That is the illusion of all writers, the belief that people open our books and read them from start to finish, holding their breath and barely pausing. (from p. 366 of Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear, Javier Marías, 2002, tr. Margaret Julia Costa)
In context, this quotation is a bit of a joke. The narrator of this Javier Marías novel is the one who barely pauses, who spills out words breathlessly, literally, I guess, since he is writing, but the speakers in the novel seem to have the same problem with digressions, qualifiers, and finding a place to end their flow of words. I have trouble imagining the reader who reads this exhausting novel without pause, without many good long restorative pauses.
And then I have to consider that this novel is the first of a trilogy, the latter volumes of which may be much like this one in their discursiveness and sly concealments. Many people are in fact reading it right now, as I type, possibly this very instant, as part of a Caravana de Recuerdos readalong opportunity. The plan of many, and of me, too, is to read all three novels this summer, one each month, although they were published years apart from each other, in 2002, 2004 and 2007. Perhaps a wiser reader would allow a little more space between the books. Perhaps a more deliberate pace would allow me to be a better reader of Marías.
I say this not because I believe I read the Marías novel badly, although it is a tricky devil, but because I had actually planned to spend this week, or most of it, writing about a really substantial and brilliant book, Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (1867). Unlike, oh, I don’t know, Life in the Far West by George Frederick Ruxton, Ibsen’s long verse play is enormously complex and obviously worth attentive re-reading. I am reading Ibsen’s book with great pleasure, but I am also reading it badly.
Confused, fragmented, distracted, jittery – that’s how I am reading it. When I began Peer Gynt, it was so immediately rich and juicy that I had assumed that a series of posts would suggest themselves. And they have, oh they have – a series of banal posts, any number of tedious and bad ideas. I am not merely reading badly but thinking badly, although I suspect the one is the same as the other.
I am taking too long to finish Peer Gynt, I know that – it deserves a bit of breath-holding. But then I look at The Frigate Pallada by Ivan Goncharov (1858), the author of Oblomov. I have been reading this travel book about a Russian diplomatic expedition to Japan for three months, and am not half done. It’s a wonderful book, but it feels entirely natural to slip into it now and again, to follow Goncharov’s account of a day or a week and set it aside. The events of the book covers a couple of years, so I will read about them faster than Goncharov lived them. I feel that I am reading The Frigate Pallada fairly well; I am sure I am reading Peer Gynt badly.
Not that I have identified any sort of guideline – books in Category Alpha should be read with Technique Aleph. Nonsense. Books are full of surprises. Peer Gynt surprises me on every page. With luck a second reading will suggest an order to my thoughts, or perhaps another book, or another Ibsen play, will teach me to read it and think about it.
The danger of worrying about this issue at all is that it could very well mean the end of book blogs. If I began to think too hard about what I have written here, for example - where’s that Publish button? Where’s that dang – oh, there it is.