Whilst sifting through my bookcase yesterday, whilst I was looking for Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ after I had heard it mentioned on the radio – a book which is a perfect example of a book’s potential to enact in its readership such a wallowing of self-despair and, consequently, self-deceit (the most cowardly kind of deceit as only one party is involved) at their inability to penetrate the said book, and to play first fiddle to the book’s actual content. I had bought my own copy in Split, Croatia when I was travelling in the company of myself (I am a good companion – I get on with myself and almost nearly laugh at all my own jokes) when I was 18 years old. I thought that by buying a book that my man-of-words friend Phil had read at school would place me in an elevated position amongst my non-existent travelling companions and the entirety of the Balkan Peninsula who had no interest in a smelly skinflint lugging a brick-sized book. All I can remember of it was that there was a captain and some other characters in a tower, and that V2 – or was it V1? – rockets and a banana somehow featured. And that it was incredibly difficult to read and I wished I had brought a rip-roaring, cricket bat-wielding psychopath Flashman novel with me instead. I say it was a perfect example of self-despair and consequently self-deceit as it was one of many books in my life (the most recent being Martin Amis’s ‘London Fields’ – parts of which were excellent, but I find it hard to read with his sneering face pervading every gap between the characters) that I have stumbled through, each page carefully deducted from the 356 pages still remaining, while taunting thoughts tease, dance and distract me in front of their fuck you to all literary devices and vernacular language. All this leads to an ever-growing waste of time; I know that the next chapter isn’t going to change from cryptic crossword to cutlasses and camaraderie, but I keep going, why do I keep fucking going??!! There’s an H.P. Lovecraft anthology on the floor, I could be reading about ghouls and goblins! But I’ll stick on; it’s postmodern, not fusty pre-war crap and their obsequious bum-licking of literary conventions. It knew the rules, but the rules didn’t know shit. Looking down the other end of the telescope. Game changing, but not necessarily enjoyable. Like handball. I knew this time that I wouldn’t do it again, but I at least wanted to see what had defeated me, one of the few books that has. Others include: as said before, Amis’s ‘London Fields’, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ and ‘The Finkler Question’.
But I couldn’t find it; I looked high and low, front and back (books two-deep), but to no avail. I knew what it looked like after all these years, but I probably burned it. I like burning things that have brought me immense shame: the tin cans after my sister’s chaotic house party (they didn’t burn, I think local recycling did exist then, so I have no real explanation for this, just blind panic), the bed sheets from the dawn after the night before (ceremoniously burned on the bonfire in the corner of the garden – I was most proud of this one; it was incredibly poetic), and also the many little notes written by High school girls in year 8 to me after this young Lothario had told the girl he wanted more than anything else that ‘she had no friends’. They were all written on little snippets of paper, carefully written in coloured gel pens – some smelled of coca cola – telling me aka ‘turnip head’ – I thought this was unfair – that Holly did have friends and that I was a shit. But they were all written to ME, and for that small moment of female acknowledgement I found them intensely erotic and decided to keep them until my twenties, whereafter they were all burnt to ash. But, as said before, I couldn’t find it. But in the course of not finding it I rediscovered all my old books which stood dutifully behind all my current pompous, high-brow books, as the books closest to one’s heart often do. One of which I saw resting on the top and battered around the edges. It was George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’. It looked innocuous, a school edition, with jollily-drawn animals of the farmyard on both covers. I looked inside and laughed as I saw on that on the opening page was stamped a lending-table headed with my school’s name. I found this funny as I had, yes, not given it back. ‘I wonder what they’ll charge me for this!’, my brain farted. There my name was, spilling outside of the table’s parameters, at the bottom, as, yes, I was the last to read it. And then I saw the name above it. [I’m going to call him Hank for purposes of any potential law infringements). The school bully. The fat bully who hung around by the school gates with his partner in crime, who was taller and also a dick. I don’t remember Hank being a bully to me; all I remember was that he had (allegedly) placed an enormous Cuban cigar of a turd on the landing before the music department, and that it looked hot and smelly. But Hank was also, incidentally, the school murderer; he had decided to hack away at his mother with (allegedly) a machete for (allegedly) dating a new man after she had either separated or was bereaved. He went to jail for a minimum of twenty years. And there he was before me in my copy of ‘Animal Farm’. His handwriting was pleasingly neat: he had borrowed the book on ‘8/1/2003’ and had obviously given it back.
Written in blue ink, the letters not joined up, it was rather nice handwriting: very clear and in a style I liked. I’d always gone against joining up my letters as I found it to be clumsy and frivolous. Edward Standing’s entry, borrowed in ‘13/4/94’, fourth on the list, was joined up in uninspiring black biro, the curse of modern calligraphy. However Richard Enser’s entry, borrowed ‘6/11/90’, was lovely, written in a black fountain pen in a style which I unfortunately don’t know the name of, but essentially like pre-20th century, upper-case Germanic script. So after Richard’s entry, excluding my own, I would have to place Hank’s entry in second. The first thing I did was to rifle through the pages as quickly as I could. Perhaps he left a premeditated scrawl or a daub of graffiti on one of the lesser-frequented pages. You had to be nifty when defacing a school book. It was stupid writing ‘Abbie screams’ (Nick’s sister) on the front page. You had to nestle it in the middle, next to a page devoid of colour or diagrams, almost at home with the rank and file of its more orderly cousins. But the book was completely blank. Apart from a few inky smears there was nothing. I was disappointed. And I didn’t know why. Actually, I did know why. But I made my PR lobe of the brain think that I didn’t know why. I had wanted a relic, a link to the murderer, something that I and I alone could behold. The comedy part of the brain kicked in and started to look for metaphorical jokes in the book, some which I was quite ashamed of thinking, particularly to the horrific nature of his mother’s death. I checked the other school murderer’s name online to see if his name also featured in my book of horrors. And this I was ashamed of too. But for this discovery I didn’t decide to burn it; it didn’t bring me immense shame, just a sobering scrawl of a man who decided to end his mother’s life because of a perfunctory act of human nature. He was a piece of shit and he did a shit in school. All in all, a shitty human being. But I will keep the book. I guess it serves only as an estranged medium, an indelible mark of something grotesque that satiates the voyeuristic urge, the peep into the deeper realms of human capabilities, but all the while, able to be snapped shut with the closing of a book.