One of the lovely things about the first few weeks after Christmas, at least in my corner of the world, is having lots of new books to read. This year was a little different, however, because I found myself with an odd pair of books, loving both of them but unable to read either of them straight through.
There are places…
The yellow one is nonfiction. Rovelli is a theoretical physicist working on loop quantum gravity. The fact that a physicist could publish a book – any book – with such a title attracted me to him, and to it, immediately.
There Are Places turned out to be a collection of his newspaper articles, three to six pages each, on science, history, philosophy, religion and politics. Every single one was a pleasure to read – calm, lucid and enlightening – but I couldn’t read the book straight through.
My difficulty was that each essay gave me something to think about, which I like, but each was on a new topic, so each took up its own quota of thinking-space. After reading two or three in one sitting, I needed time to let them settle.
The black one is fiction, short-listed for the Booker prize – and how many fantasy titles can claim that status? And the author was a first-time nominee for the honour at the age of … 87! … after winning prizes for his YA fantasy way back in the 1960s. Treacle Walker only runs to 150 pages (and nearly 50 of them are blank because of chapter-title pages) but I couldn’t read the book straight through.
It was … too complex? Too concentrated?
But this is fantasy! It can’t be hard!
It was, though. I could only read two or three chapters (which are all short) before needing a break, and when I came back to it I needed to re-read the last of them before forging further ahead. And now that I’ve finished it, I think I need to read it all again to understand it.
I knew Garner was good. I didn’t know he was that good.
I rarely have two books on the go at once but alternating between these two was oddly satisfactory.
But perhaps not so oddly, because there are subterranean connections. The epigraph of Treacle Walker is a quotation from The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli:
“Time is ignorance.”