I always have a couple of books on the go – one on the Kindle; one flesh-and-blood, in case I need to read in the bath. Usually they’re two completely different sorts of book: I will often read trashy, disposable stuff on the Kindle so as not to (a) waste shelf space and (b) have anyone know that I’m reading it. But just now my Kindle book is Within A Budding Grove and my real-life book is 1982, Janine and I am switching between the two more or less indiscriminately, and it occurs to me that they are weirdly similar.
I mean, sure, one is a French, hundred-year-old exploration of young love, loss and grief and one is a Scottish, thirty-year-old sexual fantasy, but both take place in the minds of lonely old men lying feverishly in bed, and both are characterised by an obsessive, fetishistic obsession with detail for its own sake. One is about memory and one about invention, but both have the feeling of a dream, because none of what is described is happening at first-hand.
Nicholson Baker and Primo Levi, two of my favourite writers in the world, both write in compulsive, time-slowing detail, so I should be congratulating myself on a happy pair of choices, only I have just discovered from reading that Wikipedia page that À la recherche du temps perdu IS UNFINISHED, which is something I feel like I should have known about before I committed to its 4,215 pages. Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to enjoy the ride.