."

Mark Shermin: "You mean you're some kind of anthropologist? Is that what you're doing here? Just checking us out?"

Starman: "You are a strange species, not like any other... and you'd be surprised how many there are. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you?"


The HumansThere’s nothing new under the sun. If you’re a writer and you really want to depress yourself spend an hour or so (as I’ve just done) clicking through the links on There you’ll find evidence to back up my opening statement. There’s nothing, nothing (Shultz, Hogan’s Heroes) that’s not been done before. So when I picked up Matt Haig’s new novel The Humans I expected to be treading some familiar ground. And I did. To list just a few tropes we come across in this book: Aliens Among Us, Voluntary Shapeshifting, The World Is Not Ready, These are Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, They Look Like Us Now, Humans Through Aliens Eyes, Literal-Minded, Out Of Character Alert, Humanity Is Infectious, Pinocchio Syndrome, What Is This Thing You Call Love?, Curiosity Causes Conversion, Interspecies Romance, Spot The Imposter, Humans Are Special. In many respects this list just about summaries the whole book. It’s all been done before. And all I have to say to that is: Who cares?

I asked Matt if he felt a bit intimidated by all of this to which he replied:

[T]o answer your point, I take the view that there are no new stories. In fact there is only one story—the quest story. But my main aim with The Humans was to look at human life, and a non-human narrator was the simplest way of doing that.

Makes perfect sense to me. You see I loved Spock and Data and Seven of Nine, even Odo in his way, and Mork, and all the Solomons (from 3rd Rock from the Sun); I loved the Coneheads and ALF, Roswell, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and thestrangererslecardMy Favourite Martian. I really loved The Strangerers and was sorely pissed I missed the last episode because the show ended on a cliffhanger and has never been released on DVD. I loved The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. And I’ll tell you why I loved all of them: Because I could relate to them. Because I’m an alien too.

Okay, I’m not an alien but I’ve often felt like one. I’m a writer and, despite what you might think, there really aren’t that many of us kicking around the planet. I was a grown man before I met another one in the flesh. I’d read about them and their peculiar writing habits but as far as I was concerned I was on my own trying to make sense of these strange non-writing creatures I was surrounded by.

Although there isn’t anything especially new in this book it does say a lot that bears repeating. Our nameless narrator—seriously the Vonnadorians don’t use names—states the blindingly obvious, the kind of things that scientists and economists and sociologists and psychologists and environmentalists and religious leaders have been shouting from the rooftops pretty much for years, and yet somehow humanity is still trundling along merrily towards its eventual (but hopefully not that immediate) collapse. Which makes this book kind of pointless, yes? Only it’s not.

At first it starts off very much in the vein of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

I know that some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state that they do actually exist. For those that don’t know, a human is a real bipedal lifeform of mid-range intelligence, living a largely deluded existence on a small waterlogged planet in a very lonely corner of the universe.

For the rest of us, and those who sent me, humans are in many respects exactly as strange as you would expect them to be. Certainly it is true that on a first sighting you would be appalled by their physical appearance.

Their faces alone contain all manner of hideous curiosities. A protuberant central nose, thin-skinned lips, primitive external auditory organs known as ‘ears’, tiny eyes and unfathomable pointless eyebrows. All of which take a long time to mentally absorb and accept.

The manners and social customs too are a baffling enigma at first. Their conversation topics are rarely the things they want to be talking about, and I could write ninety-seven books on body shame and clothing etiquette before you would get even close to understanding them.

Oh, and let’s not forget The Things They Do To Make Themselves Happy That Actually Make Them Miserable. This in an infinite list. It includes – shopping, watching TV, taking the better job, getting the bigger house, writing a semi-autobiographical novel, educating their young, making their skin look mildly less old, and harbouring a vague desire to believe there might be a meaning to it all.

Mating Habits of the Earthboud HumanNow if this sounds a bit like David Hyde Pierce’s narration to The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human then you’ve got the right idea. Our unnamed alien is assigned to earth, only not as an anthropologist because they’ve already pretty much made their minds up regarding the human race: they are violent, arrogant, greedy, untrustworthy, hypocritical and dangerous. The most dangerous of all was one Andrew Martin, a professor of mathematics living in Cambridge, England. I say ‘was’ because on Saturday, the seventeenth of April, he was abducted by these aliens who extracted what they needed from him, killed him and then assigned one of their own to replace him. So I should probably have included the Kill and Replace trope in my list at the start too. This alien’s brief is a simple enough one: Destroy all physical evidence that a solution exists to the Riemann hypothesis and eliminate all humans who are even aware that there is a solution.

According to Marcus du Sautoy, “Most mathematicians would trade their soul with Mephistopheles for proof of the Riemann hypothesis.” Apparently it’s “the most important unresolved problem in mathematics.” And it’s all to do with prime numbers and the search for a pattern to them. Because there doesn’t seem to be one. And humans—especially human mathematicians—get really narky when they can’t see a pattern to things. They’d solved Fermat’s Last Theorem and the Poincaré conjecture but the Riemann hypothesis had eluded them until Professor Andrew Martin worked it out. And that was a problem. The Vonnadorians don’t belong to Starfleet; they’ve no Alien Non-Interference Clause to adhere to. So when they realise that the humans have unlocked the key, drastic action is needed. Despite arriving on earth stark naked, getting knocked down (whilst still naked), arrested (for being naked), sent for psychological assessment (for not realising what the big deal was about wandering around Cambridge naked)—nice K-Pax moment there—the doppelgänger still manages to find his way to Andrew Martin’s office within hours of his arrival (clothed by the time he does), locate the man’s research and Destroy the Evidence:

‘There,’ I told myself, ‘you may have just managed to save the universe.’ But things are never that simple, not even on Earth.

No, they’re not. Because Andrew had sent a copy to a colleague, confided in a friend, boasted to his son and mentioned it to his wife. So, what trope are we onto now? Leave No Witnesses. And that takes time. And that’s the problem. Because the more time the alien spends with humans the more he has his preconceptions shaken. And animals too. There’s a lovely Androcles Lion moment between the alien and Andrew’s old, sick dog that he heals. Of course at first the dog growls at him knowing he’s not his master—so that would be the Animals Hate Him moment—but afterwards they become best buddies even if the alien does struggle with the dog’s language. Then follows music and poetry, peanut butter sandwiches, Australian wine and sex. Eventually he does a Heel Face Turn and he Becomes The Mask. This may sound like a bit of a spoiler but from the preface to the book it’s pretty obvious that the alien has come to empathise with the humans. Needless to say his bosses are not pleased. He’s been warned that if he fails in his mission another will be assigned and that’s exactly what happens.

Man_who_fell_to_earth_ver1I’ve made my point. In so many respects this book is derivative and even fairly predictable. I should be panning it rather than praising it but I loved it. From the first page to the last. The short chapters kept the action rolling along and it was so easy to say to myself: Just one more chapter. It began, as I’ve said, in a light-hearted manner and although the humour never disappears completely the book does become more serious as it progresses. It never quite ends up as The Man Who Fell to Earth but it does ask some hard-hitting questions. If you’re not much of a reader though I suggest you locate a copy of the book, open it up to page 271 and tear out the four leaves that comprise the chapter entitled ‘Advice to a human’, fold them up, tuck them inside your jacket pocket and read them whenever you have a spare moment, sitting on the bus or train or waiting to be seen by the doctor. There are ninety-seven aphoristic statements here. Let me share a few:

1. Shame is a shackle. Free yourself.
2. Don’t worry about your abilities. You have the ability to love. That is enough.
3. Be nice to other people. At the universal level, they are you.
4. Technology won’t save humankind. Humans will.

16. Tragedy is just comedy that hasn’t come to fruition. One day we will laugh at this. We will laugh at everything.

22. Don’t worry about being angry. Worry when being angry becomes impossible. Because then you have been consumed.

25. There is only one genre in fiction. The genre is called ‘book’.[*]
26. Never be too far away from a radio. A radio can save your life.
27. Dogs are geniuses of loyalty. And that is a good kind of genius to have.

31. Failure is a trick of the light.

It’s almost worth the price of admission for this one chapter I’ll tell you. You can read the full list here but here’s a wee video that covers forty of them:

I really enjoyed this book. I really enjoyed this book in the same way I could sit down today and watch any episode of Mork and Mindy and enjoy it. It doesn’t matter that I know what’s coming; that’s the pleasure. Although she only said it out loud the once, you know Mindy was thinking it in every episode: “Oh, Mork; what Earth concept have you misunderstood this week?” The Humans is reassuring in that way. It’s like when you’re a kid and you want the same book read over and over again. If I didn’t have so many other books to get through I could happily pick this one up again.


matt haigMatt Haig was born in Sheffield, England in1975. He writes books for both adults and children, often blending the worlds of domestic reality and outright fantasy, with a quirky twist. His bestselling novels are translated into 28 languages. The Guardian has described his writing as 'delightfully weird' and the New York Times has called him 'a novelist of great talent' whose writing is 'funny, riveting and heartbreaking'.

His novels for adults are The Last Family in England, narrated by a labrador and optioned for film by Brad Pitt; The Dead Father's Club (2006), an update of Hamlet featuring an 11-year-old boy; The Possession of Mr Cave (2008), about a man obsessed with his daughter's safety, and The Radleys (2010)—which I reviewed here—which won Channel 4's TV Book Club public vote and was shortlisted for a Galaxy National Book Award (UK). The film rights to all his adult novels have been sold.

His multi-award winning popular first novel for children, Shadow Forest, was published in 2007 and its sequel, The Runaway Troll, in 2009. His most recent children's novel is To Be A Cat.


[*] For more on this read his blog entry Literary Fiction Must Go

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