It took me the whole of my 8 days Taiwan tour to finish this book. A celebrity recommended this book in Sunday Times, praising the author for the lovely use of words. I thought, as a would-be writer, I should read it as a reference.
Ivo Stourton is a young lawyer (born 1982) from UK. This is in fact his second book. His first novel, The Night Climbers, is due to be made into a film.
The story tells the tale of a one-time published author and book lover, Matthew. He not only loves book, but collects them as well. The first editions are kept in a dark room, never to be handled to preserve its value. With his wife Cee, they run an interior decorating company. His job – to help his clients select books to decorate the shelves, based on the colour scheme of the book jackets – ‘a majority of red-morocan leather-bound books with gold lettering…’ On the side, he sleeps with the clients’ wives. He says ‘Interior decoration has not traditionally been regarded as a seducer’s profession. Literature assumes that novelists have all the fun, pop culture looks to sports and music stars, and porn has an odd fixation with repairmen. This low profile has been a help rather than a hindrance.’ Plus the fact that ‘his clients are generally at the end of youth and the end of the beginning of marriage, their husbands working long hours, their bank account full, their sense of desirability beginning to ebb’ makes sleeping with his clients quite easy to execute.
He tells his tales as if he is speaking to you, the reader, sitting on a chair opposite him. One day, he meets a new client and is immediately attracted by the pregnant Claudia Swanson, who is deeply in love to her banker husband Jim. Claudia has a dark secret which adds to her mysterious attractiveness. Matt hints to her by giving her a pornography book Delta of Venus by Anais Nin but is rejected. Instead, she wants to spend time with him to discuss books. As Matt grows more fascinated by her during their meetings, he feels he has no choice but to kill Jim Swanson. How does one commit a murder without getting caught? He decides to push Jim off the platform in front of the subway train during peak hours on a rainy morning. Does he succeed in his seduction of Claudia Swanson and the murder of Jim Swanson? That’s not the point of this book.
As Matt relates his tales, I can’t help but finds him irritating. Yet, the witty, at times self-deprecating humour of Matt does make him quite cute too.
If you love the English language, the author certainly demonstrates his ability to cleverly articulate actions, feelings, thoughts through metaphors, something he uses quite excessively until I felt he was being too long-winded.
There are, certainly beautiful sentences too. I give some examples:
‘It’s funny, isn’t it, how the conscience can be a bit like an oyster. One little grain of a moment like that gets into the soft naked folds of your brain, and then you do the work, rolling it around and around in your thoughts, making it bigger and more luminous as the years pass with layers of shining significance. And you can’t ever spit it out. ‘
‘I find conversation with strangers a untroubling affair, since it consists of no more unpacking for one another a lifetime of pre-existing prejudice and then having a look at each other’s goods, like two vendors setting up shop next door to one another at a car boot sale.’
‘I had the unnerving ides that he had grown taller since our last meeting, until I realised that he stood on the shoulder of the location. This was his turf, his postcode, his gang colours in the surrounding pinstripe. ‘
‘I kept my phone in my hand, and afer five minutes of waiting the oasis of her name appeared in the desert screen.’
I certainly took my time to enjoy the book and nearly laugh out loud at the ending, where a murder was eventually committed and the murder weapon? A book.