This morning we were walking past a bookshelf when a book fell out and landed on our foot.
It was an uncorrected book proof we had salvaged from our publisher’s stockroom many years ago. We knew nothing about this book, but friends had spoken glowingly of Russell Hoban and we made a mental note to read his work. Last year we read Mr. Hoban’s obituary and resolved once again to look up his work. Finally the book took a flying leap onto our foot and we could no longer put it off.
After the first ten pages we couldn’t stop. It has one of the most arresting opening chapters we’ve read lately: The narrator Jonathan, having taken to drink after being dumped by Serafina, is sitting on the stairs inside a London tube station when he meets the impressive Mr. Rinyo-Clacton, who invites him to the opera. Before long Jonathan gets an offer that he should refuse, but in his state of mind cannot, which is fortunate for the reader who is already gnawing on her cuticles and wondering what will happen. Hoban takes the old Faustian bargain for a spin into fresh and wicked territory, making us forget that that plot has been around for a few millennia.
The story involves, among other books, pieces of music and works of art,
Pelleas and Melisande, the opera by Debussy,
The statue on the tomb of Victor Noir at Pere Lachaise cemetery (It’s become a fertility symbol, hence the shiny crotch),
and Roger and Angelica by Odilon Redon, based on characters from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, which also figures in the novel. (Angelica and Roger also turn up in Hoban’s final novel, Angelica Lost and Found.)
Now we have to find our copy of Hoban’s Medusa Frequency, which is somewhere in the house. Maybe if we keep walking around it will fly out of a shelf.
* * * * *
Found it. It was sitting there, right at eye level, next to a stack of foreign language pocket dictionaries we’ve never consulted.