No one you know

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‘You look upset.’

‘I am upset,’ I say. ‘Well, not so much upset as disappointed.’

‘Want to talk about it?’ the book says.

‘Not really,’ I say. ‘It’s about the book I’m reading. It’s great, but it’s not as good as I’d hoped. That’s what’s disappointing me.’

‘Doesn’t sound that great,’ the book says.

‘It’s great in that it’s better than most stuff, but it’s not as good as their previous work. Worst of all, I think it fails in terms of itself, on its own terms I mean. The thing never really takes off. And I think it wants to, wanted to, rather. It’s as though the author deliberately held it back somehow.’

‘Anyone we know?’ the book says.

‘It’s no one you know,’ I say.

‘Andy? Chris? Peter?’

‘It’s no one you know.’

‘What about the other Peter? Or Ann?’

‘I’m not saying who it is.’

‘Are they American?’

‘They might be, but that isn’t the -look, this isn’t what I meant. The point is I am sad. Upset. Disappointed. I really wanted to love this book, and it might just be me, but I am not getting it. You know that thing when you can see the ambition, the intention, and it just isn’t there, in terms of lift-off, in terms of actual poetry that you want to savour and carry into your day, that’s what I think is missing. And somehow I feel -and I never thought I would say this- that at some level the author knows this too, that at some cunning, pre-verbal level, he has somehow colluded with the idea of the book more than the actual stuff of the book, the actually being lost in the moment of saying something without the self-reflexive voice coming in from the side all the time and observing what is being said. That’s what I think. And I’m really sad to have to say it. Grieving, in fact. I feel he has lost his game, rather. In that he knows what his game is, and has set about to change it, nothing wrong with that, not on paper, but has rather damaged the game itself, not just his own. Plus it’s full of adverbs.’

‘You can be very serious sometimes, you know,’ the book says.

‘But it is serious!’

‘You said ‘he’. Go on. Let me guess.’

‘No. We are not playing guessing games. It’s too serious for that.’

‘But I saw you with your notebook the other day. Making some sketches. It can’t be that bad, surely?’

‘This is the strange thing,’ I say. ‘How a book I am not enjoying by a man I admire can send me to my notebook… It’s beyond me.’

‘So it might have been useful after all?’

‘I’m afraid it might. I feel guilty about it. That a source of such unhappiness could still be so fruitful in terms of getting the juices going again.’

‘That’s a mixed metaphor,’ the book says. ‘About three of them.’

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