Last night I had one those moments of delight that would be familiar to anyone who loves reading. I had tortured myself by watching the second half of Manchester City's dire 0-0 draw with Watford and then scanned my shelves for something to read. There was Bohumil Hrabal's novella, 'Too Loud a Solitude', bought some time ago but unread. For the next two hours I disappeared into Hrabal's world, lost in prose, unable to surface until the last page. Fighting the temptation to read it all again, I went to bed.
A little while ago, I made my daily journey to Normblog and there was one of his writer's choice features. Chris Simms had chosen to write on M.R. James' classic ghost story 'Oh, whistle and I'll come to you, my lad'. I love James' stories and they too are reminiscent of my childhood. Simms reckons that, "At its heart, the tale addresses the dangers of surrounding yourself with books and leading a solitary life that retreats ever further from the outside world".
That is the theme of 'Too Loud a Solitude', but rather than being about an archetypical bookish professor its main protagonist is a worker, a man who pulps books yet loves them. You can begin to glimpse the complexities. The basis is profound social comment, but this is a book whose humour, pathos and beauty stand above meaning. It is perfect art.
Here is just one passage from the beginning and I defy any reader to fail to recognise this experience.
"… when I read, I don't really read; I like to pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel."
The novella has now infused me. I won't forget it.