For a short novel, Numero Zero is amazingly leisurely and discursive. It’s like an Arabian Nights for conspiracy theorists, historians of the late 20th century and political sceptics, with stories within stories, asides, facts, speculation, satire and nods to the past and future. If that sounds like a bit of a mess and possibly hard going, in fact it’s jolly and generally entertaining, if slightly uneven.
Gorsky is an enigmatic, much-gossiped-about billionaire who is rarely seen at his own famously gorgeous parties; there is a suggestion of some enormous unresolved romance in his life; his public character has something staged, unusually deliberate, theatrical about it—you could say that his personality is “an unbroken series of successful gestures”, if you wanted to quote from The Great Gatsby. And you probably do want to quote from The Great Gatsby; I did from the blurb onwards.
Some years ago during one of the dull seasons—our work was very much on the seasonal side—my Waterstones branch entered a Book Tokens company competition on ‘opening lines’. We had to identify the opening lines of various more-or-less famous novels. We also had to come up with an opening line of our own. For whatever reason, ‘I’d been prodding the Frenchman with my boot all day to see if he was dead’ was the egg that my subconscious laid and we used that. It bothered me a little, it itched, and I knew that I wanted to make a story from it some time. Much later, the story suddenly came to me in the shower; at that time most of my best ideas, such as they were, seemed to emerge under hot water. I used to covet a pen with ink that would hold to the watery tiles, but that could be wiped away later. Continue reading →
I have come to wonder whether I will make it through my twenty-third year. In the nine months since my mother died, I started a new job, which led me to meet a number of new people, one of whom I killed in a misunderstanding. But other things happened in the first twenty-two years that I should explain first.
The Inheritors by William Golding. A chewy but fascinating and impressive prehistorical novel by the author of Lord of the Flies. Golding himself thought it his best. This review first appeared in Nudge Books (now NB). Continue reading →
The Spectre of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov (translated Bryan Karetnyk). When is someone you killed dead? Mystery, guilt, love, philosophy, and death in a very Russian thriller. This review first appeared in Nudge Books (now NB). Continue reading →
The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov (translated by Amanda Love Darragh). ‘We live in an interesting country, these are interesting times … we can’t help being interesting ourselves’. A Russo-Ukrainian novel. This review first appeared in Nudge Books (now NB). Continue reading →
True Grit by Charles Portis. Forget the film adaptations, the unfashionable genre and the kitsch cover, this is a good book: shrewd, amusing and superbly written. This review first appeared in Nudge Books (now NB). Continue reading →