Austria in summer is like being in The Sound of Music. We were staying in a chalet above a sparkling lake and the dog bounded around meadows all day, occasionally barking at a velvety beige cow. We bought schnapps from an old couple up the mountain track whose window box geraniums cascaded almost down to cobbles in their yard. The trees were heavy with fat red apples and insects buzzed above the long grass.
We were there with my husband’s family, partly because his father lives in Salzburg (he actually lives in the Sound of Music schloss, which is, in fact, a think tank) and partly because my husband’s grandmother and grandfather met in just such a chalet a very long time ago. There was swimming in lakes, tennis in the heat and a lot of dumplings and meat (the skiing diet doesn’t quite work for summer), but most people sat around reading most of the time. I didn’t have a book with me. Well, that is a lie. I had this very fat collection of early American literature that looked good when I picked it up, but actually is excerpts with lots of commentary and is very boring.
Someone offered me a Dan Brown but I didn’t think I could quite stomach that. My mother-in-law handed over a thriller about pike fishing but the first two pages were full of lines like; ‘The asshole pulled his magnum sleekly out of his desk drawer and fired one clean bullet straight into….’ You know the kind of thing. I left it getting soggy on some decking in the lake hut and then I left it drying out on the balcony overlooking some fenced off deer that honked like seals, and then I forgot about it. I had my eye on a cousin’s Nordic crime novel that looked as though it had scenes in foggy wastelands and an appealing greyness about it. He finished it and promptly lent it to someone else who wasn’t even going to like it.
On the last evening my father-in-law handed me the book he’d been reading. Too little too late but I snatched it up anyway because it had a lurid pink cover and the encouraging quotes on the front were scrawled in a self-consciously trendy way, as if hand-written, that would normally annoy me but, when Dan Brown’s the alternative, seemed strangely alluring. I can’t remember if the quotes were from Time Out but they looked like it. My father-in-law is often seen in a bow-tie. My father-in-law writes thank you notes and has inherited furniture and an ancestor who killed the king with a red hot poker. This is why he hasn’t got a title. The king stripped him of it. This was a good seven hundred years ago, but still…
Anyway, I start reading this book and I find it to be hard core pornography without the titillation. So, it opens with a couple using sex toys and attempting a role play, but it’s written in a way specifically designed to seem literary rather than a turn-on. Indeed the whole book is basically the answer to a course of Terry Eagleton lectures on literary theory. Eagleton would have said; ‘This is what is wrong with ‘the novel’ and here is the only way a modern novel can now be written.’ (I detest anyone who ever refers to ‘the novel’). The author of this novel would have said; ‘Okay, Terry. Here’s my homework.’ Indeed, reading the stuff on the back it seems like this guy would have been at Oxford about when Terry was telling everyone that the signifier need not presuppose the signified. And other stuff about authorial intent or voice or something. My boyfriend did English at Oxford (I did Russian) so I heard a lot about it but, as you see, remember nothing.
Anyway, the sex doesn’t go that well and the pink fluffy handcuffs don’t fit and something else about a vibrator and shopping for it. My father-in-law’s excuse, not that he needs one, for reading this was that the author is coming to speak at a seminar in Salzburg soon and he’s got to chair the event. The book is quite good but, if I’m reading this kind of stuff, I’d slightly rather it was actually porn designed to titillate, rather than this self-conscious business showing things as they really are even though they’re not because he made it up. See?
After an eleven hour drive home, during which the children watched The Sound of Music in the back of the car, I’m back up my own mountain and faced with a heap of books I actually have to read for work. So I’ve put my father-in-[law’s porn aside and am ploughing through Londongrad by Mark Hollingsworth and Steward Lansley. I’m annoyed because I’ve got a work in progress with the same title and my next novel, The Oligarch’s Wife, is pre-ordering now on Amazon but isn’t out yet so I can’t share publicity with this journalistic duo. It’s a bit of cut and paste job but if you didn’t know about the oligarchs it could be interesting. Good cover.
Oh, the porn, in case you’re interested, is Politics by Adam Thirlwell.