Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Little Tinker

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Friday, February 27, 2004
Big Read
All the books worth reading have already all been read. Or at least it sometimes seems that way. Just a few years ago, you'd rarely see me without a book in my hand. No literary snob, I was a paperback junkie-slut, indiscriminately devouring everything from fiction to non-fiction, pulp to poetry, Trainspotting to Tennyson.

I was what they called "well-read". Why, my dears, I used to get invited to some of the most interesting parties around solely on the grounds I was that rare bird indeed – someone who had actually read Proust (and, what's more, in the original, mes chéries), and so knew precisely where and how to dunk his madeleine.

And now? Well, I can't recall the last time I enjoyed a new book so much that being dragged off for a few Stellas wasn't a preferable option. And it's been years since I even finished one properly, without skim-reading the final few chapters just to get the damn thing out of the way. The bestseller lists are packed with vapid clones of each other, and even my one-time favourite Martin Amis seems to have vanished up his own anus. And let's not even talk about that self-pitying, narcissistic, flaccid piffle which laughingly goes by the name of "gay fiction", but is, in fact, so unrelentingly grim that it's enough to turn a boy straight.

So I find myself returning time and time again to classic authors I've read before, and who I know won't disappoint: for upper-class satire and wry wit, Evelyn Waugh and Simon Raven; for intricate plotting, Le Carré, when he was good; my dear old Thomas Hardy for storytelling pure and simple; Kafka and Borges when I'm feeling literary and paranoid; and for psychological drama there's still no one to beat Patricia Highsmith, author of the wonderful Ripley books. And sooner or later, I always return to Gormenghast or Middle Earth.

But I miss the excitement of discovering a new writer and their books. Any ideas? I don't ask much: just well-crafted prose, characters or ideas I can believe in and relate to, and, ideally, but not essential, a beginning, a middle and an end. With a couple of exceptions I don't see anything on the bookshelves these days which fires my enthusiasm.

Until I do, I see that the new Muriel Spark is out. Now there is someone who really knows how to write.