by Gabriel Josipovici
Over the span of ten years two friends meander through the parks and streets of London, stopping for a pint if rain threatens, pausing to watch ducks play on a pond, and talking about an endless variety of subjects. Or at least Jack Toledano talks. This 151 page book is one enormous paragraph which contains all Damien Anderson’s memories of the things that Jack spoke about during their walks.
What immediately grabbed me when I started reading this book was Jack’s insights about walking and writing. What Jack thinks about things is quite fascinating for the first third of the book, and I had to pull out my highlighter and start underlining. He has a way with words for sure. But then his opinions and thoughts shifted slightly and I started getting a better-then-thou vibe from him as he claimed the people have forgotten how to read correctly, and that the youth of today are far greedier and materialistic than those of his generation. My highlighter was set aside in puzzlement.
As the book progresses it becomes more and more apparent that this is not a book of wisdom, and not a particularly balanced collection of literary and artistic criticism, nor even a clever format through which Josipovici could preach his own opinions. It is a novel, and it has a flawed and fascinating character whose thoughts and opinions are in constant flux. Seen through the eyes, or rather heard through the ears of Damien over the course of 10 years, we are a witness to the constant contradiction that is a life being lived as well as it can be.
It is so interesting to me to think about how our impressions of the people around us – even the people we believe that we know really well – are so heavily reliant on the things these people say. Of course actions speak louder than words, but most of the time it is the words that we encounter on a more regular basis. One day I might speak with excitement about a topic, and by the next week my passion has cooled and to the same person I might express my disillusionment. One day I might be in a foul mood and speak spitefully about my home, and the next day I am in love with it again. I’m an endless contradiction.
The reason this book worked for me was because once I understood what it was about, I could relate to it so well. Granted, I didn’t fully understand what Josipovici was doing until nearly the end, when he turned around and surprised me with an actual plot point. That brought the whole thing together. I also really enjoyed all the literary and artistic references (I kind of want to make a list of all the authors whose work Jack talked about!) as well as Damien’s brief but colorful descriptions of the sights and sounds of London. And I haven’t even touched on the intriguing book that Jack talked about writing, which lent it’s title to Josipovici’s novel. Maybe not as “deep” a book as I had expected, but a lot of fun. I will definitely be looking for more Josipovici in the future.
Thanks again to Emily for picking this book for our Non-Structured Book Group. Next month we will be reading Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter, if anyone is interested in joining us. Since I’ve set this entire day aside for playing on the computer, I’m off to order that book (and probably others…!) and then check out everyone else’s posts about Moo Pak. Happy Saturday!