What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

Herzog, Dalbuono and Burnside

 - Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Jack: Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog
Too long out of print, Werner Herzog's 1974 diary of his walk from Munich to Paris,is back to astonish. Herzog's friend (and mentor to a generation of German film-makers), Lotte Eisner, was seriously ill and 'would probably die'. Why not hop on a Lufthansa to Paris? Herzog believed that walking would 'bring her back to life. When I'm in Paris she will be alive. She must not die. Later, perhaps, when we allow it'. Walking as reverie is now a literary genre—cf. Iain Sinclair or Robert Macfarlane never dragged a steamship up a mountain. 'My steps are firm,' he continues. 'And the earth trembles. When I move, a buffalo moves. When I rest, a mountain reposes'. ( PS: I crave an audio version....so please buy it in multitudes, and send pleading emails/texts to Random House to release a recording. Thank you.)

John: Nadia Dalbuono's The Few is a first novel set against a backdrop of the streets of Rome and the islands of Tuscany. Young detective Leone Scamarcio is a rising star of Rome's Flying Squad whose parallel investigation into a missing girl and the murder of a rent boy intersect with a paedophile ring which has connections to Italy's elite. I am looking forward to second book in this series. Already reviewed by Morgan & David, I just want to add my recommendation to Useful by Debra Oswald—another (fine) first novel from someone who (like Dalbuono) has worked in television.

Judy: I Put a Spell on You by John Burnside—Think of the Nina Simone version of this song: impassioned, spiteful, desperate and you have something of the flavour of John Burnside’s plea throughout this memoir for space & attention for 'the dark end of the fair', where resides the beautiful imperfect. He argues with all the strength of his own experience of love as entrapment against a social system that sells young men and women into a slavery of work where there is no space for the anarchy of deep pleasure, for glamour and digression. Pop music and the consolations of longing and boredom and alcohol help keep a resentful workforce poor in the service of the wealthy.
John Burnside is a man keeping himself (almost) sane—balancing between the experience of deep connection and the need to be free to feel himself free. Happiness as walking away; happiness as anticipation. I found myself suspending my prejudices in order to follow him here. The prose is sometimes dense and rambling, but it is worth the re-reading. In many ways, this book inhabits a similar space to some of Rebecca Solnit’s work, but the insights are harder won, the struggle to make meaning, coherence, inclusion is on the borderline. There is much tenderness here, and much humility—alongside the outrage. John