The sweet sense of elsewhere
WHATa pleasure to have summer holidays in our sights and to be free to indulge in the eminently allowable vice of reading. This year I have finished fewer books than usual and my festive stack is fat with the likes of Colm Toibin, John Banville, Anita Desai and Tom Keneally. I hope they all rub along OK in the sultry heat and gritty sand — I can’t wait to get my hands on them.
In our summer reading special, we’re delighted to have AAGill, Jan Morris and Pico Iyer in the mix. Morris ruminates on her Booker prize-shortlisted Letters from Hav (1985) in which she invented a city —‘‘I imagined it, imprecisely, as being somewhere on an eastern Mediterranean coast’’ — and did so with such vibrancy and depth of detail that travellers demanded their agents book them instant passage. The Booker (now the oddsounding Man Booker) is an annual prize for fiction, of course, which upset her readers all the more — how could she have made up somewhere so seemingly real?
It is a fabulous read and I thought of it while enjoying Michael Frayn’s Skios, which is my favourite book of the year, without contest, and is also set in an imaginary destination, but one I would adore to visit. This novel of comic hyperbole revolves around mistaken identities, mostly involving playboy Oliver Fox, set against the ridiculously highbrow Fred Toppler Foundation. Can Fox, a rogue impostor, really deliver a lecture on Innovation and Governance: The Promise of Scientometrics?
In similarly eccentric vein, the tremendously pompous Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld has been back in Alexander McCall Smith’s Unusual Uses for Olive Oil, based in the (real) Bavarian city of Regensburg. But whether books ferry us to actual or imagined places, the journey is the thing — that untethered lightness of transformation and escape.
We look forward to bringing you many thousands of transporting words next year — we will be back on January 19. Happy holidays.
Whether books ferry us to actual or imagined places, the journey is the thing