I’m sorry to say that the last two posts were ones that I had in reserve and which just popped up on the blog automatically. I also need to apologise for not getting round and visiting you during the past few days. Somehow I managed to trap a nerve in my neck while I was asleep and to anyone who has yet to explore this particular form of self-inflicted torture I can only say don’t bother. The pain is excruciating and doesn’t go away once the nerve has been released. Seven days on I can still only look to my right or left by turning my whole body and looking up or down other than by eye movement is a definite no go.
This has not only got in the way of writing, it hasn’t done much for my reading either. I was around three-fifths of the way through Richard House’s monumental The Kills, long-listed for this year’s Booker, when disaster struck and now that I can pick up a book again I’ve had to leave it to one side in order to prepare the books for this year’s Summer School.
Richard House works in the same department as I do, so I tackled his book with mixed motivation. There was a touch of collegiate solidarity in there, mingled with an interest in the unusual narrative organisation and maybe just a smidgin of terror lest I should meet him in the corridor and have to admit I hadn’t read it. Two and a bit sections through I’m appreciating it rather than enjoying it. I don’t think it’s a book you easily enjoy given its subject matter. As far as I’ve got the main concern is the financial wheeling and dealings behind the allied withdrawal from Iraq and the complete disregard for life shown by the people who hope to make their fortunes in this arena. House has a lot to say about the way one human being is willing to prey on the weaknesses of another and so from that point of view it doesn’t make for easy reading. However, the narrative swings along at a pace and the first section Sutler is particularly gripping. I’m looking forward to getting back to it when the Summer School is over.
In preparation for that I’ve just started on another Booker nominated novel, Michael Frayn’s Headlong, which tells the story of academic Martin Clay’s vain attempts to prove that a painting belonging to a neighbour is a missing Bruegel, without, of course, letting said neighbour in on the secret. I read it when it was first published in 1999 but I’d forgotten just how funny it is and what a frighteningly accurate depiction of the research process it offers. I hope I’ve never been quite as ruthless in my attempts to steer people away from my own particular area of academic concern but I can’t swear that I’ve never felt similar anxiety when a colleague has appeared to be showing too close an interest in what texts I’m pouring over and why. Teaching it without baring too much of my own soul is going to be a challenge.