Sometimes you pick up a book and after a few pages think what the fuck. You keep reading and have this persistent thought — how the fuck have I not heard about this motherfucking genius before today? (Even I don’t know why my internal enthusiasm expresses itself with so much inner profanity. Are others also as subliminally uncouth?) I’m not fucking kidding. This guy is the shit and I’m only now coming across him… and only then by a kind of silly happenstance. What the fuck?
Maybe that’s what I love best about books. The personal discovery of gold in old, mined-out hills. It reminds me of a woman who came into my bookstore a few weeks ago and asked, ‘Have you got this book? It’s called… The Da Vinci… Code, or something like that.’ She consulted a little piece of paper while I waited for her to read it, ‘It’s by an author called Dan… Brown.’ And she looked up at me expectantly. I suppose some people don’t read more than a few books in their whole lifetime and for them Mr Brown will be a discovery on a par with mine of Etgar Keret. The similarity ends there. I mean, there probably won’t be as much internal profanity, for one thing.
On a break last night I picked up a book by Etgar Keret. I’d already read a few stories by him and was impressed. One of his stories had inspired something called ‘I Wanna be Murakami’. I can’t think of a better compliment to a writer than to say this story wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you (though that might only be true if the resulting story is any good. Check it our for yourself on my blog).
What it was about Keret’s story ‘Crazy Glue’ is the realism that only near the end goes Borges technicolour. That Murakami-style surrealism, which just annoys me usually. With Keret though, it is handled so effectively that you realise, yes, there are these sublime Chagall fantasies that are worth all our realities put together. When it’s done well, our everyday experience of a concrete world is released from that trampled feeling of everything having been walked on a million times every day for a thousand years, and allows it to rise into the air like a pristine vision of why we bother to open the pages of a book in the first place. It’s certainly not for the paper or ink.
So then last night, on my half hour break, I opened The Girl On the Fridge (I think that’s a joke in reference to the French film Girl on the Bridge) and start reading a story called ‘Loquat,’ and I begin laughing. Let me tell you how rarely I laugh when I read a book. The occasional chuckle, yes. Maybe even a guffaw. The last time I was actually laughing was years ago when I was reading Money by Amis, in a quiet doctor’s waiting room. I sounded as mental then as I did last night. I had to wipe my eyes a few times. Wait for them to clear, continue for a few sentences, and repeat the process. Maybe there are a few chuckle-heads for whom this is a common occurrence but for me it’s like that blue-moon orgasm that comes to the dusty suburban wife of a rare night. Hence all the uncouth swearing.
Etgar Keret is not a comedian though.
That he’s funny is beside the point actually. There’s an incision with every sentence that is so surgically fine you can’t believe how pretty he can cut you up. Because the world that he’s opening up is full of pain, but anyone that thinks that’s a bad thing can go back to that long suburban numbness, and reheat their dinner tonight.
Another thing I love about reading is the travel. I’m not an Amos Oz fan, and I’m sure there are other Israeli writers, but I haven’t read much from the region before. Despite being an Israeli, Keret is sometimes accused of being anti-Israeli. The American’s have a similarly disgraceful history of calling dissenting opinion makers un-American, so everyone’s already familiar with this kind of right-wing finger pointing. I think the problem with Etgar Keret, politically speaking, is that he refuses a designated position in that black and white spectrum and so, by default, he gets positioned somewhere to the left. But being from Israel is a pretty unique experience and the story I read last night couldn’t have been written from anywhere else. Further still, there’s a unique Israeli mentality that Keret is illuminating in what reads like one of the most clear-sighted, perfectly cut parables I’ve ever read.