The Jesus Man by Christos Tsiolkas

I’ve read two Tsiolkas books now, and the trend is for them to end with an unprepossessing young homosexual male giving his opinions on his world, that being a very dull place indeed. In the case of The Slap it’s fair enough. The book is orchestrated so that something he does becomes the logical end. But here? There seem to be two books here. The one Tsiolkas wants to write about (so it seems) himself, and the other. The good book. I use those words advisedly.

We begin with the former, but the good book starts fairly early on and is an utterly engrossing account of the downfall of Tommy. What a pitiable fuck he is, searching incessantly for a safety which constantly eludes him. He finds it only for moments at a time. In his girl friend. Listening to music. Escaping into the TV. The ritual and revulsion of porn. However repulsive Tommy becomes during his descent, we never stop feeling sympathy. We want him to survive. To our shock, however, suddenly, with a lot of the book to go – you know this because you flick to the end to check – he checks out.

Which leaves what? Unfortunately, I think it leaves nothing of interest. The author tells us early on that the narrator, the irritating young man who is trying to find himself (I guess) will tell a story to which he isn’t really privy. That in itself is a big statement about him. He makes no effort to save his brother even though he purports to care for him. And having told us this story of Tommy, he proceeds to randomly tell the story of his parents. It’s all very weird, and entirely unsatisfactory and gets worse towards the end when he starts on himself and his friends.

There are two types of people in the world: readers and non-readers. Tsiolkas’ books never have readers in them. The people are all empty and trivial, they fill their lives with the noise of music, of TV. I live a protected life full of books and book lovers. But every now and again I find myself walking into a book-free house. It gives me the creeps. And I realise that Tsiolkas’ novels give me exactly the same feeling.

I deduce from the bizarre nature of the errors in this book that it was scanned – from a typewriter ms? – and that OCR was not corrected by a proofreader. Or if it was, the proofreader should be sacked.

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The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

She’s such a shit, Olga. Don’t get me wrong, everybody is, with the possible exception of the downstairs neighbour. The kids are shits. The ex-husband, his shag, the friends, the vet, the locksmiths. But as we enter the falling-apart world of Olga, and we do so from the perspective, impossible to escape, of The Neapolitan Novels, it’s an echo. Her female narrators are repugnant. In this case it’s not because she’s disintegrating. It’s just because. I suppose because she’s talking of herself. If that is so, Ferrante is a particularly honest writer. One hopes never to meet her.

I’m also not sure how long she can get away with writing books with the principle character a writer who isn’t really very good. Any writer who needs to keep explaining to their audience ‘as if it were’, ‘it was like’, ‘like’ but above all, ‘as if’ ‘as if’ ‘as if’. Such a lazy way to write. And almost every phrase that comes after the big sign – simile coming – is dreadful.

On the plus side, full marks to her for recording surely the most disastrous excruciatingly embarrassing (for the reader) sex scene ever. In minute detail. I will present this for you, it gives a good idea of the book as a whole. She has come downstairs on purpose to have sex with her rather retiring neighbour, whom she scarcely knows. Lucky Carrano. He has just kissed her, understanding that this might be the right thing to do….[The square brackets comments are mine, once or twice I couldn’t resist.]

At that instant I had only an unpleasant impression, as if he had given the signal and from then on all I could do was to sink by degrees into repugnance. In reality I felt above all a blaze of hatred towards myself, because I was there, because I had no excuses, because it was I who had decided to come, because it seemed to me that I could not retreat.

‘Shall we begin?’ I said with a false cheer.

Carrano gave an uncertain hint of a smile.

‘No one is forcing us,’

‘Do you want to go back?’

‘No…’

He again brought his lips to mine, but I didn’t like the odor of his saliva, I don’t even know if it really was unpleasant, only it seemed to me different from Mario’s. He tired to put his tongue in my  mouth, I opened my lips a little, touched his tongue with mine. It was slightly rough, alive, it felt animal, an enormous tongue such as I had seen, disgusted, at the butcher, there was nothing seductively human about it. Did Carla [the shag] have my tastes, my odors? Or had mine always been repellent to Mario, as now Carrano’s seemed to me, and only in her, after years, had he found the essences right for him?

I pushed my tongue into the mouth of that man with exaggerated eagerness, for a long time, as if I were following something to the bottom of his throat and wished to catch it before it slid into the esophagus. I put my arm around his neck, I pressed him with my body into the corner of the sofa and kissed him for a long time, with my eyes wide open, trying to stare at the objects arranged in one corner of the room, define them, cling to them, because I was afraid that if I closed my eyes I would see Carla’s impudent mouth, she had had that impudence since the age of fifteen, and who could say how much Mario liked it, if he had dreamed of it while he slept beside me, until he woke and kissed me as if he were kissing her and then withdrew and went back to sleep as soon as he recognised my mouth, the usual mouth, the mouth without new tastes, the mouth of the past.

Carrano sensed in my kiss the sign that any skirmishing was over. He put his hand on my neck, he wanted to press me even harder against his lips. Then he left my mouth and planted wet kisses on my cheeks, on my eyes. I thought he must be following a precise exploratory plan, he even kissed my ears, so that the sound echoed annoyingly against my eardrums. Then he moved to my neck, he bathed with his tongue the hair at the nape, and meanwhile he touched my chest with his broad hand.

‘My breasts are small,’ I said in a whisper, but immediately despised myself because it sounded as if I were making excuses, excuse me if I can’t offer you big tits, I hope you enjoy yourself anyway, idiot that I was, if he liked little tits, good; if not, the worse for him, it was all free, a stroke of luck had fallen to this shit, the best birthday present he could hope for, at his age.

‘I like them, ‘ he said in a whisper, while he unbuttoned my shirt and with his hand pulled down the edge of the bra and tried to bite my nipples and suck them. But mu nipples, too, are small, and the breasts eluded him, falling back into the cups of the bra. I said wait, I pushed him away, I sat up, I took off the shirt, unhooked the bra. I asked stupidly: do you like them, anxiety was growing in me, I wanted him to repeat his approval.

Looking at me he sighed:

‘You’re beautiful.’

He took a deep breath, as if he wished to control a strong emotion or nostalgia, and just touched me with his fingertips so that I lay on the sofa with my chest bare and he could gaze at me more easily.

Lying there, I saw him from below, I noted the wrinkles of his aging neck, the beard that needed a shave and showed flecks of white, the deep creases between his eyebrows. Perhaps he was serious, perhaps he really was captivated by my beauty, or perhaps they were only words to ornament a desire for sex. Perhaps I remained beautiful even if my husband had rolled up the sense of my beauty into a ball and thrown it into the wastebasket, like wrapping paper [one of her many likes….if only she could resist them.] Yes, I could still make a man passionate, I was a woman able to do this, the flight of Mario to another bed, another flesh, had not ruined me.

Carrano bent over me, licked my nipples, sucked them. I tried to abandon myself, I wanted to eliminate disgust and desperation from my breast. I closed my eyes cautiously, the warmth of his breath, the lips on my skin, I let out a moan of encouragement for me and for him. I hoped to notice in myself some nascent pleasure, even if that man was a stranger, a musician perhaps of little talent, no quality, no capacity for seduction, dull and therefore alone.

Now I felt him kissing my ribs, my stomach, he stopped even on my navel, what he found there I don’t know, he moved his tongue in it, tickling me. Then he got up. I opened my eyes, he was rumpled, his eyes were bright, I seemed to see in his face the expression of a guilty child.

‘Tell me again that you like me,’ I insisted, short of breath.

‘Yes,’ he said, but with a little less enthusiasm. He put his hands on my knees, parted them, slid his fingers under my skirt, caressed the insides of my thighs, lightly, as if [warning, bad simile coming] he were sending a probe into the dark depths of a well.

He didn’t seem to be in a hurry, I would have preferred everything to proceed more quickly. Now I thought of the possibility that the children might wake up or even of the hypothesis that Mario, after our tumultuous encounter, frightened, repentant, had decided to return home that very evening. It even seemed to me that I could hear Otto barking joyfully, and I was about to say the dog is barking, but then it seemed to me inappropriate. Carrano had just raised my skirt and was now caressing the crotch of my underpants with the palm of his hand, and then he ran his fingers over the material, pressing, pushing it deep into the fold of my sex.

I moaned again, I wanted to help him take off the underpants, he stopped me.

‘No,’ he said, ‘wait.’

He moved aside the material, caressed my bare sex with his fingers, entered with his index finger, murmured again:

‘You’ve really beautiful.’

Beautiful everywhere, outside and in, male fantasies. Was Mario doing that, with me he had never taken his time. But maybe he, too, now, in the long night, somewhere else, was spreading Carla’s thin legs, letting his gaze rest on her cunt half covered by the underpants, lingering, his heart pounding, on the obscenity of that position, making it more obscene with his fingers. Or, who knows, maybe it was I alone who was obscene now, abandoned to that man who was touching me in secret places, who, in no hurry, was bathing his fingers inside me, with the casual curiosity of one who isn’t in love. Carla, on the other hand – Mario believed this, I was certain that he believed it – was a young woman in love who gives herself to her lover. Not a gesture, not a sigh was vulgar or sordid, not even the coarsest words had any power against the true meaning of their intercourse. I could say cunt and cock and asshole, they were not marked by it. I marked, I disfigured, only my own image on the sofa, what I was at that moment, rumpled, with Carrano’s big fingers rousing in me a fund of muddy pleasure.

Again I felt like crying, I clenched my teeth. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to burst into tears again, I reacted by moving my pelvis, shaking my head, moaning, murmuring:

‘You want me, it’s true that you want me, tell me…’

Carrano nodded yes, pushed me onto my side, pulled down my underpants. I have to leave, I thought. Now what I wanted to know I knew. I am still attractive to men. Mario took everything but not me, not m y person, not my beautiful charming mask. That’s enough with my ass. He was biting my buttocks, licking me.

‘Not my ass.’ I said, moving his fingers away. He touched my anus again, I moved him away again. Enough. I drew back, I stretched a hand toward his bathrobe.

‘Let’s get it over with,’ I exclaimed. ‘Do you have a condom?’

Carrano nodded yes but didn’t move. He took his hands off my body, showing a sudden sadness, and leaned his head on the back of the sofa, stared at the ceiling.

‘I don’t feel anything,’ he murmured.

‘What don’t you feel?’

‘An erection.’ [Well, who would after ‘Let’s get it over with’?]

‘Never?’

‘No, now.’

‘Since we started?’

‘Yes.’

I felt myself flare up with shame. He had kissed me, embraced me, touched me, but he hadn’t gotten hard, I hadn’t been able to make his blood burn, he had roused my flesh without rousing his, ugly shit.

I opened his bathrobe, now I couldn’t leave, between the fourth floor and the fifth there were no longer stairs, if I left I would find the abyss.

I looked at his small pallid sex, lost in the black forest of hairs, between the heavy testicles.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘you’re upset.’

I jumped up, I took off the skirt that I was still wearing, I was naked, but he didn’t even realise it, he continued to look at the ceiling.

‘Now you lie down,’ I ordered him with false calm. ‘Relax.’

I pushed him down on the sofa, supine, in the position in which until that moment I had been.

‘Where are the condoms?’

He gave a melancholy smile.

‘It’s useless at this point,’ and yet he pointed to a chest of drawers with a gesture of discouragement.

I went to the chest, opened one drawer after another, found the condoms.

‘But I was attractive to you…’ Again I insisted.

He hit his forehead lightly with the back of his hand.

‘Yes, in my mind.’

I laughed angrily, I said:

‘You have to like me everywhere,’ and I sat on his chest, turning my back to him. I began to caress his stomach, going slowly lower and lower along the black track of hairs to where they were thick around his sex. Carla was fucking my husband and I couldn’t fuck this man, a man alone, without opportunities, a depressed musician for whom I was to be the happy surprise of his fifty-third birthday. She ruled Mario’s cock as if it belonged to her, she made him put it in her pussy, in her ass, which he had never done with me, and I, I could only chill that gray flesh. I grabbed his penis, I pulled down the skin to make sure there were no lesions and put it in my mouth. After a while Carrano began to moan, it sounded like braying. Soon his flesh swelled against my palate, this is what the shit wanted, this is what he was waiting for. Finally his prick emerged strong from his belly, a prick to fuck me with, to make my stomach ache for days, as Mario had never fucked me. My husband didn’t know what to do with real women: he dared only with whores of twenty, without intelligence, without experience, without teasing words.

Now Carrano was agitated, he told me to wait: wait, wait. I moved backward until I was pressing my sex against his mouth, I left his penis and turned with the most disdainful look I was capable of. ‘Kiss it,’ I said, and he kissed me literally, with devotion, I felt the shock of the kiss on my pussy, old food, the metaphoric language I used with Mario evidently wasn’t his, he misunderstood, he didn’t realise what I was really ordering him to do, I don’t know if Carla was able to decipher my husband’s suggestions, I don’t know. With my teeth I tore open the condom wrapper, I put it on his prick, come on, get up, I said to him, you like the asshole, deflower me, I never did that with my husband, I want to tell him about it in every detail, put it in my ass.

The musician struggled out from under me, I remained on all fours. I laughed to myself, I couldn’t contain myself thinking of Mario’s face when I told him. I stopped laughing only when I felt Carrano pushing forcefully against me. I was suddenly afraid, I held my breath. A bestial position, animal liquids and a perfidy utterly human. I turned to look at him, perhaps to beg him not to obey me, to let it go. Our glances me. I don’t know what he saw, I saw a man no longer young, with his white bathrobe open, his face shiny with sweat, lips pressed in concentration. I murmured something to him, I don’t know what. He unclenched his lips, opened his mouth, closed his eyes. Then he sank down behind me. I supported myself on one side. I saw the whitish stain of semen against the wall of the condom.

‘Never mind,’ I said with a dry explosion of laughter in my throat, and I tore the rubber off his already limp penis, threw it away, it stained the floor with a viscid yellow stripe. ‘You missed the target.’

They don’t call him Lucky Carrano for nothing. Not only does he get this great sex scene, but he ends up with the chick. In between the two he is roundly abused by Olga whenever possible, which doesn’t stop her getting him to dispose of her dog when it dies, probably because she doesn’t get the vet in to look at it. It could have been worse. Her son seems quite ill while the dog is dying and she doesn’t get in the doctor either – well, not until he’s on the mend again.

I do get cracking up. But somehow, in the end I don’t really feel like she’s really telling it how it is. She’s telling us what she wants us to know. And I’m not sure whether that’s Olga’s fault or Ferrante’s. I wonder if it matters?

 

 

 

 

 

Legends of Our Time by Elie Wiesel

I discovered after reading this, that Wiesel is a controversial figure. I’m not talking about the anti-Semitic loons or the woman who wanted to join the ‘me too’ campaign. Rather, within the body of work that stands as ‘Lest We Forget’, there is much debate as to what his testament means, whether he has betrayed those he writes of, himself included, how his work fits into what others have done. He was the rockstar of the Holocaust preservation, the first to force non-Jewish people to acknowledge the horror. Yet he only managed to do that by watering down what he had to say, a process that started with The Night, his French and then English version of a much longer work written in Yiddish for an entirely different audience.

As has been noted by scholars in the field, the watering down process wasn’t only about making something that was palatable to the world that was complicit in the murder of millions of Jews. It made sense that a different audience would be presented with a differently written, more culturally accessible work.

However, there is also the issue of memory, what a memoir is, at which point it becomes a lie. Much has been written about this too in reference to Wiesel, and in particular his juxtaposition with James Frey on the Oprah Bookshow (whatever that is).

For my part, I can understand the impossibility of saying the same thing to the people you are accusing as to the people to whom wrong is done.  It is so easy to understand the humiliation as well as the rage. Even the idea of silence, as a major theme. What I find hard to relate to is the mysticism that is fundamental to his interpretations of the world. His rage feels as genuine as his talk of forgiveness feels forced. I can believe whole-heartedly in the one, not at all in the other.

This may be entirely my failing. I’ve never been religiously inclined and the notion of ‘forgive and forget’ does not sit easily with me. Eventually one sort of forgets. With that comes something which isn’t forgiveness, more like a moving on, I suppose, which takes the place of that more noble sentiment.

In any case, can one have it both ways? Forget in some personal way, and never forget in some social way which we believe is vital to the prevention of such events in the future? I had the misfortune to go to Berlin’s memorial for murdered Jews a few years ago. Full of people taking selfies and having fun. It could scarcely have been more offensive to point of the place. Richard Brody wrote of it:

The title doesn’t say “Holocaust” or “Shoah”; in other words, it doesn’t say anything about who did the murdering or why—there’s nothing along the lines of “by Germany under Hitler’s regime,” and the vagueness is disturbing. Of course, the information is familiar, and few visitors would be unaware of it, but the assumption of this familiarity—the failure to mention it at the country’s main memorial for the Jews killed in the Holocaust—separates the victims from their killers and leaches the moral element from the historical event, shunting it to the category of a natural catastrophe. The reduction of responsibility to an embarrassing, tacit fact that “everybody knows” is the first step on the road to forgetting.

Why no names, he asks? The victims are shrouded in abstract concrete anonymity, as are the murderers.

Nothing I read in this book of Wiesel’s shakes my conviction that the process goes on. It may have been hidden for a while, but it was never not there. The idea that it has ‘come back’ like it had disappeared because WWII was lost, for example, by the murderers of the Jews could not be further from the truth. It has never not been there. Not before, and not after WWII. The despising glee Wiesel describes on the faces of his Transylvanian neighbours as the town’s Jews were sent off to the camps has never changed. It only goes underground now and again when that is the right strategic thing to do.

Right now around the world anti-Semitism is going public in a million different ways. What happens when we permit ourselves to forget, to think that things are different now, is that they become the same. The Guardian reported a story a few days ago about a National Trust event in which Nazi uniforms were worn and displayed. The organiser denied this, but in fact a plethora of photos from the event showing them being worn gives the lie to that.

The purpose of the extremity of the Far Right and on-going Nazi groups is that its very existence makes this event acceptable. It’s okay, it’s just part of ‘living history’. It’s not like we actually bashed Jews or something. And before you know it, none of it means anything anymore. Anti-Semitism will simply be upfront  normal again instead of hidden where it should be in sewers with rats.

So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that when I wrote to the National Trust to complain about the very idea of this ‘Living History’ display of Nazis, to receive back a reply which barely contained its irritation with me. In particular I note that is said:

Historical re-enactments can help raise awareness of important and difficult moments from the past and bring stories to life in an engaging way. We don’t therefore have an issue with re-enactments in themselves but do believe they should be done sensitively.

My eyes are stuck still on the words ‘engaging’ and ‘sensitively’. How could these words ever be used to talk of such things? The answer is, because the events don’t really matter because they never did. Except to Jewish people, of course. And they will never stop paying the price.

Update 28/8/18 update 28/8/18 And even as we write and read, Naziism continues to come out of its hiding place to take its preferred place on the stage. And no great surprise to see that even (or especially?) Hitler salutes are ignored by the police, despite being illegal. The reason? Appeasement. ‘…a desire not to escalate an already tense situation had forced them to hold back.’ The police are the grand-children of Nazis too.
 

What do you do when you are trapped in a book you hate?

I used to finish them, always. But in 1995 that all changed for me. I was given a Perec to read (in English). The one with no letter ‘e’. It was making me miserable, and when I discovered (having not noticed until I read the back cover) that it was artificially conceived and then even worse, translated with the same artifice in place, I decided it could be discarded with impunity.

It was the start of my new life as a non-finisher of books. Surely the thing a book should do, the most general thing it should do, is make you want to pick it up. If you are picking it up like it’s something you’d prefer not to, gingerly, with the tips of your fingers, that’s the message right there. Stop! You are going to die before you read all the wonderful books out there. Why read this one? Stubbornness is rarely a virtue in a reader.

 

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Having sat on my to-read shelf for years, I took this on a plane trip recently. I expected to leave it abandoned in my seat pocket for another person. Instead I found it hard to put down.

The premise of the story would never happen in reality – at a party of adult friends and their children, Hugo, a four year old, goes to wack another child with a cricket bat and the father of the target stops this happening by slapping Hugo on the face. The parents of Hugo insist on police involvement and the police take it to court. Because there is so little crime in Australia, that this stands out as a good use of police time and court resources. Not. It just wouldn’t happen.

But let’s pretend it could, because it makes for a great story, as the relations between the various adults are tested by the way in which Hugo’s parents behave and expectations by all concerned. A story gripping enough that not only was an Australian TV series made, but the US made its own – I’m almost curious to see what they did to it. Every main character in the story is ghastly. I’m truly impressed with the author’s ability to make such a readable story out of such shits as they all are. Young and old, they are all materialists whose high points are buying clothes, getting haircuts, drinking and drugging, getting bikini waxes and making entrances. The women are ghastly, the men, the Australians, the Indians, the Greeks, the young, the old. But having said that, the fact is that they are all utterly ordinary. People muddling through life in a self-centered – I, closely followed by my family, are what matters – way.

Tsiolkas is no great prose stylist. Why does he split his infinitives I wonder? Why does his editor let him? But it doesn’t matter. Mostly it is his characters speaking and their voices are all believable. The structural gimmick used – successfully, it might be added – is to unfold the story line through each character’s perspective. My friend Peter on GR wanted it to end with Aisha and I see the logic of that.  I recommend his review. But I can’t help admiring Tsiolkas’ ability to squeeze out of this fuckup of a story the hint of a happy ending, and this is done by ending with one of the teenagers. I said every character is ghastly, but in truth Richie was almost likeable and the nearest thing to a person for whom one wishes the best.

The story is very Australian, and very Greek. It all rings totally true. Looking at reviews on GR, I’m fascinated to see that non-Australians can’t cope with the book at all, whereas Australians love it. As they should.

 

Now You Know by Michael Frayn

The last Michael Frayn novel I read was Skios and I spent the book feeling like I was reading a movie pitch (albeit a long one). Maybe it would have made a good movie, but it failed as a book, perhaps because of these conflicted purposes.

The other day I discovered, sitting in the bookshelves, unread as yet, Now You Know. Written (or rather, published) twenty years before Skios, and shortly after the splendid A Landing on the Sun, I had great expectations. Which were unmet.

Why did you start doing this, Mr Frayn? Having your cake and eating it. Writing novels with an eye to the stage? Don’t write novels if that’s your plan. I read this, thinking just like Skios, that it was the detailed plan for a play. A play this time, not a movie, which was more the sense I got with Skios, maybe because it had an exotic location. This time felt wrong because the characters spoke in some way characters speak in a play and not in a novel. I can’t say exactly what that means, it’s just my intuitive reaction. I kept seeing some stalwart of English TV playing the main character. I kept wanting to speak his lines out loud – see, lines. That’s how it felt. And at the same time, none of the characters took form in my mind’s eye the way they should in a book. It’s like I need to see the play in order to flesh them out.

And sure enough, now that I’ve put the book down and checked, it did become a play not long after. And sure enough, it didn’t work as a play either.

Okay, okay. Frayn is a wonderful writer who has churned out fantastic stuff in many walks of the printed medium. They aren’t all going to be Landings on the Sun. This one’s a bit of a trick, if you ask me. It is hard to put down and yet at the end you feel like the rabbit’s disappeared and you still want to know how.

 

 

 

A Landing on the Sun by Michael Frayn

This piece was written in 2009.

When I read this book I could see nothing in it but the idea that you have been given this gift of life and you have to do the right thing by it. That to give up on finding love and happiness is to scorn this gift.

And yet…maybe the very opposite is true. Maybe what I should have seen is the idea that you should stay where you are, that the miserable life you know is better than the unknown dangers of the happiness and love you could choose to seek.

And yet…maybe it is simply thus: the best whodunnit ever.

There is a sex scene. Even though I’ve read the book twice, I forgot this until rereading it a third time today:

I got back into my own bed. The point is that you raise your hand if you can see someone else with red hair. Serafin raises her hand. Summerchild raises his violin. I raise my trombone. I begin to play with great pleasure. The secret, I discover, is in the long, regular strokes of the slide. I laugh as I play – it’s so easy and so delightful. The sunlight flashes on the bell of the instrument. It swells in the lovely warmth, and pulses, and melts, and all the sweetness of the world comes bursting out…

I am wide awake as I get out of bed this time, and the appallingly cosy warm wetness around my shrinking genitals turns soberly chill as the night air strikes it. I look very levelly at myself in the bathroom mirror as I wait for the water to run warm, and the same old face I went to bed with looks levelly back at me. My beard is trim and grey again, not wild and red. I think we are both shocked and surprised, my face and I. This hasn’t happened to us for a number of years. What’s going on? The great muddle of the world, the great muddle of the past, is reaching out for us, reaching into us, and we don’t like it.

My face has stopped looking at me, though, I realise. I think it’s thinking about something else. About how insidious, how overpowering, how irresistible that forgotten sweetness for one moment was.

Generally I’m pleased that Frayn has so much to say that he can leave the sex altogether for the many writers who face the daunting task of empty pages and not nearly enough to put on them. Yet I read this and think even sex is something he could make better than it is.

Having thought about this book for months, and reread it several times against my own principles, I fail to see an adequate way of reviewing it.

I have this strong sense it is an important book that everybody in the world should read. Perhaps the bottom line is that if you are miserable and wish to stay where you are, it will comfort you. It won’t make you feel less miserable, but it will make you feel like you are better off than the crazy people. If you are miserable and believe that you should seek love and happiness, it will make you see with clarity and certainty that anything is worth that.

And if perchance you are one of those lucky people who is quite content with his lot, you will nonetheless be delighted by a charming and amusing account of human nature.

I have this strong sense that the world would be a better place if everybody read this book. But maybe I have to feel like that, having given up one life in search of another. Mostly I believe in the optimism I took from it. But there are days when I sit and wonder, Jesus, Michael Frayn, what the fuck have you done to me?

On those days I want to reword the definition of happiness as put forward by Summerchild as he and Serafin set upon an investigation into the nature of happiness. Eventually it becomes simple and clear to them. Summerchild says:

I should say that happiness is being where one is and not wanting to be anywhere else.

Yes. To be sure. If you are happy that is so clearly true. And yet….there are these days where I wonder if it is enough to say happiness is not being where you don’t want to be? Would that do instead?