As I write this in the bookshop, a man is walking to and fro outside the door speaking loudly on one of those ridiculous hands-free gadgets that make you look as if you are shouting at yourself. Even more annoying, he has now just stopped right outside the door so that on-one can get in but is, of course, completely oblivious to this! I may be more irritable than usual on this never-in-your-worst-nightmare day but – unbelievable! (I just complained of this to JAM and she says she does it all the time outside the shop next door…)
Anyway, to get the annoying things out of the way, one of my gripes this week has been WHERE HAVE ALL THE EDITORS GONE? I have just read The Nix, a debut novel by Nathan Hill. I actually quite enjoyed it, at least I finished it: it reminded me a bit of The Goldfinch but I hated that and this is much better except… It comes in at about 600 pages but could have been so much better at half that length. This, I thought, is where the editor comes in, but apparently not or we would not have to read literally pages of unbroken prose detailing the death of an elf in the computer world of Elfscape or the inner thoughts of a phone obsessed student, both stories largely irrelevant to the greater scheme of the thing.
But it is not just this novel that has suffered for the lack of the Editor’s art: it only too common, as if a book cannot possibly be any good if it is less than 500 pages and is crammed full of the author’s interests and self-conceits. That is why another dispassionate eye is necessary along with a hand wielding a very large red pen to obliterate flights of fancy that should never, ever be transferred from the brain to the page.
Happily, there are people who are masters of the art of writing all by themselves. Such a one is Brigid Brophy, whose book, The King of the Rainy Country, we are reading for book group today. It was written in the late 1950s with spare dialogue and description but so beautifully rendered that one is immediately transported to bohemian London and sun-drenched Italy.
We have just had our book group and The King of A Rainy Country was universally acknowledged as a very good read. I actually consider it a great read. Next month it is Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm.
We also shook our heads in despair at the forthcoming day’s events but cheered ourselves up with thoughts of books, films and kittens.