"Things really started to go out of control for Joel Court when Veronica Lilywhite muscled in on his star. Not that 'the Smudge' was his star - no astronomer actually owns them, though they might get lucky enough to lend one a name - but Veronica's joyless methods were winning the professional contest. While she arrived at her elegant, seminal discoveries with home-baked maths in infuriating Chinese notebooks, Joel was becoming the David Attenborough of the Astroids in his own television spot, though he suffered from slight mobility problems in outdoor action shots which the Observer critic claimed made him think the single-frame advance on his VCR had got stuck.
"Weekly the programme took Joel away from the bosom of his family in Cambridge to the bosom of a blonde research assistant called Gael, and eventually Joel's American wife simply turfed him out. It was time to navigate the convoluted corridors of the Barbican to the flat of his fellow-expatriate, Chance Jenolan, and take his chances. Bankable enough by now to have embarked on a suicidally obscure 'great big bad movie', Chance was a specialist on the other sort of star. They orbited his life in dazzling clusters. But at his side shone one heavenly body Joel soon could not bear to have out of his sights. Her name was Mole.
"From the Barbican to Biarritz, Joel's Odyssey unfolds with incomparable Jamesian flourish. Tempting and tender as the Mole herself, it is also a love story of a very contemporary order and a glittering spectacle for star-gazers of every description."
Lauren was within her rights, but letting me do it to her on the night she threw me out was one below the belt. Have I put that too abruptly? I vowed when I sat down to write this that I would pull no stunts. No games of spot the author, no alternative endings, no putting the middle first. Not even any attention-getting sexy first sentence. But getting thrown out on the street with my squid damp is where the story really and truly starts. Like most people with serious work to do I pick my literature off railway station kiosks and those supermarket racks at airports where the paperbacks come out early. I think my taste is good. Ask me a question about Saul Bellow. He's got Sartre's eyes, hasn't he? Not just the bulge, the squint too. Ask me a question about Thomas Mann. About Heinrich Mann. Klaus. Manfred. You can pick up a lot, just shopping under the bright lights. But hardly any novel for which I lay down good money has a straight narrative any more. Watch out for anything translated out of Italian. The prize-winning novels of Luigi Database have plots like a Klein bottle and are called If and When a Winter's Night Some Gravel Truck. I bought one once at the bigger of the two bookstores in Changi airport and gave it up while I was still waiting in the lounge at Gate E 37. Didn't even get as far as the plane with it.
From the Jonathan Cape hardback edition, 1987.
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Last modified: January 2, 2002.