Time of Silence, by Luis Martín-Santos

I just happened upon this book in a charity shop in the first week of July, so I bought it and read it for Spanish Literature Month. I thought I might vaguely have heard of it before somewhere.

Despite the occasional savage review, I do usually start books optimistically; – and normally this continues for a few pages at least, before the poverty of thought and style start to bore me. Perhaps because I’ve struggled with so many books recently (including other ones for SLM) and really can only any longer find myself persevering with works of the very highest standard, I began Time of Silence with a fair degree of disinclination and prejudice; and nothing in the first part dissuaded me from this. Something about experiments on mice and cancer; scientific jargon; short sentences – little to impress.

At some point though, which in retrospect I imagined was much further on, at the point when our hero Pedro and his assistant Amador descend into the shantytown in the Madrid suburbs, but which may in truth have been much earlier, my mind changed and I began to think that this novel, written by a man unknown in the country (at least, he has no English Wikipedia page) was the best novel I’d read this year (which isn’t saying too much, since I haven’t read too much) and moreover one of the better ones of the last century.

Perhaps it was sentences like this description of Madrid on p.11:

The city is so stunted, so lacking in historical substance, treated in such an offhand way by arbitrary rulers, capriciously built in a desert, inhabited by so few families rooted in its past, far from the sea or any river, ostentatious in the display of its shabby poverty, favored by a splendid sky which almost makes one forget its defects, ingenuously self-satisfied like a fifteen–year-old girl, created merely for the prestige of a dynasty, … bereft of authentic nobility … incapable of speaking its own language with the correct intonation … having no authentic Jewry … rich in dull theologians and poor in splendid mystics … [and so on for a page or two]

From then on, I found the writing marvellous, and it began to fulfil for me the one value of any worth in literature: that is, every time I remembered it, I wanted to pick it up again and continue reading. Martín-Santos certainly has a way of approaching narrative I find at almost every moment pleasing, though I’d have to pay a good deal more attention to being a critic than a reader to decide precisely what this is.

Since this meant to be a learned review, however, aspiring to claim more than just “it was great”, let me make a few easy comparisons: I thought at first it was like Joyce’s Ulysses, it had shifting view-points and stream-of-consciousness bits and seemed to be taking course over a single day and there was a nighttown scene where our hero visited a brothel; but then I began to think it was a bit more like Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, for it was more wide-ranging than Joyce, there were intimations of a plot developing, people were involved in sin, satire abounded and the sentences wandered where they liked; but then I settled on it being more like Bely’s Petersberg, because there were many capricious changes of style, and a sort of thriller plot was developing. Yes, it is like all these things; and it also reminded me of Juan Goytisolo too, those rants of his against Spain and the Spanish, though here it is more controlled, more considered and intelligible.

Read it then, if you can find a copy.

(This was Martín-Santos’ only novel. He was soon after killed in a car-crash.)

The Sound and The Fury, by William Faulkner

Despite its notoriety, I didn’t find The Sound and The Fury that difficult a read. It helps of course that I’ve read it before, and know the structure and the plot; and that I’ve read a lot of Faulkner and know his wiles. I remember last time being frustrated at the character Quentin, who seemed the most unstable and even to change sex; – but these days I’m aware of Faulkner’s penchant for multiple characters with the same names (see too his previous novel, Sartoris / Flags in the Dust) – of which in this novel we have (at least) three sets: Quentin, of course, and Quentin; then the two Jasons (the son and narrator of part three, and also the father); and there’s two Maurys (Uncle Maury; and also Maury is Benjamin’s given name – from which it is changed, I think maybe, in retrospect, at the will of the mother, so that Benjamin is less associated with her family – Uncle Maury is her brother, generally mocked by the Compsons). The latter two pairs are just by the by: at the most they lead to a full sentences’ worth of puzzlement.

Of the four parts, Part One, told from Benjy’s point of view, is the most notorious; but if anything I found certain passages of Part Two (told by Quentin the brother) more difficult. The difficulty in Benjy’s section is more around time-shifts: the action takes place over part of a day, but in reality mostly takes place in Benjy’s mind, scenes from the past which are brought back in his memory; – yet Faulkner puts in enough clues to make all this comprehensible: in particular, you can begin to gauge when a scene took place by the presence of certain secondary characters. Part two is similar in general structure, but there is much more concentration, on Quentin’s part, on the world immediately around him, and the forming of a clearer and coherent picture of the past, though again not everything is explained (and I would say, never is).

These two passage are bordering on stream-of-consciousness, but I didn’t think any of the book was told in a pure stream-of-consciousness manner: Faulkner fills in the picture a lot more than, say, Joyce; and his consideration in this respect is much appreciated; – indeed, in general I feel with Faulkner that he pushes things, but always gives the reader just enough information that he doesn’t become wholly frustrated and annoyed. The last two parts, the first told by Jason and the second for the most part merely narrated, are much easier going; and in fact, I found, much less interesting: firstly, because Jason himself is less interesting as a person, and has a much less interesting world-view; and secondly because the story has already been told; they don’t add much; – the fourth part, in particular, struck me as nothing but an unnecessary coda to the rest – though giving Faulkner a chance to return to his more baroque style, which he tragically eschews for the most part of the narrative.

I commented in my review of Flags in the Dust that that book was marred (and criticised and left unpublished) because Faulkner’s viewpoints were split into too many different narratives which didn’t really cohere; and perhaps he took this criticism on board, since The Sound and The Fury sticks with those multiple viewpoints (as do all his novels up to this point), but concentrates them now on a single narrative; – which I think is more successful, but suffers – as I feel do all such books – from in the end being measured by the worse rather than the better of those narratives.

All of which is in terms of style and structure, but there’s an awful lot of content in The Sound and The Fury too. I became intrigued after a time by the notion that Faulkner was heavily influenced in this book by Zola. (I know he was into French writing – but more poetry, I think; – the symbolists). This notion though of a family degenerating over several generations through the function of heredity is pure Zola – the Compsons are just the Lantiers – the Rougon-Macquarts; – the mother, particularly in the latter half of the book, perceives everything in the Compson (father’s) side of the family as morally evil and inherently selfish (even while defending Quentin the daughter, who is the Nana character and very much a Compson); – and this is for me the true centre of the narrator: for Faulkner portrays them as quite the opposite: Caddie is the truly loving, selfless character – as fundamentally seen in her attitude to Benjy; for it is only really Caddy who cares for Benjy; and as a consequence Benjy only really cares for Caddy; – his mother, you feel, would rather he hadn’t been born, and only ever complains about his presence; Jason – who is throughout the novel portrayed by Faulkner as utterly selfish – would have him locked away in an institution; neither Quentin’s attitudes to Benjy are ever fully established; and the father remains ever a distant, ironic figure; – but it is clear Faulkner’s sympathies remain with Caddie and the latter three, and we are to see the mother as wrong, deluded.

Ah, there’s so much more than this too.

Next up: As I Lay Dying, which was the first Faulkner I read.

Arthurian Romances, by Chrétien de Troyes

One of the things I’ve wondered in my reading of Arthurian romances is why the Monty Python team ever made their Quest for the Holy Grail. I watched it recently, and it is a good parody; it certainly knows its stuff. But after all, why bother? Nobody reads Arthurian romances any more; the world of chivalry clearly has no relevance to the modern world (not, at least, as I’ve experienced it). It hasn’t been in fashion since the Renaissance. (I conclude that one of them – probably Terry Gilliam – and this based on the nature of his other films; you can’t go far in Arthurian romance without coming across The Fisher King – just happened to be interested in the subject).

Like most people, despite being British, I was not brought up on Arthurian romance. I may have read a book about Arthur when I was young; I may even have seen some films; but no one ever cared to teach me about it. Perhaps this is because it falls between the worlds of history and fiction (certainly a lot of the history books of the time, which I’m also currently reading, tend to disparage Arthur whenever they can). But I’m of the impression that the British aren’t generally too interested either in the literature or the history of the period between the Roman and the Norman conquest (perhaps they are scared off by its extreme characteristic of immigration), while I on the other hand find myself increasingly drawn to its chaos. Not, of course, that this is the literature of that period; it is a backward-looking literature that only really begins in the twelfth century. Besides, we like to believe we are drawn from the civilised Latins and Greeks, not a psychotic amalgam of Celts, Danes, Norseman and Germans. And of course the other thing which probably puts off the British is a lot of Arthurian Romance, like the work of Chrétien de Troyes, was written in French.

Chrétien wrote five Arthurian Romances (along with maybe a few other things), of which I’ve now read three. I tried a few years ago to read his first romance, Eric and Enide, but only recall it as turgid stuff which has coloured my view of Arthurian Romance ever since. These other three are however of much better quality.

Yvain (The Knight with the Lion) is about this knight who kills this woman’s husband and then marries her and then goes away to seek adventure, promising to return in a year, but then forgets his promise and goes mad and lives naked in a forest for a bit where he befriends a lion. He then forms a knightly tag-team with this lion, which involves him being challenged by various unchivalrous knights and ogres, who always want to fight him at odds of two or three to one, but stipulate that he’s not allowed to use the lion, because that would be unfair. Yvain agrees to this, and tells the lion not to get involved, but the lion often seems not to understand this injunction.

Lancelot (The Knight of the Cart) is more of a quest-type story. A man turns up at Arthur’s court one day saying if someone would lead Guinivere into a certain dark forest, then he’ll kidnap her; so someone leads her into the forest and he kidnaps her. Then Lancelot and Gawain set out to rescue her, and go through various trials, until eventually Lancelot does rescue her, whereupon they embark on an adulterous affair. On reflection, the whole work may actually be an elaborate allegory of adultery; I should read it again. There is a lot more to these works than I’m making out in these precises.

Perceval (or the Quest for the Holy Grail) is the earliest extent account of the quest for the holy grail, and gives us many of its salient features – not least the issue, which had seriously puzzled me in my reading of another Arthurian romance, of Perceval failing to ask a question he should have asked – a matter seemingly of some importance in Arthurian legend. Much of the mystery here may come from the fact that Chretien never finished this work.

Another aspect of Perceval is that it often borders on burlesque. Even though we are close to the origin of Arthurian romance, there’s already something of the self-parody about it. Perceval has been brought up by his mother in complete ignorance of the world; when he first encounters a knight, he doesn’t even know what he is – he assumes his armour is some sort of natural carapace. Then throughout the work Perceval retains this character of the innocent abroad, which is used to good comic effect and often reminded me a lot of Robert Walser’s narrators. I found myself wondering too, what really divides this romance from a novel; and was Cervantes’ contribution of the knightly burlesque so very new after all? I need to read Cervantes soon.

All good, enjoyable stuff, which should be read more and better known.

Egil’s Saga

Reading the literature of the world and of past centuries, I find myself generally reflecting how similar we all are, how little anything has changed. Human-beings seem basically to have the same emotions and the same stories connected with them whenever and wherever they have existed. Even in the ancient world, I don’t find emotions that are notably different: I don’t find anything odd in Oedipus acting as he does; Ajax’s reactions seem to me no different to the way anyone would react now. Others have stressed clear differences: between, say, Greek and Jacobean (Christian) drama, but I don’t see any of it; it seems to me to be their delusion, an idle cherry-picking contrivance. Even Heian Japanese literature, which I find the furthest from my experience, still has a lot in common with us (its fundamental interest in sex and love affairs); it is just the extraordinary interest it has in ritual which marks it out.

But Egil’s Saga seems to me the most remote work from my experience of humanity I have ever read. It’s not so much the extreme violence of all the characters in it; but that we’re led into a world where killing people doesn’t seem to be regarded as morally reprehensible in any way. To take an example: Egil’s father, Skallagrim, when Egil is about ten, accidentally kills his Egil’s friend in a berserk rage during a football match; Egil is naturally upset, so during dinner, he takes out a knife and kills one of Skallagrim’s favourite servants in revenge; they don’t speak for a few months, but after that the whole matter is forgotten. More generally, each summer the characters in the book have to make a basic decision: whether to stay at home farming, or whether to get into their boats, sail somewhere and murder everyone they come across, burn their houses and steal all their valuables.

All this is in no way an aberration; it is the way their society is constructed from the top down. Death and violence are never far away; what land or life you hold is at the behest of someone higher in the hierarchy: Skallagrim’s followers live at the behest of Skallagrim; Skallagrim himself holds his land and his life on the whim of the king. (The basic plot is that Skallagrim and the new king don’t get on, so Skallagrim is exiled and goes off to help found the new settlement in Iceland). If you want to survive in this world, you have to maintain your position of authority – your honour, your place in society – by strength and violence. There are basically no laws – or none which can’t be broken. It’s a world of anarchy.

We would perhaps think of this as a world without civilisation; so it seems strange – since we are accustomed to see civilisation and art go hand in hand – that works of art should come out of it. The Iliad, for instance, depicts a world which is not so far removed from Egil’s Saga – there is certainly the implication in the story of the rape of Helen, of a world in which people went marauding and plundering in boats; and of course the entire work is based on the notion of honour; – but The Iliad also seems to have more of a social framework to it, there is a kind of civilisation behind it which I find absent from Egil’s Saga. But the thing is, while we like to believe that as a society we are derived from a Graeco-Romano / Christian tradition, really our society comes out of the society of Egil’s Saga (infused by the other tradition, it is true, but never overriden by it): the Angles, the Saxons, the Danes, the Normans – they all came from the same area of the world as the Vikings.

The idea of honour, for instance, in Egil’s Saga, persists in a degenerate form through the European literary tradition: but where maintaining honour in Egil’s Saga is a matter of life and death; in the nineteenth century, aristocrats end up fighting duels so that they won’t be spoken about behind their backs. (I’ve just been reading Eca de Queiros’ The Maias, which has a lot about honour in it – indeed, if no one cared about their honour in it, there’d be no plot).

The other idea which may strike us as odd in Egil’s Saga is that Egil, aside from being driven by a bloodlust and constantly and brutally killing people, is also a very fine poet. Again, I’m reminded of Heian Japanese literature, where the ability to compose extempore poems is an important social attribute. Egil gets out of various scrapes by sitting down for a few hours and composing a marvellous panegyric. (My favourite character name in the book was a poet called, Auden the Uninspired).

The book may not at all times be artful: these works are essentially chronicles, embellished histories, following the fortunes of a single hero to depict a period of society. I enjoyed all the business of the Norwegians going out and settling Iceland, which runs in the background of the story. (It reminded of the great movement of peoples that exists behind the plot of The Lord of the Rings, which of course is derived from all these Northern tales).

On then to another saga.

Whither blog, 2016?

A new year, a new hosting site. (The other site will disappear in time, I’m sure). It’s impressive how easy it was to export/re-import all the data. (The only thing which hasn’t copied across is the links’ page, which I’ll need to reconstruct. I’ve had to use a new theme, and this is about the only free 3-column one, and I’m a little frustrated how few features you can customise without paying – I wish the margins were wider on this theme; – on wordpress outside wordpress, you could play with the actual programming, and do what you want! – I’m also going to have to think what to do with Books Read etc).

I admit this blog (let’s call it, the previous blog) has fallen apart of late; – but, so has my reading of novels. Partly this has to do with life; partly novels. For it is only novels I am having a problem with; – for plays, for non-fiction, for Icelandic sagas, I retain a great avidity.

It’s something that’s in fact been building a while. Long since I’ve noticed an inclination towards non-fiction – a familiar enough occurrence, I understand, as you get older. I don’t know what it is, but I’m finding something more interesting, more stimulating in the factual. But also I’ve reached a new point where I find myself questioning too the worth of the novel as an art form. (One amongst many things which annoyed me this year about Robert McCrum’s list of the hundred greatest novels, is that it only had novels in it. For two hundred years, I think, in literature, we’ve convinced ourselves that the novel is the superior art form; yet for two thousand years before, it was scorned.)

The problem with novels is their length. (No, I’ve never been good at long novels; anything over 300 pages I’ve always struggled with). But I’ve come to think now that all (most?) novels are too long. You need a fine degree of genius, in fact, if you’re to maintain a novel over 100 pages.

And I’m not talking about current literature when I say this: you already know I have little but contempt for what people are writing now; but plenty of our greatest novelists too have written flabby monsters. (I’m thinking currently of Nabokov’s Glory, which I’ve been stuck in for a long time – a work which is only 188 pages, but would be better at less than half that – or not written at all). It’s not merely that I think all writing would be improved by being a little more succinct, by trying to structure your novel a little better so that you’re not tediously dragging out your plots and ideas; wasting a little less of your reader’s time. (Of course, I understand there are commercial reasons why you don’t want to write less than 100 pages). Perhaps it is all these plays I’ve been reading: but drama is a much more tighter-controlled artistic experience, and I think Aristotle is right here: there is a greater artistic impact in something if you can read it at one sitting; – you can easier turn back too, and read it again.

It doesn’t help that I’ve reached the point where I’m reading 50 novels at once, and am stuck in most of them. I’m looking through the ones currently that I’m actually inclined to finish, trying to find some common denominator: Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, Cao Xueqin’s Story of the Stone, Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Rabalais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, GV Desani’s All About H Hatterr – and that’s about it; the other 45, I am simply not going to go on with; and I am going to be much, much more ruthless about giving up on novels from now on. So all the novels I intend to go on with are classics (the last is the only one not as accepted), but also they are all episodic – the plot isn’t so much the point, as the vehicle in which it is carried, the world evoked which can be endlessly configured.

So fewer novels this year, more plays, more non-fiction. I’ve suddenly become interested in Icelandic sagas; and also – for some reason or other – Arthurian romances. (Seriously, Mr Obooki, you find novels too long and of too little artistic worth, so you’re going to read Arthurian romances? – I know. I have my reasons). Also, I intend to get something (fictional) written this year (asap) and get it out into the world (“publish” might be too strong a word for what I intend).

Plays Unpleasant, by George Bernard Shaw

Plays Unpleasant is the best place to start reading George Bernard Shaw – at least, if you’re intending to read his works in chronological order.

I remember name-checking Shaw as someone I’d never read in this meme (along with all playwrights – something I’ve done much since to amend; – and as increasingly play-reading is taking over from fiction in my reading, next year I will be setting up a Plays Read page – because I think I should at least do mini-reviews of them; – I was enormously impressed, for instance, recently by Gottfried Lessing’s Emilia Galotti, yet couldn’t get round to writing a whole post about it, nor could I include it in Books Read since it’s part of a five-plays compendium of German tragedy; – I feel a separate categorisation will encourage me to read more plays). (I tried reading Agatha Christie too from that meme, but it was rubbish – just rubbish).

So, Shaw. No one reads him nowadays, and yet his books are easy to come by in secondhand shops; – a mystery. Plays Unpleasant contains his first three plays: Widows’ Houses, The Philanderer and Mrs Warren’s Profession.

Widows’ Houses is  a play about private landlords, the abuse of tenants, and rental prices in London – and as such seems remarkably topical. It is also, unsurprisingly, about class (as an Englishman, I find class the most tedious subject imaginable for art). The wholly original plot revolves around an impoverished aristocrat desiring to marry a rich girl from the rising merchant class; but it’s not class prejudice which finally gets in the way, rather it’s his discovery that the wealth of the girl’s father, a landlord, is entirely derived from the exploitation of the poor; but it gets worse for him too, when the girl’s father points out that this is exactly where his own income comes from as well, so he can’t exactly cast aspersions.

The play is in essence exactly what I expected a play of George Bernard Shaw’s would be like. I always had in mind the idea that he was something of a socialist, and that this political inclination came to overly colour his plays. What I didn’t quite realise was how much, at this stage in his career at least, he derived from Ibsen. Basically all three of these plays are just Ibsen plays with a less subtle political subtext (not that I personally think that Ibsen’s political subtext is the least bit subtle).

Of the three, The Philanderer is the most obsessed with Ibsen, though not this time so much with copying from him as discussing him. Perhaps you could see it as an alternative reality play, positing what a world would be like if a portion of it actually embraced Ibsen’s ideas. Ibsenism in the play is largely concerned with emancipation from convention of women. There is an Ibsen Club, to which you can only gain membership if you hold advanced views. A woman gains membership by pretending such views, but really she wants to tie a man (The Philanderer) down to a relationship, so she isn’t an Ibsenist at all. Really, I feel I make it sound more interesting than it is. Perhaps, as GBS himself feels, it is a play of its time, having now a mere historic interest – yet, had I been told it had been written in the 1960s, I don’t think I’d have been surprised; it seems to be discussing free love and its associated complications.

Mrs Warren’s Profession was banned for a long time from the English stage for its treatment of the subject of prostitution; and I couldn’t help considering, as I was reading it, all the plays from the Restoration I’ve been reading recently which are far, far more explicit in their usage of prostitutes. It was a different age of course; England had slipped into a long period of prudery (which had started at least by Sheridan, though even later Restoration Comedies tended to be toned down; and I don’t think ever finally relaxed until the 1960s; – and of course still persists culturally even today). There is no actual prostitution in Mrs Warren’s Profession, nor is the play set within the society in which prostitution occurs – it is hidden from us the theatre-goer, just as it is hidden from good society in real life;  – it is going on somewhere outside the play; and I’m sure this is part of  Shaw’s strategy: we like to deny the existence of this world, even while we live off it; this is the essence of Victorian hypocrisy. This is the same trick he used in Widows’ Houses: the question of marriage becomes tainted by the whereabouts of the proceeds of wealth.

The plots of these three plays are all comedic plots, of the Shakespearean (Menandrian) variety: two people fall in love, something comes in the way of their love, but eventually they get together. The something in GBS’ plays is always some social construct. But the plays differ from comedies in not being particular funny, or entering into scenes from which hilarity might arise. GBS doesn’t want to make us laugh; he wants to be shocked. And I think this is failing of all three GBS plays I’ve read so far: the plot is conventional, uninterested, uninspired dramatically; the inspiration lies entirely in the social critique it is propounding.

You can’t discuss Shaw either without noting his opposition to the use of apostrophes. It’s more extreme than say Cormac McCarthy, but not total – the word “I’m” always comes with an apostrophe, but not, for instance, “youd”, which gives it a sort of arbitrary feel. I’m not certain of the reasons for Shaw’s objection to apostrophes; perhaps he felt it was a deliberate attempt to keep down the working classes; – I have an idea he was also in favour of phonetic spelling in English.

So on to his next set, Plays Pleasant.

Obooki Does SF

I’ve been reading some SF recently: I read Arthur C Clarke’s The City and The Stars, and I read Philip K Dick’s Ubik.

The City and the Stars, by Arthur C Clarke

Along with Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood’s End and A Fall of Moondust, this seems generally considered to be among his best work. I’ve read the first two in that list before, and have differing opinions: Rendezvous with Rama is, I feel, by far his best work; Childhood’s End I have reservations about; – much the same reservations, in fact, as I feel for The City and The Stars.

Clarke is a functional writer; his style is neither here nor there; it moves unnoticed; – and this is a big plus in the largely illiterate world of SF. The effects he achieves are not through style, nor plot, nor necessarily even ideas – he achieves his effect through SF awe. I think this is where Rendezvous with Rama succeeds; it posits something wonderful and other. The City and The Stars does too, in a way, though it is less other – we are dealing with man far in the future, who lives now in a single enclosed city, from which he is disinclined to emerge, where all evolution has been in stasis for billions of year and feelings of love etc. have been forgotten.

And this is kind of what annoys me about the book. Man has become too rational, has sought in his scientific way to eliminate all chance events, even if this means ruining some of the finer things in life; – and the book is about how he comes to reconnect with love, and discover what it means to be human (blah blah blah). There’s a good bit of awe; but overwhelmed by childish sentiments; things I don’t fear will ever come to pass (man enjoys love and irrationality only too much, I don’t see him giving them up). And I feel a quibble too about this stasis idea: it doesn’t strike me as any sensible way to attempt to survive billions of years, by stopping evolution and trying to control chance events; evolution is itself a means of overcoming chance events, though it cares little whether it’s man which succeeds and some other offshoot – in fact, it cares little if it doesn’t succeed at all.

Ubik, by Philip K Dick

I know less how well regarded Ubik is. I read it because I bought Stanislaw Lem’s series of essays, Microworlds, in which he goes on about Dick (and Ubik) at length in his essay: Philip K Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans, a title for which I immediately feel an affinity, since it is close to what I think about the SF world. (The previous essay, Science Fiction: A Hopeless Case – with Exceptions, also mentions Dick a lot).

Ubik is a strange book, one in which I felt myself lead astray: you think it is going to be about one thing (the development of telepathic powers, an endless battle between people being able to see into your mind and people able to prevent this), and then it interests itself in another (the persistence of existence in a sort of cryogenically preserved brain-state after death). There’s a good half of the novel in which I felt myself largely bewildered as to what the hell was going on, the plot seemed to be spiralling out of control; – but Dick does bring it all to some kind of explanation. It’s just that I didn’t really like the explanation or the direction the novel took – I’d have preferred it had kept on about telepathy; – the life-after-death stuff interested me a lot less; like in Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep, all those bits about religion, about someone climbing a hill and having stones thrown at him.

I feel a peculiar sense of sordidness reading Philip K Dick’s novel, and I don’t know why. Again, like Clarke, I think he has a serviceable style; there’s just something about the subject-matter, perhaps about his characters, I find grubby.