I’m feeling frightfully smug because I managed to persuade Llew, someone who doesn’t read fiction, to read Ransom. David Malouf’s latest, already mentioned here in an earlier post, is a very poetic reworking of a key event in Homer’s Iliad, and I was sure, I was absolutely positive, that Llew would love it. And I was right. I can’t properly convey the joy of seeing a good book into initially resistant and finally appreciative hands, but I’ll tell you, it’s a good feeling. Looking at Llew sitting up in bed reading, unable to put Malouf’s book down, filled me with a great mix of emotions, but one of them undoubtedly was glee.
I was feeling far less gleeful about my own reading, having just finished Truman Capote’s true crime classic In Cold Blood. I always feel I should read as many of these seminal texts as possible, but I should not read books like this. It’s just bad for my head. Capote masterfully brings the reader into the world and mind of each of the two killers, but you know, they’re spaces I have no wish to inhabit. I can’t help it, I get too involved, and before I know it, I can’t sleep for thinking about these two men. I should point out this same thing happened to Llew when he read one of the only other novels I’ve known him to read in our nearly thirteen years together: Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fiction classic explores the mind of a pathologically self-centred murderer, Raskolnikov, so Crime and Punishment actually has quite a bit in common with Capote’s book, since neither Perry Smith nor Dick Hickock can get over themselves long enough to ever think about another living soul. It’s why they’re so chilling. It’s why I couldn’t sleep thinking about them, and why Llew couldn’t sleep years and years ago thinking about Raskolnikov. Because you can’t help it. These books – one fiction, the other sadly not – are so good you start seeing things from the killer’s point of view. However reluctant your approach, inevitably you reach something close to understanding, and that undeniable knowledge, the awful truth of what lurks within the heart of humanity, is truly horrifying.
It’s kind of spooked me.
So now I’ve fled into the relative safety of Ulysses, which I started rereading a while ago with a view to experiencing it without the thesis taint hanging in the air. I thought that whole doctoral-hell-when-will-it-end-please-make-it-stop thing really soiled it for me first time round. But what I’ve discovered and am slightly embarrassed to confess is that it wasn’t relating Ulysses to the work of Don DeLillo that was hard after all, it was Ulysses itself.
Man. May I be frank? I think it’s an unremitting slog! Yes, yes, the best novel every written – and it is unbelievably erudite, a real tour de force of intellectual agility, no question – yes, yes, I worship at the temple as faithfully as any reader/writer, but sheesh! Talk about applying myself – it really feels like work – hard work at that. Is it bad admitting that? It feels bad. It feels sacrilegious. But it’s true. I feel tired just thinking about it. And now I’ve started actively avoiding it. Oops, I left my book at home! Oh no, it’s in the other room, and I’m just so toasty and warm in bed! Drat, I could’ve sworn I had it with me! It’s terrible. Shocking. The book knows I’m fibbing, too. It has a very stern, reproachful air whenever I dart past. Back soon! I cry. Liar, it hisses.
Of course, this all makes me feel like the biggest lightweight in history. But my guilty secret is a secret no longer. Now you know. I’m the sort of person who runs away from James Joyce like he’s chasing me.