You know that game – which five people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party? I wonder, if you did a poll, what percentage of the invitees would be writers? I’d bet at least 50%, probably higher (certainly higher in my friendship groups).
We have a special relationship with our favourite authors, even more than with our favourite books, I think. I mean, I think Catch–22 is one of the great books, certainly one of my favourites, but I wouldn’t call Joseph Heller one of my favourite authors. In fact, I’ve still not got around to reading any of his other books. But our favourites – the Margaret Atwood-Michael Chabon-David Mitchell-Andrei Makine-Haruki Murakami-David Foster Wallaces – of our worlds, they’re different. They enter a kind of imaginary friend zone in our lives. Sometimes you agree with them, sometimes you don’t, sometimes they perfectly express the world as you see it and think it should be, sometimes they’re frustratingly disappointing. Sometimes they swing from one to the other so fast you don’t know what you think about them any more, but always, you love them and want them to succeed at what they’re trying to do. It’s why you’d want to have them round to dinner.
And our relationships with them run like our relationships with the people who become our great friends too.
There’s that heady rush of first acquaintance. The ohmigosh-i-think-you’ve-blown-my-mind-you-never-stop-being-in-my-life-ness that has the potential to go so very wrong as well as so very right. The breath of fresh air that might bring a couple of chills with it; good chills and not-so-good chilliness; because you’re still getting to know them and sometimes things work for you and sometimes they don’t – and if they’re a first time author that can get bigger on both ends of the spectrum as they’re still bolting out of the gate of this whole book-writing thing and things are still a little rough around the edges (Hai, The Edible Woman).
Then there’s that deepening the friendship, second-book phase – the one that’ll make or break your relationship (I’m looking at you, Dave Eggers, and the difference between AHWOSG and You Shall Know Our Velocity). Oftentimes, no matter how good the book, your relationship with the author might get a little scratchy because it’s never quite the same as that first heady rush, and that’s sometimes irrationally disappointing – initially. With Murakami, I read Dance, Dance, Dance and then Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World in quick succesion, the first of which blew me away and the second left me slightly cold, first time around – second time around, that completely reversed – because the mind-blowing newness wasn’t there any more. This is where you make a decision about whether this is one of those authors that you can take or leave, or one of those authors you absolutely can’t leave.
And then comes the third, I-properly-love-your-writing stage. The Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban third book seals the deal moment. The no-really-you-were-as-good-as-I-thought-first-time-round point of no return, when your long-term relationship begins. From here you might go down (Margaret Atwood, I still don’t get Life Before Man, I’m sorry) or you might go up (and find yourself sobbing into your pillow at 1am over The Reverse of the Medal), but actually you’re not going anywhere. You’re in, and messing around with the guest list for your imaginary dinner party.
This is all by the way of saying that I finished Nick Harkaway’s third novel, Tigerman last night. I picked up his first, The Gone-Away World after following him on twitter for a while, about five years ago, and it really was a case of, ‘Oh, bai socks, didn’t need you anyway, it’s only WINTER IN GERMANY.’ Then came Angelmaker, which I read in about two days, and which I really really enjoyed, but didn’t love in the same way, because it just wasn’t quite The Gone-Away World. I’ll be re-reading it soon though, and I anticipate my affection growing, Hard-Boiled Wonderland… style (that book really is quite something, btw, you should read it). And now there is Tigerman
It took me longer than it should have for the quality of the book, mostly because I was un-deliberately savouring it. I kept pausing to rest with it, to let my brain dance around the edges, enjoy the slow burn, and, towards the end, howl at the moonlight as I got sucker-punched and ended up sprawled all over the floor making whimpering noises about authors not playing fair with foliage references (really, you have to read it). It’s wild, and rich, and from the out the indescrible something in the writing meant I knew I’d feel completely safe no matter where the adventure went, because I trusted the end of it would be thoroughly satisfying.
And it was.
But more than that. After a month or so of struggling to read anything, having been stymied by a couple of books that felt like wading through sludge, or write anything more full-bodied than a set of bullet points, I feel like my brain’s got its mojo back. I want to read aaaalll of the things, and write aaaaalll of the ideas. So I’m going to go off and do that.