Sunday, 17 May 2009

Starting a new book by the canal. By the canal, sitting there in bright midday sunshine, I began to read a new novel. Taking the book in my hands, sitting by the water's edge, having walked through the park and over the rickety bridge, I began to read it for the first time. I have three new books, but this is the first that I have started with the intention of truly beginning to read.

The canal is not conducive to this. On days like this there are too many people. Groups of men holding loud conversations, pairs of women pushing prams, boats heaving with anxious tourists craning their necks at every bridge. So, first readings like this, or indeed any readings, the reading of any book no matter whether old or new, is not easy to do at the canal. There are the ducks squabbling loudly, the occasional noises as a fish (presumed, never seen) breaks the surface of the water, gliding swans or little, chirping wrens. Many distractions are at the canal, by the waters edge, that can prevent an enjoyable reading, first or otherwise.

This is the second new book I have begun this week, but the first at the canal. Jack London's The Star Rover and Anna Politkovskaya's A Dirty War. Two very different books, written some ninety years apart, but not without similarity, regardless of the setting of a first reading. Whether read at home on the sofa waiting for espresso to boil over onto the stove, or by the canal, with all the distractions of people and chattering birds, there are similarities.

Both are essentially collections of short stories, guided by the desire to work towards a premise. Both feature deliberate confoundational thought as a primary driver for the narrative. Both tap into histories and decree them as essential knowledge instantly forgotten by actions. Both are about forgetting. Both choose death as an instrument against memory. Both delineate landscapes as enclosures not vistas. Both undermine the associations of men, the deceptive politics of factions. Both doubt bureaucracy's harmlessness. Both deny time. Both set themselves as victims of a future and catalysts for a past. Both feature photographs of isolated individuals on the cover. Both feature extensive forewords and introductions as though the depth of the words within are too real to be allowed to encounter a person unchaperoned. Both know crime. Both illustrate violence and cruelty as a product of one, male gender. Both outrage at complicity and can do nothing about it. Both provide schematics of entirely remarkable collusions and confidentialities, threatful bargainings that distort an already murky process. Both are about forgetting. Both choose death as an instrument against memory. Neither means anything to the other, whether read at the canal or not.

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