Sunday Salon: Murakami, VanderMeer and Noble
Now I am awake I am reading Finch by Jeff VanderMeer which is just as good as the other Ambergris novels I have read. It's a little like revisiting old friends (well, maybe not 'friends' exactly - I'm not sure I'd want to know a graycap) and I hugely admire VanderMeer manages to evoke such a strange fictional world so convincingly. Every detail is worked out and each time a little more detail sketched in: the huge fungi that grow up and disperse pores, the people infected by spores and yet keep on living, the way buildings are quietly demolished, and now there are memory mushrooms which grow on a corpse and when eaten give the consumer the dreams of the one deceased. This last idea is particularly startling and original - and very useful if you happen to be a reluctant detective called Finch.
I've been meaning also to say something about Noble Ways by Roy Noble. I loved this autobiography because so much of it seemed familiar to me, and made me remember incidents from my own family history. For instance, I didn't know that he way my grandmother pronounced steak ('steek') was common parlance in that part of southwest Wales. This made me think again about my mother's mortification on being corrected by a supercilious butcher after asking for a pound of the stuff as a young girl.
Another section that chimed with me was the idea of looking at people in a restaurant with a certain amount of wonder - because that was never something that my family did either. My ultimate treat as a child was going to Joe's café at the end of a long road from the town, close to the beach in Swansea. It was here that my grandmother used to buy me a nut sundae in a tall glass. This was a simple thing, but impossible to recreate at home - layers of Joe's ice-cream and chopped nuts (coloured a pale green) with raspberry sauce at the bottom and the top. I loved this so much that once, after I had downed the first one very quickly, she asked me if I'd like another. I said yes, and did. This was before calories were invented.
There were very poignant parts in Noble Ways too - the man Roy Noble thought of as his grandfather died in a mining accident, and his funeral was one of the rare times that Roy Noble remembered his grandmother weeping. The next time was when the free coal - which all miners received when employed as a collier - finally ran out.
Mainly though, this memoir is very funny; a collection of anecdotes about people which manage to be warm and witty at the same time - the Welsh couple that spoke only in English to each other even though they spoke to their children in Welsh, for instance. This was because they had courted in English, because they considered the Welsh language to be too long-winded.