Carried on their shoulders, a silent immobile lady had entered the room, a lady of oakum and canvas, with a black wooden knob instead of a head. But when stood in the corner, between the door and the stove, that silent woman became the mistress of the situation.– Bruno Shulz, 'Tailor's Dummies'
"Am I to conceal from you," he said in a low tone, "that my own brother, as a result of a long and incurable illness, has been gradually transformed into a bundle of rubber tubing, and that my poor cousin had to carry him day and night on his cushion, singing to the luckless creature endless lullabies on winter nights? Can there be anything sadder than a human being changed into the rubber tube of an enema? What disappointment for his parents, what confusion for their feelings, what frustration of the hopes centered around the promising youth! And yet, the faithful love of my poor cousin was not denied him, even during that transformation."– Bruno Shulz, 'Treatise on Tailor's Dummies, Conclusion'
Sometimes a book will do both of these things and yet the book won’t become an instant favourite. Indeed, you’ll struggle to finish it.
The Street of Crocodiles is such a book.
Interesting, inventive, sometimes brilliant when examined in small chunks, but unwieldy and tedious when read at length. It doesn’t help that the edition I read is actually two story collections and a few uncollected stories slammed between to covers.
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (novel, audiobook)
Despair by Vladimir Nabokov (novel, audiobook)
Sometimes, like the case of Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle your reading of the earlier work will be completely occupied by this game of spot the difference (differences being rarer than similarities).
Sometimes, the similarities will be striking but the book will manage its own foothold on your attention and inveigle its way into your consciousness. Such was the case with Despair, which serves as a protean from of many later novels: the eloquent deviant writing in a form of incarceration, the rival for the narrator’s woman, the doubling of characters, themes and symbols. While Despair’s Hermann is similar to Lolita’s Humbert – his arrogance, his love of wordplay, his myopia – the fact Despair gives itself over so fully to the idea of doubles (and false doubles) means it retains its own interest.
(Perhaps also the fact it was the first time I’d read Nabokov in at least four years — after being under VladNab’s spell in my early twenties — made me more amenable...)