Tuesday, December 27, 2011

the last book I read

Come Dance With Me by Russell Hoban.

Christabel Alderton, 54, is the singer with aging goth-rock stalwarts Mobile Mortuary. Elias Newman, 62, is a doctor specialising in the study and treatment of diabetes. Nothing so strange there, you might say; well, no, actually you probably wouldn't say that, but this is a Russell Hoban novel, so a certain amount of quirkiness is par for the course.

Anyway, Christabel and Elias meet at an art exhibition - Christabel has just got back from the toilets after having to go and throw up after coming over all unnecessary looking at Odilon Redon's Cyclops (which is a bit weird, to be fair). No sooner have they met and exchanged a few cryptic pleasantries than Christabel dashes off to the loo again, where Elias pursues her and thrusts his phone number under the cubicle door.

Christabel's reluctance to get involved in dealings with men is explained by her past problems with them: namely that several ex-lovers and her own four-year-old son Django have died in bizarre and/or mysterious circumstances, and she's a bit concerned that she's jinxed in some way. But eventually Elias' persistence pays off and they go on a few dates, culminating in a (chaste) night spent together at Elias' flat and then his attendance at a Mobile Mortuary gig in London, but then Christabel disappears from Elias' life as quickly as she had entered it.

A few enquiries among the other members of the band reveal that the tenth anniversary of Django's death is imminent and that Christabel has gone to Maui (where it happened) to commemorate the event. It also turns out that Django died by falling off a cliff, and, concerned about what form this commemorative activity might take, Elias hot-foots it to Maui to catch up with Christabel and persuade her that there might be things worth sticking around for.

Here's a funny thing: I bought this book in one of the numerous second-hand bookshops in Hay-On-Wye after reading Kleinzeit (my first Hoban) back in August 2010, and between then and it bubbling to the top of my pile of things to read (exactly a fortnight ago in fact) Hoban has died at the age of 86 - here are the obituaries from the Guardian and the Independent.

The general consensus from the obituaries seems to be that the mid-period stuff set away from Hoban's usual contemporary London is the pick of his work - stuff like Riddley Walker, Pilgermann and Fremder. Certainly Come Dance With Me (published in 2005) is much gentler than any of those (or than they sound, rather, since I haven't yet read any of them), and while it's still very playful and charming it's less wilfully odd than Kleinzeit was.

I suspect Hoban is one of those authors who you either "get" (in that you find the trademark quirkiness and occasional random tangents endearing) or you don't (in that you find them all a bit irritating); personally I found the two I've now read to be highly enjoyable. Come Dance With Me is as light as a feather even in comparison with Kleinzeit, which wasn't exactly War And Peace, but none the worse for that. And it's really short - 188 pages, large print, lots of chapter breaks - so you can knock it off in a few hours. Have a go.

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