By the same author, Jack Robinson
Cb Editions, 2016 £5.00
Is XXX one novel, or several? (Helena Nelson)
This could be one of the most enjoyable fivers you’ve ever spent (spent on a literary work, that is). But the narrator is unreliable, in more than one sense, and you should be too. Well, I was.
It was not until I read someone else's review of this pamphletty thing which could be prose and could be poetry and could be something else altogether that it occurred to me XXX might refer to more than one novel.
Let me explain. The narrator of by the same author refers, on most of the pages here, to a novel named XXX by a novelist called T S Nyman, who is a blue writer and assumed by said narrator to be female. The narrator (unnamed) forms a liaison with a waiter called Eric who is also a writer (‘waiting is only one letter different from writing’). They share an intense interest in T S Nyman. I say ‘intense’ because why else would the two of them be sitting together in the departures hall of an airport in the last chapter, when the author of XXX is called to the information desk? I believe Eric and the narrator have become stalkers.
As I said, I assumed XXX was a single novel, an oblique way of referring to it without using an actual title. But then I noticed that the narrator, on page 10, says ‘I never finished XXX’, while on page 26 he refers to the ending of XXX (‘a cop-out’) and on page 30 to the film of XXX where they make a ‘hash of the ending’. So he’s either lying, or there’s more than one book.
I think he’s lying. Otherwise why would he say ‘behind XXX there’s a YYY, which is the real book’?
Unless it’s that behind all the XXXs there are YYYs.
We need to trust our authors. But the author isn’t the narrator. Or the narrator isn’t the author. Or the whole thing isn’t what it seems to be, and the unreliable narrator, who claims to be an unreliable reader himself, is spinning a yarn. Beautifully.
Loneliness of the long-term reader (Charlotte Gann)
On the back cover of this excellently funny, short, uncategorisable book, Jack Robinson quotes Coleridge. ‘But the writings of a contemporary, perhaps not so many years older than himself, surrounded by the same circumstances and disciplined by the same manners, possess a reality for him and inspire an actual friendship as of a man for a man.’
by the same author is tenderly handled – one fan’s lifelong following of a fictional writer’s career. It’s also wonderfully observed – and anyone who’s ever felt this way will recognise themselves here. And it's extremely funny:
Reader, I married her – Eric getting a little carried away. After XXX he did write to her, care of her publisher. A kind of thank-you letter, he says, very polite. Two or three letters, he adds, when I ask if that was the only one.
But I think the book’s also (at least semi-)serious. Our narrator’s devotion to the writer’s work is real. But it’s not the whole story. Alongside this, we catch glimpses of his life, and loneliness: his new acquaintanceship with Eric – also a devotee – and, beyond that, a number of seemingly fleeting (sexual) encounters.
While our narrator has no sustained desire to meet his heroine in the flesh – indeed, he’s rather afraid to – I found especially touching his account of when he may, unknowingly, have:
You’d think we’d have spoken, two foreigners thrown together in a country where we didn’t speak the language, but we didn’t. Maybe we nodded, in the dining room or in the lobby . . .
It doesn’t seem a crass thing – this (one-sided) connection. In fact, the reverse. But it can seem quite crucial. ‘I may have been, for example, lonely’, Jack Robinson writes – and how I love that ‘for example’. ‘I’m still not safe’, he adds – before retreating into comforting rant-mode: ‘I do so hate those reviews that say a writer ‘shows promise’.’