Parodies & Pastiches

MOTORMAN BY DAVID OHLE

1.

Night times. Night man in the nightmare house.

The Kid blew orange smoke from wheezing mouth. The house didnotfalldown.

But he almost did.

2.

He had read Motorman. Read it twice, The Kid. It’s short on almost everything. It’s not a novel, he’d told Beagle. It has no pulse.

He thought about Moldenke, but what he thought was mysterious.

3.

“Listen up, jackass.”

“I’m listening.”

“That Moldenke,” said Beagle.

“…”

4.

That Moldenke, it is written, is puzzled, it is stated, by almost every phenomena.

He is likened, please note, to a rat.

Also: a brightly burning candle with a shortened wick, destined to burn low and give off gas.

5.

The phone rang in The Kid’s blue apartment.

“Listen, kid, give up this Moldenke business.”

“Hello? Can I help you?”

“Don’t be a jackass.”

6.

Bunce is the key; only the key is made of jelly.

And the lock is broken.

7.

With concentrated thought, The Kid tried to drown out the midnight drone, which itself was drowning out the scuttling of the night man as he ranged about the room. Bunce, he told himself, is in control. Of the lighting and of Moldenke. He tells Moldenke to do things, like put his hand in his pocket.

Reflexively, The Kid put his own hand in his pocket.

He rummaged around, and brought up air.

8.

Beagle had sent The Kid a questionnaire:

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The Kid considered these questions, unanswered.

9.

The world of Motorman, the two suns, the air.

The dying wind.

The artificial, the month, the mock war.

The resemblance to something like sky.

10.

Bunce wants blood. Or might want it.

Like the night man with Weetabix hair.

The unpinning threat of violence.

11.

The Kid called Beagle.

“Bunceresidence.”

He hung up the phone.

12.

Two days later he flicked on the TV. Beagle facing front:

“There’s a lot of weirdness, kid. A lot of odd shit. Don’t let yourself brood. Maybe you’re not meant to understand, huh? You thought of that? So there are jellymen, so what. Maybe you misdialled, huh? Maybe you got the wrong number? The wrong face in the crowd? Stop shouting out names in the hope that someone will turn around. Move on, Moldenke.”

AUTOPORTRAIT BY EDOUARD LEVE

I have read a lot of French novels in my lifetime, many of which I consider to be amongst my favourites. Two of these French novels were written by Edouard Levé. I have never had a sexually transmitted disease. I once thought that I might have one, but the test result was negative. I own a cat, but I prefer dogs. I believe that my cat and I are too similar in terms of our personalities. I often think about giving up reading. This would of course mean that I would not read any more French novels, including those written by Edouard Levé. It is a fantasy of mine that I will do more with my life than just read. I once spent a day with a beautiful Russian girl from Sochi who gave me a 100 rouble note to remember her by. I keep it in my wallet. People frequently accuse me of being aloof and distant. I am scared of spiders, but not scared of rats or snakes. It is rare that I enjoy writing about books. I decided to write about Autoportrait in this way out of laziness, and because I do not have a lot to say about it. I am not very generous with money. The company and conversation of most people bores me, including many of my friends. As a child, I once threw away all of my mother’s make up because I thought it might have been tested on animals. I have a tendency to focus on my character flaws, even though outwardly I appear confident and sure of myself. Generally speaking, I am not attracted to white English women. The prospect of my own death terrifies me. One thing I can say about Autoportrait is that it is composed of a series of banal, apparently factual, statements. This is itself a banal factual statement. I do not own a TV. I once let a spider live in my room because it appeared to flinch when I went to kill it. It is possible that I later killed it believing it to be a different spider. I lost my virginity at eighteen. I once drank a pint of tequila and almost died. As a result, I did not drink tequila for years, until a Czech girl ordered it for me in a nightclub in Prague. I do not speak Czech, and therefore I could not communicate to her my aversion to that particular drink. I am convinced that if I met myself I would despise me. I do not believe in God, but I often pray to him and ask favours of him. I do not know how to spell bureaucracy. As a child, I once fell in a river and had to be pulled out by my hair. I found reading Autoportrait an emotional experience. Although individually many of the sentences are uninspired, when taken as a whole Levé’s novel gives you a sense of a real man. It may be the only novel in existence that does this. Having read the book I feel as though I simultaneously know a lot about Edouard Levé and nothing at all. I have never cheated on a partner, although I have been accused of it numerous times. I am left-handed. I know all the words to Stickwitu by The Pussycat Dolls. If asked to sum up Autoportrait I would perhaps say that it is a kind of autobiography with all the important events, all the drama, edited out. I feel as though I consistently punch above my weight in terms of the women I date. I have never kissed a man, and have no desire to do so. I cannot whistle. I have never cried at a funeral. The idea behind Autoportrait is a great one, but I usually find this kind of ‘gimmicky’ literature tedious to read. I am addicted to cigarettes. I smoke cigarettes even though I hated the smell of cigarette smoke as a child. I smoke cigarettes even though I am terrified of death. I did not smoke a cigarette until I was twenty-two. Edouard Levé sniffed the books he was reading, but I do not. However, I did sniff Autoportrait in preparation for this review. It doesn’t smell of anything, except perhaps cigarette smoke. I smoke a lot while I am reading. I was once locked in a bathroom when the handle of the bathroom door came off in my hand as I attempted to exit. I seriously considered jumping out of the window, even though, being far from the ground, I would likely have badly injured myself. I masturbate every day. When I masturbate I usually think about receiving oral sex. Autoportrait is not one of my favourite novels, although I certainly enjoyed it. I once had sex in a photobooth in Paddington station. I brush my teeth three times a day. My favourite Kraftwerk album is Computer World. I find the minutiae of human existence moving. I am 5’9″ tall. I am 5’9″ tall, in the right kind of shoes. My waist is 26″. I do not enjoy live music. I find the posturing of most musicians ridiculous. I have never wanted to play the guitar. I have eight tattoos. I want my hands tattooing, but I am concerned that it would harm my job prospects. I regularly fantasise about winning the lottery. I do not play the lottery. Autoportrait occasionally made me laugh, but most frequently it made me smile. I have never smoked marijuana. I do not like the idea of a drug that would make me sit around on my arse all day laughing like an idiot. I like to dance. I am not shy, I am just unfriendly. I believe that I may be Autistic. My ex-grilfriend’s nickname for me was Rainman. After reading two of his books I am still undecided as to whether Edouard Levé was a genuinely talented writer, or merely a clever one. I consider myself to be unlucky. I find the fetishisation of books, and the cult of reading, extremely tiresome and, quite frankly, weird. I have never wanted to meet a famous person. If I had been offered the opportunity to meet Edouard Levé, I would have turned it down. I read Autoportrait cover-to-cover. I do not own a single photograph showing me with any of my friends or ex-partners. It is not true to say that Autoportrait is a random series of sentences in no discernible order. The final sentence, for example, strikes me as having been carefully chosen. I won an award at the age of sixteen for a short story I had written. I did not go to the ceremony to collect the award. I am more excited by the idea that Autoportrait could be entirely fictional, rather than factual or autobiographical. I would not describe the book as confessional, although my review of it perhaps is. I do not enjoy making other people unhappy. I often find that I enjoy my memory of experiences more than the experiences themselves. I have never seen the Lord of the Rings films. I frequently burn pizza. At some point I intend to review Autoportrait in a more conventional manner, but I probably never will. I have fired a gun. I intensely dislike my brother. My mother loves me, but does not like me very much. I believe that I write better book reviews than anyone else. I do not think that I am especially talented, simply that other writers and reviewers are less talented than me. I do, however, acknowledge that this review is particularly poor, and am prepared to accept that numerous other people will have reviewed Autoportrait better than I.

THE DEVIL TO PAY IN THE BACKLANDS BY JOAO GUIMARAES ROSA

Do you believe, sir? In him, I mean. Not God, no; not God. The other one. The dark one. Prince of Darkness? Yes, I have heard him called that. And many other things. You’re a learned man, sir; I can tell…your clothes…you have money, of course, and no one makes money in this world without either education or spilling blood. Or both, perhaps. So you tell me, what should one call him? Or is it better not to call him, for in calling one might make him appear? No, I have never met him, but talk to people around here and you will hear all kinds of stories. If you were to believe them it would seem as though he has settled in these parts, like a vulture sitting in a pindaiba tree, its beady black eyes following the slow progress of an injured animal, waiting for the right time to swoop.

Yes, you’re an educated man…the way you speak, I can tell. So you must read, sir? A silly question; of course you read. There’s a book, maybe you have heard of it: Grande Sertão. A difficult book, they say. In English it is called The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. A better title, I agree. The devil, sir, raising his scaly head again. One cannot avoid him, it seems. And what about the backlands…the backlands of Brazil…the sertão…and the poor bastards who inhabit it? There is much to say about that, certainly. The sertão it is inside you, so says Riobaldo the jagunço. You don’t inhabit it, it inhabits you. The sertão cannot be subdued, it itself subdues. Do you understand me, sir? Wait, not me, no: Riobaldo, the white rattlesnake. I am not he, just as you, sir, are not the devil. Do you understand?

“All who ride high and handsome in the sertão hold the reigns for a short time only: they find they are riding a tiger.”

What is war, sir? Please forgive my boldness, but I want to know what you think. Is it a dirty business? The worst of the worst that man is capable of? The Devil to Pay in the Backlands begins with gunshots. I am telling this wrong, in the wrong order, even though I am starting at the beginning. Grande Sertão opens with gunshots, but it is not war, only Riobaldo, Tatarana, target-shooting down by the creek. What do you make of that? It’s important, sir, I believe. It suggests both war and peace; first one, then the other. It tells you something about the book, about its themes, and about Riobaldo, also. He does this everyday, he says. He enjoys it, unloading a gun.

The sertão? I haven’t forgotten. How could I forget? Bear with me, please. The book is full of fighting and violence. In the backlands…the sertão. I fired and saw the skull fly into pieces, says Riobaldo the jagunço, the bandit. He shoots to kill, they all shoot to kill…the jagunços, as they skip along the surface of the world. Do you understand, sir? This is it: Grande Sertão. The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. War in the backlands of Brazil! Jagunço against Jagunço! It troubled me., sir, I must admit. I had expected war, but thought that it would be jagunço against politico, outlaw against authority. Only, no, it wasn’t like that at all. Backlander against backlander. Poor man against poor man. And to what purpose? For what reason?

cangaço1.png

To the untrained eye, Grand Sertao is really just an old fashioned western; it is a vengeance play. A great man is killed, and he must be avenged. Ok. What of it? This is not the point. Justice, sir, no, that is not the point. There is some talk, in the book, of civilising the backlands, of civilising the people, as though that is the reason for the war. Ok. But, no, this is not the point either. Are you following me? There are double-crosses. Chiefs change, people change sides. There is no order, no sense to it all, to life in the backlands. Lawlessness. Instability. One moment someone is your comrade, your ally, the next they are your enemy. And do you hate them? Did you love them before? Yes or no? Or does none of that really matter? Do you just do what you do, because you must do it, because what else is there, what hope of a better life? Ah, yes, I believe that this is the point, sir.

Yes, this is the life of the jagunço; this is what it means to be of the sertão. Wretched mindlessness. Mindless wretchedness. Or perhaps that is too harsh. Riobaldo tells the story of Pedro Pindo’s young son, Valtei, who was ‘mean and cruel as all get-out.’ A ‘little monster’ who liked to kill. His parents beat him to drive out the wickedness, to drive out the devil, you might say. Yet after a time they came to enjoy it, by which I mean the beatings, beating their child. What do you say to that, sir? What does that tell you about the people of the sertão? Or people in general? I am losing my way a little, being too specific. Examples are a dead-end. The sertão, Riobaldo says, is where the strong and the shrewd call the tune. Ok. But what of the lepers? The wretched? They are there too, ‘living in hopes of not dying.’  

The backlands are cruel, sir, that much is clear. With poverty, and without hope, comes immense suffering. Yes, that much is clear. But the sertão, it is unclear. What, really, is it? It is not, I think, so literal, so that one can measure it, from here to here, from boundary to boundary. It is boundless. That is the impression Riobaldo gave me, that the sertão is as much in the mind as under one’s feet. In fact, doesn’t he say: the sertão is everywhere? It is endless. And it is cruel, yes, but beautiful too. This we learn from Diodorim. A river falling down, all eagerness, foaming and boiling; the bright fog over Serra dos Confins; hoarfrost collecting on the backs of cattle; a hot gust of wind passing through the fronds of a palm tree. I could go on, sir? The jaguars, the parrots, the croaking frogs. Wretchedness and loveliness; war and peace; devilishness and Godliness. Isn’t this life, sir?

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The coin always has two faces. The Devil to Pay in the Backlands is a story of war and brutality on one side, and love on the other. Ah, Diodorim! Otacilia too, but let’s forget her, sir. Diodorim…Reinaldo…that man ‘like a soft haze’ who Riobaldo, Urutu-Branco, loves ‘more than is fitting for a friend.’ Have you ever felt that way for another man, sir? Riobaldo, a jagunço, a bandit, an outlaw, the most manliest of occupations…and he, what, a homosexual? No, bisexual, for he also loves Otacilia and sleeps with numerous whores. And what of Diodorim? He too? Both men, and both jagunços. Well, sir, I found that most surprising. Let’s be honest, in the hands of a lesser writer it might have been ridiculous…too hard to swallow. To pull it off requires skill.

But let me tell you, you believe it, sir. You believe in it. In their love, a love never consummated. Moreover, it adds further depth, to Riobaldo. Diodorim, no, he is fairly one dimensional throughout, but Riobaldo…what a character. A man wracked with doubts, not only about his sexuality, but about his courage, his abilities too. A man who is engaged in the constant questioning of himself, his life, his actions and his place in the world. The coin with two faces; a man has two faces….this man. The intelligent bandit, the fearless coward, the womanising homosexual. But one thing troubled me, sir, for there is a lot of talk in the book about God and about the devil, about how certain inclinations, certain actions, are the responsibility of one or the other. Two faces. So was João Guimarães Rosa suggesting that homosexual desires are the work of Satan? I hope not, sir, but that did cross my mind. More likely the point is that this is how Riobaldo would see it, would understand his desires, for he too, in spite of all his intelligence, is part of the sertão. Reason and superstition. Two faces.

“Doesn’t everyone sell his soul? I tell you, sir: the devil does not exist, there is no devil, yet I sold him my soul. That is what I am afraid of. To whom did I sell it? That is what I am afraid of, my dear sir: we sell our souls, only there is no buyer.”

What does it mean to be a good man? I keep asking you questions, sir. I apologise, but I must continue in this way. A man cannot always answer himself, his own questions. Riobaldo’s narration takes place after these events, of course, after the war, and how does he feel about it all? About all the killing and wretchedness? What does he feel? Not regret, no, but guilt. He is a man with a guilty conscience. In that he is different from the other jagunços. Maybe that is progress, sir? Intellectual, emotional progress. Is that how the sertão will change and prosper, when each man suffers at the hands of his conscience for the evil that he commits? Perhaps. So all that talk about the devil and about God, it makes sense. Who is your master, who is driving the cart? God…or the other one?

Riobaldo is in turmoil, for he doesn’t know who has his hands on the reigns. He is, as I said, for all his intelligence, still of the sertão, he has only dragged himself halfway out of the swamp…and so he sees signs in everything, sees the devil’s work in the world. The big question, the book’s ultimate question, is this: does he exist. Does the devil exist, sir? That is what Riobaldo, Tatarana, repeats, over and over. Does he exist? And, more importantly, can he take responsibility for some of my actions? Ah. Yes, that is it. Can I blame him! Isn’t that what Riobaldo wants? He wants to save his soul, he wants to not go to Hell, of course, but, really, truly, what he wants is for someone to shoulder the blame for the deaths, the blood that flowed.

To his credit João Guimarães Rosa leaves the question unanswered. The question, sir, of whether he exists, the devil, I mean. There is a point in the narrative, when Riobaldo ascends to power and takes on the name: Urutu-Branco. The white rattlesnake. That is surely a symbol, sir, of….for him. The Cursed One. And there are other hints and suggestions, that…Has Riobaldo sold his soul? Did he, that night at the crossroads….ah, once again, so brilliantly Joao handles this scene, for there is no sulphur, no goat-legs, no contract…there is nothing but one man, Riobaldo, alone. Isn’t that the truth, sir? Tell me, please. Isn’t that the truth of the world? That he doesn’t exist, that really it is just you, alone? You, miserable human, with all your flaws. Who is responsible, sir? That is my final question, that is the reason I came to these crossroads tonight myself, to ask you this, and once and for all hear the answer: who is driving the cart?

EXERCISES IN STYLE BY RAYMOND QUENEAU

Thoughtful

My reaction to books like Raymond Queneau’s Exercises In Style is comparable to my reaction when faced with certain works of conceptual, or modern, art, such as, for example, Martin Kippenberger’s Wittgenstein. What I mean by this is that the enjoyment I derive from them is superficial, is immediate but not long-lasting; in fact, I tend to find equal or greater enjoyment in the concepts or ideas being described to me as I do in experiencing them myself.

To my mind, the most basic pre-requisite for any good novel is that once you’ve picked it up it makes you want to continue reading it. However, Exercises in Style did quite the opposite: it implored me to put it down. The preface has it that ‘[The author’s] purpose in the Exercises is, I think, a profound exploration into the possibilities of language. It is an experiment in the philosophy of language.’ A profound exploration into the possibilities of language? Come on. It’s clever at best; a Nabokov wet-dream.

Professional journalism

Raymond Queneau’s critically acclaimed novel, Exercises in Style, is like Martin Kippenberger’s Wittgentstein dancing the mazurka with Vladimir Nabokov, while trapped in a lift.

Sarcastic

Oh it is really great. Absolutely thrilling too. I cannot think of a single book that has entertained me quite as much as Exercises in Style. Didn’t bore me at all, oh no.  Made me think of Kippenberger’s Wittgenstein, which is the highest compliment I can pay anything, because that shelving unit is mind-blowing. I mean, just…wow. I could stare at it for hours, while contemplating the meaning of the universe. That’s how profound a statement it is…a shelving unit, painted grey. Well, fuck me sideways. Nabokov would probably have got a huge kick out of it. I know he liked Exercises in Style. Vlad had impeccable taste. He hated Faulkner, for a start, who was obviously rubbish. Old Bill could only have dreamt of writing something with as much substance as Queneau’s novel. What is The Sound and The Fury? Complete pap, obviously. He should have written a book in 99 different styles, and then maybe he would have the same lofty reputation as the author of this masterpiece.

Auditory

Gay Erotica

I fondled the cover, pressing lightly with the tips of my fingers, before gently pulling the book apart until it opened wide. I entered it slowly, almost tentatively sliding inside, trying to control my breathing. As I found my rhythm, I worked my way in deeper and deeper. Metaphorical!, Raymond screamed. I quickened my pace, pushed on harder and harder. Free verse! Sweat appeared on my brow. It rolled down my face and dripped onto a page. Ah-ah-ah-asides! I was starting to think Raymond was enjoying this more than I was. I thought of Martin, that difficult German with whom I’d once had the briefest of flings.

Tweet

@RaymondQueneau Just finished your book #shit

Poetry

O Raymond, Raymond Queneau,
I read your little book, y’know.
I wish I hadn’t bothered though.
O Raymond, Raymond Queneau!

O Raymond, Raymond Queneau,
Should’ve learned my lesson long ago,
For I’ve never been a fan of Oulipo.
O Raymond, Raymond Queneau!

Telegraphic

RAYMOND QUENEAU STOP

Horror

I was once lost in the dark, foreboding corridors of a German art gallery. My heart beating with fear, I turned a corner and there saw, not a genuine work of art, but a shelving unit…painted fog-grey. O Martin Kippenberger! What monstrous urge compelled you to create such a thing? What madness? I stumbled before the great grey beast, which loomed over me like a nightmare…and then I ran, sure that it was chasing me, and ever gaining ground.

As the years passed I put my experience in the German art gallery down to an overactive imagination. Until the night I opened Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style. There is was again! The grey shelving unit. O of course it wasn’t actually there on the page, but it was still there, don’t you see? The shelving unit leapt from the book and bore down on me, like an ugly old house, in which something evil lurks, something horribly reminiscent of…boredom. I tried to clap it shut, but my hands would not move; there was a resistance coming from the book itself. Suddenly a voice rang out in my room: You must finish it! It is a profound exploration into the possibilities of language. It is an experiment in the philosophy of language!

Pictorial

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Formal

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you regarding my recent experience of reading Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau. I had been promised ‘a profound exploration into the possibilities of language,’ which this product entirely failed to deliver. Therefore, I consider it my duty to compose a review of the book in question in order to highlight its many faults. In doing so I hope to warn other potential readers against making the kind of rash and ill-informed purchase that I did myself.

Yours sincerely,

[P]

Crude

This book is fucking shit.

Crude [third person]

He thought the book was fucking shit.

JACQUES THE FATALIST BY DENIS DIDEROT

It is interesting to me how, as we become increasingly, almost aggressively, secular, many people still believe in fate and…

– What is this?

Excuse me?

– You’re meant to be reviewing Jacques the Fatalist.

Are you telling me how to review, Reader? I’m getting to Jacques. I’m doing what is known as ‘setting the scene’ and interruptions are only going to prolong it and therefore exacerbate your impatience. 

– Do hurry. I don’t have time for this.

I will take my own sweet time, and arrive at my destination when I am good and ready. You are free to leave, if you have more important things to do. What was I saying? Yada yada yada, believe in fate and, ah yes, destiny. I find this perplexing, because if the world is ordered in such a way, if your life is fated to follow a course from which it cannot be…

– God, this is boring.

Please be quiet! I can’t write the review in any other way; it is written up above that I will write the review the way I am writing it. It is fated that the review will be as it is, and your constant interruptions will do nothing to change that!

– But aren’t my interruptions also fated to be, then? Aren’t they also written up above?

That’s a good point, I hadn’t thought of that. But then it is also written up above that I will tell you to shut up and let me get on with my review and that you will accede.

– You wish!  

If the world is fated, if your life is meant to unfold along pre-determined lines, it suggests that something or someone is responsible, that someone made these decisions, that there is an ultimate controller. You hear all the time things such as ‘it was meant to be be!’ or ‘it was fate!’ and yet a large proportion of the people making these declarations would laugh in your face if you asked them if they believed in a divine force, a divine controller, a God.

– Shouldn’t you be telling me about your childhood or something equally personal? 

Eh? You want to hear the story of my childhood?

– God, no. I’ve had quite enough of that. Tell the readers about how the novel, you know the one you’re meant to be reviewing, is a baby Tristram Shandy, that it is similarly anecdotal and digressive. Or how the central relationship, the master and Jacques, is part of a lineage of literary double acts, such as Sancho Panza and Don Quixote. Or…

Ack, who is boring who now?

– Am I wrong?

No, you’re not wrong. It’s worth mentioning, I guess. And I suppose I ought to tell them about how the reader is a character in Diderot’s novel, and how the reader interrupts the author [who maintains, by the way, that Jacques the Fatalist isn’t a novel] with questions and opinions?

– Just like me!

Yes, but perhaps not as frequently as you are doing. In any case, maybe I should also tell the readers how Diderot appears to ‘compose’ or plot the novel, or the not-novel, as he goes, as you are reading it, that he openly demonstrates his authorial eminence by admitting that he can make his characters do whatever he likes?

– That’d be a start, yes. 

Jacques the Fatalist is, in this way, a clear precursor to Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night and O’Brien’s At Swim Two Birds. This displays…

– I rate both of those books. 

Gah, listen, have you heard the story, Reader, about the man who couldn’t stop interrupting?

– No, is it funny?

Probably not. I once knew a man and he couldn’t stop interrupting…

– That makes sense, what with you saying that this is going to be a story about a man who could not stop interrupting.

Quite. Anyway, he could not help himself. He would ‘butt in’ whenever he could, in any circumstances; not only during conversations that he was a part of himself, but the conversations of total strangers; and not only that, but he would interrupt anyone who was engaged in any kind of business at all.

– When they were on the toilet?

What?

– You said when engaged in any kind of business. I thought that was a euphemism.

Christ, man, do give it a rest! But, yes, goddamn it, when one was on the toilet, even then he would burst in and interrupt you as you went about your business. This man couldn’t help himself, as I said; he had to interrupt, to involve himself in some way in everything. Only one day he found himself in trouble, his house caught on fire, in fact, and naturally he needed help in order to put it out. So, he called first the fire brigade, but once too often he had interrupted the fire department as they were trying to put out fires and so they wouldn’t listen to him.

– They ignored him?

Next, he tramped the streets crying pitifully and looking for aid; he tapped men on the shoulder, grabbed them, pulled them towards him, and every one of these people ignored him.

– Are you trying to tell me something?

No. Yes. What do you think?

– I think this story sounds suspiciously like The Boy Who Cried Wolf! Tell me another.

Have you heard The Booklover?

– No, what’s it about?

It’s about a boy who gets trapped in a library one evening. The library has closed, the door is locked, the light has gone out, and from behind the bookcases a troll emerges. The troll peruses the bookshelves, picking up the novels of only the very finest writers – Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, George RR Martin – and placing them in his satchel, before returning to his hiding place, the world of the trolls, behind the shelves…

– That’s pish. I’ve got a better one. You know how certain couples fantasise and engage in role play? Well, I once heard about a man who had arranged with his wife, who liked the idea of being kidnapped [as she was a thrill-seeking kinky sort], to drive along a stretch of road beside which she would be walking at a certain time, and bundle her into his car. Not my idea of fun, but it was all legit; they were both into the idea. Anyway, so the man keeps his end up and drives along the road at the appointed time, which is late so as to avoid being seen, and spies his wife, as arranged, walking by without a care in the world, and bundles her into his car. The problem was that his wife had unexpectedly been delayed! So the woman he kidnapped wasn’t his wife at all, she just looked like her in the dark!

Reader, that’s awful!

– Oh, I know that, I’m just trying to enliven this review of yours. No one’s going to read this shit, you know, certainly not this far down anyway. Jacques the Fatalist, then?

You know what, Reader, I’ve quite forgotten everything I ever knew about the book.

WORSTWARD HO BY SAMUEL BECKETT

Second last. Nearly done. Say one. Say none. Till nohow on. At last.

At last. Say done. Say book. Say read. Again. Misread? Again.

A man and child. Holding on. Till end. Till done. Till nohow on.

Hand in hand. Hold and held. Not one. Become one. Then fade.

Old man. Up and stand. Up and done? No. Bit by bit. Old age and done.

Old age and done. On no more. On ground. In ground. In earth. Then done.

In ground. Now gone. Say book. Say read. Say read again. Till nohow on.

PEDRO PARAMO BY JUAN RULFO

[P] came out of the airport and into the stifling heat of a Mexican midsummer. Overhead, birds as big as cats circled slowly as though tired of the day. By the exit, a line of black taxi cabs dozed. [P] rapped on the window of the closest cab and waited, his forehead already damp with sweat. The cab slowly pulled away as though trying to free itself from something thick and sticky. An identical cab shuffled forward to take its place. [P] approached, and the window came down erratically, like the movements of a large spider with a missing leg.
‘Get in, señor,’ said a voice from inside.
[P] gripped the handle, which sent a shock of electric heat through his hand.
‘Son of a…’
‘Get in.’
Hot as Hell. Leather seats clinging to his back and his legs.
‘Where to, señor?’
‘Comala.’
The driver did not turn around, but laughed into the windscreen.
‘To Comala? This is your first time in Mexico, no? You do not want to go to Comala, señor.’
‘Why not?’
‘It is, how you say, dead there? Very few people. For a tourist, you understand.’
‘I’m not a tourist. I’m here to write’
‘Escritor, señor? Ah, you are a journalist?’
‘No, I’m writing a review. Research. Comprende?’
‘Si, si. And what are you researching, señor?’
[P] ran his hand across his brow. It felt like burning sand.
‘Pedro Paramo. You know it? By Juan Rulfo.’
‘Si. The action takes place in Comala, no? I understand. You like this book, yes?’
‘Naturally. It’s a favourite of mine.’
‘It’s a book about a quest. Juan Preciado, his mother she have died, no? And he have promised her to find his father, Pedro Paramo, and make him pay. You are on a quest, to Comala to find Pedro Paramo too. Is clever.’
‘Well, yes, I guess. It is a kind of mystery too. There are two questions at the heart of the narrative. One is ‘what is happening in Comala?’ and the other is ‘who is Pedro Paramo?’’
‘Living bile.’
‘Yes. Abundio, I think, describes Pedro, within the first few pages, as living bile and you read on wanting to know what he has done to deserve it.’
‘Si.’
‘And what you find out is that he was a powerful, brutal man, who appropriated land and murdered people.’
‘Don’t put that in your review, señor. Is spoiler, no?’
‘I guess. But you would want to explore that, right? Because it is important. The unscrupulous business man, who holds a village in the palm his hand, and eventually crushes it. Rulfo wants to make a point about what life was like in these places, about the corruption, the immorality, the exploitation. Pedro Paramo is, amongst other things, a political novel; Paramo actually means barren plain.’
‘I know that, señor.’
[P] mopped his brow again.
‘It’s awfully hot in here. Haven’t you got any air conditioning?’
‘Is hot everywhere in Mexico.’
‘I see. Well, anyway, the book is a kind of Shakespearean tragedy about power and control and poverty…about memory and grief…’
‘And family too, no?’
‘Yes, and family too. Abundio says to Juan Preciado that ‘we are all Pedro Paramo’s sons.’ Or something like that. And he means it figuratively, of course, in that Paramo is the patriarch of the village, the overlord, but he means it literally too, for Pedro fathered many of the inhabitants. One of these children he decided to recognise, Miguel, almost as a wager with Father Renteria. And he, Miguel, turns out maybe even worse than Paramo himself.’
‘The sins of the father are passed to the son, señor.’
‘Sin is central to the novel, actually. I don’t know anything about Rulfo’s religious beliefs, or even if he had any, but his book could certainly be interpreted as a comment on, a criticism of Catholicism. Everyone in Comala has sinned; but they are poor and cannot pay for the masses, for the absolution that would save their souls or the souls of their loved ones. These people are beyond saving, seems to be the idea.’
‘Mexico is a superstitious, a religious place, señor. The grip is strong. Father Renteria, he is interesting, no?’
‘I think so. He is the one who can give absolution. He takes money from Paramo to absolve his son, to give his son forgiveness and, in essence, allow him into heaven. This son, who committed atrocious crimes. Crucially, Renteria himself asks for absolution from a Priest, and is denied it.’
Suddenly the taxi came to a halt. [P] was thrown forward.
‘We’re here, señor,’ said the driver.
‘Uh? What? Where?’
‘Comala.’

‘Where are you, señor?’
‘Comala.’
‘You know better than that, [P].’
‘How do you know my name?’

Comala. The earth scorched his feet through the melting rubber soles of his shoes. The landscape seemed to glisten, to move and slide away before his eyes, like images seen in a puddle of oil.You must go to Comala to research your review…
‘So this is Comala?’ said [P] to the burro driver.
‘You know better than that. This is a ghost town, señor.’
‘Ah, yes, si, it is quiet. And hot.’
‘Hotter than Hell, señor?’
‘I’ve never been…ah, what’s your name?’
‘Gabriel Garcia Marquez.’
‘You don’t say! Listen, I’m…’
‘You’re looking for Pedro Paramo.’
‘Yes, I guess. I’m here…’
‘To conduct research for a review.’
‘How do you know all these things?’
‘I spoke to your mother.’
‘My mother is dead.’
‘Si.’

Doña Gloriana opened the door of her little hut and ushered [P] inside.
‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ she said.
‘How can that be?’
‘Gabriel said that you were on your way.’
‘But I was just with him.’
‘Si. You look tired, [P].’
‘Where am I?’
‘Comala, señor.’
‘No.’

His arms and face so sunburnt they looked like raw meat…

‘Have you read Pedro Paramo, Doña Gloriana?’
‘Of course, everyone in Comala has read that book.’
‘There are hints, early on, that Comala is Hell.’
‘Si.’
‘First of all, as he enters Comala Juan Preciado is accompanied by a guide, an inhabitant of the village.’
‘Like Virgil in Dante’s Inferno, no?’
‘Si. Exactly. And the way to the village is described as always down, always descending. And there’s the intense heat, of course.’
‘Of course. Si. But don’t think about these things, my son; sleep, rest.’
‘All the inhabitants of Comala, the people Juan Preciado meets, are deceased; I think everyone picks up on that eventually. But they are also in purgatory. That became clear to me. They cannot absolve themselves of sin, they are, then, ghosts, or souls, trapped, in an intermediary stage, between Heaven and Hell…they cannot buy their release. Life in a poor Mexican village is a kind of purgatory; maybe that was the point.’
Shhh, [P], go to sleep, my son…

In the dark room [P] could hear chattering voices. Echoes of the past.
‘Who is there?’ he shouted.
We are here. Who said that? I did. Let him speak! Tell him. He came all this way to research his review. To Comala, for that? Si. And he has spoken to Gabriel, the taxi driver, and Doña Gloriana, and never once mentioned the voices. That’s us! Si, si. Pedro Paramo is polyphonic. Did he not say anything at all about that? No, señor. It is composed of multiple voices, echoes of the past. So many voices vying for attention. He hasn’t spoken about the structure, either. Shut it. Let him speak, goddamn it! The narrative is jumbled, as though it were a painting that someone has cut into tiny pieces and thrown all over the floor. So you have to pick up the pieces and put them together again? Si.
‘Be quiet, all of you. Let him have his rest.’
Can the dead rest, Doña Gloriana?
‘Si. Si. If they are good boys.’