It’s the little things

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.

Spooky dreams

You know those times when one coincidence follows another, and you suddenly get the groundless notion that the threads of your life are more closely and weirdly bound together than you thought? And then it turns into a really vivid dream, and you get reality and your dreamworld confused?


It started with Primo Levi (who, by the way, is the one writer who makes me want to stop writing, because he writes so beautifully that I think I might as well give up trying). I picked up Other People’s Trades, a collection of his essays, as we were leaving for Naples last month, because you’re not allowed to read your Kindle during take-off and landing, and I thought I might as well read something Italian. When we got home I broke off and started reading the Kindle again, so I’ve been progressing through the Levi in fits and starts, and on Sunday I started to read an essay called The Language of Chemistry, which reminded me that Levi was a scientist as well as a writer – specifically, a chemist (and if you haven’t read it, you must immediately go and read The Periodic Table, which I think includes his most beautiful writing of all).

Later that day, after dinner, we watched some Breaking Bad (the beloved has seen it all before, but I am new to it and loving it), in which, as you’ll know if you’ve seen it, the main character is Walter White, another chemist. The episode we watched, the last in season two, ends – I am trying to do this without spoilers, but if you really mind, look away now – with Walter looking into the sky, followed by an aerial shot of the New Mexico desert, while something spins rapidly through the air above it. We’ve been watching for a few weeks and it was sheer coincidence that we reached that episode minutes before turning the TV over to see Felix Baumgartner spin rapidly through the air above the New Mexico desert during his freefall descent to earth from 128,100 feet, which might be the most exciting thing I have ever seen happen in real time. I almost didn’t want to watch, but in the end the thrill of seeing someone do something so brave and brilliant won out over the fear of seeing someone fall to his death, which was always a possibility.

And then, when I went to bed that night, I picked up the Primo Levi again and carried on reading, and when I went to sleep my dreams were full of tortured chemists falling to their deaths in a brightly-coloured desert, and then I woke up with a start and remembered that Primo Levi did fall to his death, in circumstances which remain unclear. And I shivered, and read myself back to sleep with Stephen King, who at least is supposed to be spooky.

Last night’s dreams were even more vivid, but I don’t think I can bring myself to tell you about them. Maybe one day, after everyone implicated is dead, but not till then.

Bram Stoker and the Lyceum Theatre

Bram Stoker

Last Friday was the hundredth anniversary of Bram Stoker’s death, and to mark the occasion the Dracula Society (I know, I had no idea either) held a celebratory event at the Lyceum Theatre, to which I was lucky enough to be invited as a representative of The Public Reviews, a website which does what it says on the tin.

It all lasted about an hour, and most of that was people standing around drinking, so I had to be creative in order to get a thousand words out of it, but it was worth it because now I really want to re-watch all the old Dracula films, and I can’t think of a better way of spending what promises to be another wet weekend.

The piece is here.


If you don’t like a TV programme, you should probably stop watching after the first episode, rather than keep watching and getting a bit crosser each time. Although, actually, I quite liked the first episode of Sherlock. It was the second, startlingly racist, episode that put me off, but somehow I kept watching, even when the third episode was unsatisfying and then we had to wait a year for number four. I can’t really explain it, except that I kept hoping it would get better.

And it wasn’t awful. There was lots to like about it: the casting is uniformly excellent and everybody does the best they can with the script. It looks good, and it sounds good, and it makes London look better than it does in real life.

But ugh, it’s so pleased with itself! The joy of the Conan Doyle stories comes from how clever Sherlock Holmes is, not how clever Arthur Conan Doyle is. It’s a small, but important, distinction. Sherlock is delighted by itself more than it is by the character, which makes it feel all wrong. I don’t want to be able to hear the programme-maker breathing down the back of my neck when I watch a drama, and watching this show I can feel him looming sweatily over me throughout.

(I’m not talking about anyone in particular here, but he is definitely a “he”. Drama on British TV is currently in the grip of a chummy group of clever-clever, white, middle-class men who are all jolly pleased with themselves and each other for being smarter than normal people. Unfortunately they are all quite good at making TV, damn them, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.)

The problem the programme has, when it gets very overexcited about being clever, is twofold. Firstly, it loses sight of the beautiful simplicity that sits at the heart of the best Holmes stories. This show has more plot in ten minutes than an entire Conan Doyle novel. Secondly, if you’re going to be self-consciously clever, you’d better make sure that you are, in fact, being clever, and this is where Sherlock falls down for me. Quite apart from the dangling plot points and the baffling improbabilities, which flit by so fast that you can mostly ignore them, the show is terrifically excited about Technology, which somebody somewhere in the bowels of the BBC has clearly decided is going to be used as a Metaphor. The problem is, they haven’t bothered to get anyone with an actual grasp of the technology they’re talking about to act as an advisor on the show, with the result that we, the audience, are expected to be delighted by Feats of Technology which in real life are either ridiculously unimpressive or so improbable and unexplained as to be plain silly. Just as The Archers needs an agricultural story editor, Sherlock could have done with a technology advisor. And somebody should have sacked whoever decided to give Watson a “blog”. I put it in inverted commas because so do they, every time they mention it.

But that’s all nit-picking. What I really object to is the idea that the source material needs to be improved upon, when (a) it doesn’t, and (b) whatever description you might want to give of Sherlock, an improvement on the original is not it. At one point, during the entirely nonsensical denouement of last night’s show, Moriarty (wince-inducingly described in BBC1’s preamble as “Holmes’s ultimate nemesis”, as though you can have grades of nemesis) said to Holmes: “…that’s your weakness, you always want everything to be clever”. And I thought: you got it in one.

(I had a separate rant last night at the TV and the beloved about what they did with Moriarty, but since it included the words “postmodern” and “non-linear” I shan’t repeat it here, or we’ll both go away thinking I’m the most terrible kind of wanker.)

Agatha Christie

For as long as I can remember in my adult life, I have been vaguely attempting to amass a complete collection of Agatha Christie’s books. My love affair with them began at university, when I went to stay with a boyfriend whose family were weird and intimidating (though not as weird and intimidating as he was), and I spent most of the weekend holed up in the spare bedroom, which contained a shelf full of battered old detective stories. I gorged my way through three books – I can’t remember which ones – and was hooked.

Back in Colchester, I was already in the habit of visiting the two secondhand bookshops on the High Street to look for cheaper copies of university text books (a hint to teenagers: art history is a very expensive subject to study, bookswise). The next time I was in town I went and had a look at the “Crime” shelf in the larger bookshop, the one inside someone’s house, and was delighted to discover dozens of aged Christies, all priced at 70p. I bought a handful, then periodically went back over the following weeks and months and acquired the lot. I discovered that I’d inadvertently struck gold the first time out and that not all the stories were as good as the early ones, but there was never one I didn’t enjoy reading.

Having gotten hold of about thirty books for pennies at a time, I was loath to start spending £6.99 a go on the remaining titles – it seemed somehow against the serendipitous spirit of the affair – and I found myself content to check every car boot sale, thrift store and charity shop I passed in the hope of picking up an unread Christie.

Last year, now the owner of two full bookshelves of battered Marples and Poirots, I arranged them in alphabetical order, found a list of her complete works and made a meticulous list of everything I didn’t yet have. Some of them, borrowed from friends or libraries or lost over the years, I had read but didn’t have a copy of, and I decided it would be lovely to have an absolutely complete set, not counting the romances which I find readable and entertaining but nothing like as exciting as the detective books and which in any case are written pseudonymously, so don’t technically count as Agatha Christies.

Using this more systematic approach I acquired a dozen or so more books, and of the remaining ones on the list some are US versions of books I already have, some are thrillers rather than mysteries (although the dividing line is not always clear, of course) and others are titles I know I have somewhere, but I can’t think where.

So what next? The answer is obvious: sign up for a book club offering brand new copies of every single Agatha Christie, sent out fortnightly at £5.99 a pop.

Yes, I know it sounds a bit mad, but in another piece of beautiful serendipity, I went into a newsagent yesterday to top up my Oyster and spotted a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, complete with accompanying magazine, for £1.99. So naturally I bought it, and discovered that Hachette are republishing every single Christie, in hardback, in a facsimile of the original binding and cover art, accompanied by a magazine with contemporary detail and modern analysis of each story. Plus, you get free gifts – a bag, some mugs, glass coasters – if you subscribe, as well as the obligatory free binder with part two.

This is exciting for me, even though I’ve read almost all of the books, so it ought to be even more exciting for someone who hasn’t read the books and would like to, which is why I think you should also subscribe. £5.99 for a book is quite cheap, especially as the first one is £1.99, the second is £3.99 and the third is free (if you subscribe by post, rather than just buying it from the newsagent), AND you get a load of free stuff, AND the bindings are gorgeous, AND, well, Agatha Christie is just really lovely to read. The stories are so cleverly plotted and have been so ripe for TV and film and radio adaptation that it’s easy to forget that they are also beautiful evocations of an England – of a world – that few of us knew but which we can all recognise. And more than that, they provide an eloquent social history of a particular class of English life of which Christie herself was a part. So if your new year’s resolution was to read more, I think you should sign up now and join me in reading a Christie a fortnight in 2012. Sorry if this reads like an ad, it wasn’t meant to. Also, if you don’t want to subscribe but do want to try one of the stories and I know you in real life, let me know and I will pick one out for you and give it to you.

Rough customer

I promised months ago that I’d write about the Rough Guide to Cyprus and why it’s no good at all, and then I forgot, and then I remembered but didn’t have the book to hand in order to quote it. But now I do, and flicking through it I discover I’m every bit as bemused by it as I was at the time.

It may be that Rough Guides are not designed for people like me, who just want to go on holiday. Here is a short quiz which will help you to determine whether you are the kind of person the Rough Guide to Cyprus might be aimed at:

Question 1

Do you look down on everyone else who has travelled to your holiday destination at the same time as you?

Question 2

Do you describe yourself as a traveller, rather than a tourist?

If you answered mostly YES, you may get on with The Rough Guide to Cyprus better than I did. I found it pompous, snobbish, humourless and ill-conceived. I first noticed this when I was reading the section about Cypriot cuisine. It says:

Food throughout Cyprus is generally hearty rather than refined, and on the mainstream tourist circuit at least will get monotonous after a few days. In many respects resort food – especially in the South – is the unfortunate offspring of generic Middle Eastern, and 1960s British, cooking at its least imaginative.

Well, that’s simple enough – just don’t eat at any “resorts”, “especially in the South”. Got that? Never mind that people have varied tastes and palates (personally, I like “generic Middle Eastern” food more than almost any other kind). Never mind that even smallish Cypriot towns on the “mainstream tourist circuit” offer a range of international cuisine as wide as anything you’d find in an English town of twice the size. No, Cypriot food in any of the places you’re actually likely to be staying (there’s a reason it’s called the tourist circuit)  is monotonous and unimaginative.

(There’s a lot of this guff about the “mainstream tourist circuit”, incidentally. The writers don’t seem keen on your visiting any of the places on which Cyprus’s economy depends for a substantial part of its income, preferring to recommend remote spots which you have  to drive to, environmental considerations clearly playing second fiddle to the traveller’s desire for an authentic experience, whatever that is.)

It was in Cyprus that I first tasted halloumi, which is one of my favourite foods in the world. Surely, I thought, they can’t be rude about halloumi. Everyone like halloumi.

Unfortunately, inferior rubber halloumi – full of added yeast and powdered (cow) milk, squeaking on the teeth when chewed – abounds; when you finally get the real thing (from sheep or goat milk, with the butterfat oozing out at the touch of a fork), you’ll never willingly go back to the other.

Well, I have eaten more halloumi, in Cyprus and elsewhere, than anyone I know, and I think that’s bollocks. Sure, the cheap stuff is squeakier, but it’s still terrific.

(And yes, the writing is all like that.)

We were staying between Paphos and Coral Bay, so I had a look at the restaurant listings for both places to see whether I could find any recommendations I liked the sound of. It only listed a few places, but one caught my eye:

La Piazza: Very upmarket Italian with a Venetian flair, its menus and recipes vetted once yearly by a North Italian professor.

A what now?  This bizarre detail struck me much as those adverts do that begin with a confident, and meaningless, “Scientists say…”. No extra information was given, and I should have asked when we ate at what turned out to be a fairly average but perfectly pleasant Italian, but I forgot. If you go and find out, do please let me know.

The best thing about La Piazza is not the food but the view, which looks like this:

beach view

The writers of The Rough Guide to Cyprus clearly don’t have much time for this view, though, because if you look up what to do in Paphos, it says:

The main resort strip in Kato Pafos, east of Apostolou Pavlou and the harbour, consists of opticians, estate agents, ice-cream parlours, fast-food franchises, more estate agents, indistinguishable restaurants, nightclubs, still more estate agents, clothes shops, souvenir kiosks, banks and excursion agencies, the characterless pattern repeating itself every couple of hundred yards along Leoforos Posidhonos, the shoreline boulevard. The only “sight” on this lacklustre sequence is the Paphos Aquarium…

Well, that’s more or less true, but as an introductory paragraph to a section on what to see in Paphos, it leaves something to be desired. I’d have started it like this:

The main resort strip in Kato Pafos, east of Apostolou Pavlou and the harbour, has all the shops you need to stock up on provisions for your holiday, as well as an abundance of places to stop to eat, drink and enjoy the view of the harbour. There are also plentiful tourist agencies where you’ll be able to book trips to the more inacessible parts of the island, but don’t forget to spend some time sitting still and absorbing the busy, bustling atmosphere and headily international population of this cheerful tourist town.

And if you can describe an aquarium as “the only sight” in a place this lively and friendly, you have a very narrow view of what counts as a sight, and you probably won’t enjoy your holiday at all. Incidentally, that line of stones stretching out into the sea in the photo above is an ancient breakwater.

Coral Bay, a few miles up the coast and much smaller than Paphos but with the advantage of a glorious sandy beach, is a genuine single-duty tourist town and much less varied, but it does have a lot of restaurants. What did the Guide have to say about them?

Restaurants on the main strip are generally pretty forgettable; much the best local eating is at the South-Indian-run Keralam, northwest of the main beach in the Aristo Coral Bay complex.

Right. Because us Brits don’t get the chance to eat good Indian food at home.

(Here, as an aside, are my two recommendations for places to eat. In Coral Bay, Phideas Tavern (which I can’t find on the web but which you’ll find easily enough once you get there) looks like a canteen but does fantastic traditional Cypriot food for almost no money at all, and you get to spend the evening with Phideas himself, who is great fun. I ate here in 2001 and again in 2010 and was charmed and delighted to find that it hadn’t changed at all.

And in Paphos, you absolutely must go to Seven St George, which does some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, and is one of the few places in the world where I’m happy to eat pork and lamb. Like Phideas, it’s run by a family, all of whom you’ll meet during the course of your visit, and what George lacks in cheeky banter he makes up for with a beguilingly serious dedication to good food. There’s no menu at Seven St George: they just bring you meze dishes until you’re full. Everything is tiny, beautiful and delicious, and you’ll have eaten your own body weight before you notice it. Seating is outside on a flower-covered terrace, and dinner there is like sneaking three hours in heaven.)

Writing about Phideas and George has lifted my mood and almost made me forgive the writers of the Rough Guide to Cyprus their snobbery, except that as a final insult, the glossary of useful Greek and Turkish words doesn’t include the word for “cheers”, which I’ve found is the most important word to know if you, like me, like to meet people and talk to them when you visit other countries, rather than sniffily disapproving of the tourism industry that keeps most of them in work.

So as my final gift to you today, cheers is “yiamas” in south Cyprus and “şerefe” in the north, and if you go, you’ll have plenty of chances to use them both.


I’ve just read a book of stories by H. P. Lovecraft, because his was the first name that came back when I took the I Write Like test, and because I am generally in favour of well-written horror stories.

Well, I’m not sure that these are either of those things. The writing’s not bad, exactly, but it’s fairly impenetrable in places. I’ve chosen an extreme example, but I have limited patience for paragraphs like this, from The Lurking Fear (unedited; ellipses his):

Shrieking, slithering, torrential shadows of red viscous madness chasing one another through endless, ensanguined condors of purple fulgurous sky… formless phantasms and kaleidoscopic mutations of a ghoulish, remembered scene; forests of monstrous over-nourished oaks with serpent roots twisting and sucking unnamable juices from an earth verminous with millions of cannibal devils; mound-like tentacles groping from underground nuclei of polypous perversion… insane lightning over malignant ivied walls and demon arcades choked with fungous vegetation…

I mean, what?

Where the stories work best is where there’s less fervid description and something is actually happening. The Dunwich Horror is really good up until the moment when the genuinely frightening half-human creature quietly disappears, at which point it becomes too abstract to retain my interest.

Maybe this is my fault: maybe I don’t have a brain that’s equipped to loosen itself from the bounds of mundane experience and appreciate a fantasy world where nothing bears any relation to anything. But these stories are fantasy, or maybe science fiction, not horror. To my mind, real horror arises from the creeping realisation that something that feels familiar is not what it seems. There are writers who can rouse me to night-time terrors – Mary Shelley, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe – but for me there’s not enough of real life in Lovecraft’s stories to make them truly frightening.

That said, the guy himself is pretty frickin’ scary:

H P Lovecraft and cat

So that’s something.

Comic fiction

I am irrepressibly, unforgivably drawn to books written by comedians. I know they’re mostly awful, but I can’t seem to help myself. I think it all started when I read Ben Elton’s Stark, which I will still staunchly defend even though I’m slightly embarrassed about having enjoyed it so much. The law of diminishing returns applies to an almost painful degree to the subsequent follow-ups, but Stark was good.

I have also read:

Getting Rid of Mr Kitchen (Charlie Higson)

It’s Not A Runner Bean, Reasons To Be Cheerful and What’s Going On? (Mark Steel)

The Fountain At The Centre Of The World (Rob Newman)

Time For Bed, Whatever Love Means and The Secret Purposes (David Baddiel)

Paperweight, The Liar, The Hippopotamus, Making History, The Stars’ Tennis Balls and Moab Is My Washpot (Stephen Fry)

The Gun Seller (Hugh Laurie)

Frank Skinner (Frank Skinner)

Without Feathers (Woody Allen)

No Cure For Cancer (Dennis Leary)

Are You Dave Gorman? (Dave Gorman)

Billy Connolly (Pamela Stephenson)

I’m sure there are more; that’s off the top of my head. As you will know if you’ve read them all too, this list is a mixture of fiction, biography, scripts and other collected writings. As you will further know, quite a lot of them are not very good, and some of them aren’t even funny. But that somehow never puts me off, so when I went to see Jeremy Hardy and Jack Dee talking as part of Lambeth Readers’ and Writers’ festival a couple of weeks ago I should have known I’d end up buying more  books by comedians.

The talk took place at West Norwood library, which turns out to have a fully functional theatre tucked away in the back room. After the interviews the floor was opened up to questions, and as I wavered Englishly in the back row, wondering whether I had the balls to raise my hand, someone else got in with the question I was going to ask.

“Is it easier to write a book if you already know how to write stand-up, or are they two completely different skills?”

Jack said that it wasn’t very different for him, because he deliberately wrote his book in the style of his stand-up. Having read it, I can now confirm that this is entirely true. Reading it is more or less exactly like reading a Jack Dee stand-up script, except that occasionally he says something very earnest, usually about god, and you anxiously wait for the punchline before realising he means it. There are some good jokes in between, though, and a cheering photo of Jack aged four wearing exactly the expression he always has.

I found Jeremy Hardy’s book more engaging. For a start, it isn’t a straight piece of autobiography but a family history, so it’s not really very much about him. I know comedians like to talk about themselves, but it’s refreshing when they talk about other people too.

But then, Jeremy Hardy has always struck me as unusually humble for a comedian. Another question someone asked was “which other comedians do you admire the most?”. Jack Dee gave the usual answer, which is always some combination of Monty Python, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook and Morecambe and Wise. This is a popular answer because it says “I only admire the very best, and nobody of my generation is better than me.” So I was completely charmed when Jeremy Hardy chose Mark Steel, Daniel Kitson and Jo Brand. Not only are they his contemporaries, they also all live round the corner from him. He didn’t pick unassailable icons; he picked his mates.

The book is likeable and well-written, and also moral and thoughtful. In the end he decides that it doesn’t really matter who you’re descended from, or where they lived, but that there is real human joy in meeting people and forming relationships with them, whether they’re distant relations you haven’t seen in forty years, children who aren’t biologically related to you but whom you love none the less for it, or just the friendly folk at Arundel Castle who help you look up some records on a rainy day.

I also got both books signed. Well, I was there. I can report that Jeremy wrote “To Laura, love Jeremy Hardy”, but that Jack slightly trumped him by adding a little kiss underneath.

Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park

Warning: do not read the below if you haven’t read either of these books, because I will almost certainly accidentally tell you who ends up married to whom.

Having finished and only quite enjoyed Emma, I’m not sure why I immediately picked up Northanger Abbey, but I did and I’m glad, because I loved it. It’s a bit disjointed, but it’s funny and pacy and has characters who are either comically awful or likeable and charming – especially the heroine, Catherine Morland, who is the most engaging heroine I’ve come across since Anne of Green Gables. And for once she falls in love with someone who actually sounds attractive, rather than with a pompous buffoon. Good.

I was less keen on Mansfield Park. For one thing, it’s really long, and though structurally it makes more sense than either Northanger Abbey or Emma, there’s lots that feels repetitive. For another, the heroine is a pissy, prissy little wimp. I kept hoping that her saintly self-sacrifice and po-faced piousness were hiding something more interesting, but no. Fortunately, she gets to marry someone quite as mealy-mouthed and solemn as herself, presumably so that they can spend eternity pointedly disapproving of everyone else. Good for them, but I wasn’t sure the 400 pages it took me to get them there were worth the time I spent on them. And although there are nasty characters, there are no laughs. It reads rather like one of the dreary but morally improving novels which Austen is so wittily rude about in Northanger Abbey. Perhaps she lost her cheek as she got older and more ill.

I still have Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility to read, but I think I’ll give myself a short break from Jane Austen first. Last week I accidentally bought three science books, so I might read one of those next, after which I’ll no doubt be desperate to fling myself back into the world of matrimony and means (one of the books should have been called that. Actually, all of the books could have been called that).


As I approached the entrance to Brixton tube yesterday morning, I had a train of thought which went like this:

Please don’t try to give me a copy of Stylist magazine, please don’t try to give me a copy of Stylist magazine…you bastard! Why didn’t you try to give me a copy of Stylist magazine? Is it because you think I look like a MAN?

After I stopped reading Stylist for the fun of spotting the typos (it gets old quite quickly), I started reading it for the content, but that only lasted a week because it’s full of exortations to spend lots of money on really stupid things, and I am going through one of my periodic phases of disgust at the amount of stuff I have. When I moved from north London to south London three years ago under dramatic circumstances, I left everything behind. Well, almost everything – I kept my clothes, my books and my piano. I moved into a rented room in Brixton and felt the peculiar lightness that comes with leaving everything behind, including most of your responsibilities. I have new responsibilities now, ones I chose myself rather than picking up by accident, but I still don’t have that much stuff. I don’t need any new stuff.

So Stylist magazine isn’t for me. Sometimes I pick up a copy of Metro and read the celebrity gossip, the Nemi cartoon (I am the only person in the world who likes it, but I like it enough to make up for all those other people) and the football pages, along with anything else that catches my eye, but that lasts for less than half of my commute. So I read my book. At the moment, my book is Emma, and it’s the first Jane Austen I’ve attempted as an adult. And it’s sweet and funny and I’m enjoying it, but good grief, everything that happens is flagged up at least fifty pages in advance. And then there’s a hundred pages where actually nothing happens at all. I think it’s the perfect example of style overcoming substance.