Dear Associates,

I am the literary critical detective.

In my work I examine the mise en scene of classic detective stories carefully, paying attention to the smallest metaphorical detail, sifting through the facts and then distorting them according to my whim.
My friends have been kind enough to express some interest in my observations and so to this end I am making this journal available. I hope that you might also find it of some interest.

The Literary Critical Detective.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Dreaming of Reading Projects

I have never been afraid of long novels or large-scale reading projects.

I have read Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. I have read all of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, albeit in translation. I have read the three volumes of Alan Walker’s immense biography of Liszt.

And, of course, I have read long nineteenth-century novels such as George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

The pleasure of starting a large reading project is not one of intellectual or cultural snobbery. There is no intrinsic correlation between the number of pages a book has and its quality. Nevertheless, there is a joy there.

I have been dreaming recently of other reading projects. One common idea is to set out to read all the works of one author in the order they were published. You could, for instance, plan to read all of Agatha Christie’s 'Poirot' novels in sequence. I suspect, though, that repetition might doom this particular quest for many.

In the last week I have read two stories by Honoré de Balzac: ‘Sarrasine’ and ‘A Passion in the Desert’. I am now half way through the novel Eugénie Grandet.

This last forms part of the author’s great sequence, Comédie humaine or The Human Comedy. This run of connected narratives amounts to ninety or so texts in total.

Such a fact suggests a stunningly immense project: to read all of the novels that form La Comédie humaine. This project would be the work of a lifetime (just as it took Balzac his lifetime to write the books). I suspect it would also be largely impossible. It would certainly be extremely difficult to find English translations of all the novels.

I won’t be starting this reading project. Nevertheless, the very idea of it appeals.

Perhaps I will re-start the Poirot books after all.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Around The World in Eighty Days: A review that is somewhat late.

Whilst it is only a coincidence that I read Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) whilst myself travelling, it is a useful one and has shed some light on the text for me. Allow me to share my thoughts.

I read the first one hundred pages of the novel here, amongst the supposed peace of my study; I read the rest in the real peace of the countryside, the River Wharfe rushing nearby.

I would not have had to pack this book if I had got down to the text quicker. I left on my real-world travels at the appointed hour but had for several days previously been putting off going on Verne’s literary journey.

If it’s true that I read the opening of the novel relatively slowly then it’s also true that I picked up the pace towards the end. This is not insignificant. My own reading speed – created in part, I think, by the pacing and structure of the text itself – mimicked that of its central protagonist, Mr Phileas Fogg. The second half of our hero’s voyage is a lot quicker than the first. For me, then, form and the reading experience mirrored content.

In actual fact I often found myself doing precisely what Fogg himself never does – lifting my eyes from the page and staring out of the window at the world around me. The characters are placed in jeopardy on nearly every page and episode flashes by after episode with the merest turn of the page. Eventually you run out of reading energy.

I would like to argue that what this text requires of you as a reader is a kind of sustained inattention.

The politics of representation in this book are complex. The episodes set in India, China, Japan and America are all problematic in their own ways.

In the end, this is an exciting, funny, absurd and troubling book. I found myself laughing out loud at that moment when the narrator compares Hong Kong to a Kentish town. It is also a little frustrating when Verne chooses to info dump – we are often told how heavy a ship is, for instance.

There is, though, fun to be had here.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Summer Reading in the Winter Garden

Two years ago, during the hot and stormy summer, I began to read that equally stormy and tempestuous novel The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

This work, like all Dostoyevsky’s work, is visionary and hysterical. It exists in a sweltering, sweating heat of paranoia and obsession.

I took to reading this novel in the Winter Gardens in Sheffield which, despite its name, is actually a kind of hothouse full of tropical flora. Here, amongst the ferns and trees, I read about Prince Myshkin and Rogozhin.

I had previously read the author’s Letters from the Underworld in an old paperback edition that I had bought at a local jumble sale for 10 pence. Come to think of it, I bought my copy of The Idiot from a boot fair.

Yesterday, in this high English summer which is really a kind of perpetual autumn, an endless October of rain, I returned to the Winter Gardens to read some of the letters Franz Liszt wrote during his first residence in Weimar (at which point, Dostoyevsky was in prison doing hard labour).

I sat there and read under towering ferns, the great beams of the roof looking like they had been transplanted into reality from China Miéville’s fictional city of New Crobuzon.


What a space in which to read.

Although I like to do my summer reading in the Winter Gardens, I like to do my winter reading in the snug warmth of a parlour, in front of a fire, dreaming of Wuthering Heights and Poirot’s broken central heating.