Inherent Vice #ThomasPynchon #PaulThomasAnderson #atthemovies

Inherent ViceFor decades I have been a fan of Thomas Pynchon’s novels. The first one I read was “V”, still one of my favourites, but, really, I love all of them. There is some geographical and historical magic Pynchon distils in his writing, that permeates his characters in a unique way. Maxine Tarnow, in Bleeding Edge, is the girl of the 90’s, immersed in what is already the nightmarish world of post 911.

Doc Sportello, the pot-smoking gumshoe and hero of Inherent Vice, is, in many ways, a happier character than some, in Pynchon’s world. He, and his vanishing groovy girlfriend Shasta, live in late 60s LA, in post-hippy California, already governed by Mickey-Mouse Ronald Reagan, already busy dismantling the public services and tax legislation that had made California the most prosperous state in the Union. Worst would come later. Tricky Nixon is president, not yet disappeared down the Watergate plughole. ‘Nam is about to be left to her destiny…

I love the story for its nostalgic atmosphere and evocation of a fast disappearing species: happy Americans. Thus I was a little anxious to go and see Paul Anderson‘s film, drawn from the novel. Rarely I enjoy movies taken from loved books, almost never.

This is a brilliant exception. Mr Anderson scores all rounds: a mastery direction, wonderful camera shots, and perfect actors: it’s all there, and it is Inherent Vice. Joaquin Phoenix is Doc Sportello, and Katherine Waterston his ravishing and gifted girlfriend. I was impressed by Josh Brolin’s Bigfoot, the hippy-hating cop with a taste for ice-cream… Owen Wilson is a marvellous Californian double snitch, who loves his wife and family.

This is, of course, a very funny movie, in a very Pynchonesque style. We hear the surf, we look at the cars, we admire Shasta’s grooviness, we fear the sinister FBI…

I left the theater wishing we could go back in time, before Mickey-Mouse became president and ruined us all. Luckily Thomas Pynchon is still around to write novels that may inspire Paul Thomas Anderson… In fact I’d fancy Miss Waterston as Maxine.

Against Evil

“And the hard part is that she knows better, knows that beneath the high-cap scumscapes created by the corporate order and celebrated in the media, there are depths where petty fraud becomes grave and often deadly sin.”

~ Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge

Silicon Alley For the past twenty years, that’s the time we have been sheltering in this little corner of damp suburbia, I have owned and used a wonderful little petrol-engine lawnmower. It does, in all seasons, a jolly good job of keeping our patch of grass tidy, even, at times, depending on the vagaries of this island’s weather, delightful.

The small engine was designed and built by a US engineering outfit in Milwaukee, and I guess “they” have long sold off, or been declared bankrupt. Their product is clean, does not leak oil, is wonderfully sober. Through the year I probably use a mere three or four litres of unleaded, sometimes much less. I love the sound of the engine, a low purr that does remind me of old American cars, with big, friendly, low revving eight cylinders disposed in V. Yet, it is a small engine.

When I cut the grass I think of the people, in Milwaukee, who built the engine, and I praise them, and their skills, wherever they now are. The same feeling overcomes me when I read a Thomas Pynchon novel: I know that this voice is more powerful that the thousands of followers of the “pensée unique” that clogs up the web, those writers and journalists who have long given up thinking for themselves, and respecting their public.

In a Pynchon novel there are several co-centric stories, and like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Art de la Fugue, it takes several readings, indeed a lifetime of reading, to discover them. The central character is on a journey, or, better, a quest. Along his or her progress, often halted by external events of great, if hidden, significance, or smaller anecdotes whose meaning may remain obscure, evil lurks. In “Against the Day”, and now, in “Bleeding Edge”, this evil has a clear profile: the late capitalistic neo-liberal conundrum, responsible for atrocities and destructions perpetrated world-wide, in the face of God and Mankind.

One of the book’s theses is that evil well precedes its latest avatars. The story follows Maxine Tarnow’s gumshoe and sexed-up mother of two, who’s investigating that rarity, in early 2001, out of the ruins of Silicon Alley, a technology company – hashlingrz – that is successful and growing, but also engaged in obscure, and well protected, big money transactions with the Middle-East. For the technology sector has crashed, in the so-called dot com collapse of 2000. This is a pivotal moment in US history: the cranked up Y2K fallacy, the Nasdaq equity dive, and now those rumours about all things Arabic, and the rise of Bush Jnr. Maxine’s work is part funded by Igor, an ex-Spetnatz soldier-turned-entrepreneur, whose soul found its road of Damascus, when his umbrella failed to open over Chechnya.

Soon, the boss of hashlingrz, Gabriel Ice, comes into sharp focus: double or triple agent, engaged in a series of capital manipulations for the benefit of shadowy Gulf’s secret armies, and protected by equally shadowy US agencies. This is September 8, 2001 and “the market” is playing with airlines shares, fact that Maxine’s found again ex-husband and commodity trader, Horst, does not fail to notice and explain to their kids, while masked men play with Stinger missiles and sniper rifles on the roofs of New-York.

Maxine, above all caring for her two boys, Ziggy and Otis, proceeds to meet one operative, Nick Windust, mercenary in the pay of evil, assassin, presumed torturer, and well-hung enough to attract more than Maxine’s fraud examiners’ professional interest. Indeed our hero gets seduced by Mr I-don’t-do-foreplay-Windust, one evening, in the sinister flat the said Windust occupies, in an equally sinister part of the City. For this is New-York City, just before the fall.

When the outrage comes, to no-one’s real surprise, Maxine is momentarily lost, in fear for her boys. She has discovered DeepArcher, a piece of code constructed by survivors of the crash, and finds for a short while some solace in its depth, before it goes “open-source”. This virtual world is not without reminding us of that proto-metaverse: Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992). So we have, at least, three stories: Maxine’s quest to uncover the truth about Mr Ice and his corporation, her infatuation for Windust – who will end up murdered by , presumably, his employers, and half eaten by wild dogs, and her reflections on 9/11 as viewed through the eyes of a true New-Yorker, who longs for the City of her childhood. Those reflections are enhanced by her travels through DeepArcher, the memories of her father, who is clear about what the Internet is, where it comes from, and where it is going: a tool – a toy? – of the Cold War, first designed to survive a nuclear blast, now magisterially transformed into instrument of manipulation and slavery, and a “chance” meeting with Windust’s once South-American wife, now strutting her stuff in US Academia.

Despite all, Maxine, who lost at some point her license of fraud examiner, manages to stay “on the honourable side of the ledger”.

As one of her friends says to her: “Guess I’m just a Yahoo! type of girl. Click in, click back out, nothing too far afield, nothing too… deep.”

One way to stay safe.

Talking about Maxine

Takahiro Shimatsu I haven’t finished reading Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, and I will later adorn my Goodreads page with my conclusion. Suffice to say that Thomas Pynchon is, for this reader, one of the four vortices of the magic square, that which is at the heart of my love for contemporary American letters: Pynchon – Stephen King – Neal Stephenson – Bret Easton Ellis. Those guys are, to my mind,  America, through and through.

Re-reading Christian Lorentzen’s review of Bleeding Edge in the 26 September 2013 issue of the LRB, I found myself, a rare event, in some disagreement with the respected editor of the said LRB. Bleeding Edge is not, in my reading, “a period novel” about New-York City’s Silicon Alley, that is merely the backdrop. Bleeding Edge is, literary speaking, about the atrocity, about 9/11, in the same way as Gravity’s Rainbow is about the nazi weapons of reprisal, and their aftermath.

Pynchon’s genius, once again (as, in Gravity’s Rainbow, the surreal connection between Peenemünde and West Africa), is to link the Saudi-perpetrated-and-funded outrage with the preceding, less bloody, but no less potent, disaster: the collapse of the first corporate attempt to subjugate the Internet, known as the “*.com” bubble. The link – shadow of Stephenson’s Snow Crash – is DeepArcher, a “piece of code” that turns out to be a deep metaverse, malevolently seductive to the hero of the tale, Maxine Tarnow, fraud investigator by profession, and to survivors of the outrage. The book mentions a number of fraudulent plots, real or supposed, the main one being the subject of Maxine’s own quest for truth, about Gabriel Ice, corporate predator, pervert, double or triple agent, and purveyor of funds to shadowy Gulf’s paramilitaries.

Thus the novel skirts around the trinity: late capitalism – “War on Terror” and, finally – the Terrorists among us, bankrolled by successive US administrations (the “ben Ladin’s network” and its successors) and the Saudi’s evil empire. In the meantime we get the “period piece” about 2001, which could be described as the last year of innocence of the 21st century. Worse was to come.

Maxine, a hero for our time, is left, bemused, abused – on her own volition – but still kicking, incredibly.

I am taking my time to finish the book, and will write again. Incidentally, my definition of the atrocity, is my own, not Thomas Pynchon’s.

Related articles:

The Crying of September 11

The New American Way of War

#AtoZChallenge: April 25, 2013 ~ V.

VVVVVVVVVVV

  VVVVVVVVV

   VVVVVVV

     VVVVV

      VVVV

       VVV

        VV

         V.

V is Thomas Pynchon’s first novel, published in 1963.  V has two story lines, that ultimately converge on the island of Malta.  V stands for “Veronica”, as well as for the symbol of the two paths converging.  Some say it also stands for Vera (Manganese), and of course Valetta.

The central hero, Profane, ex US Navy sailor, is drawn into hand to hand combat with alligators in the New York sewer…

“What had interested him most were the accounts of Veronica, the only female besides luckless Teresa who is mentioned in the journal. Sewer hands being what they are (favourite rejoinder: “your mind is in the sewer”), one of the apocrypha dealt  with an unnatural relationship between the priest and this female rat, who was described as a kind of voluptuous Magdalen.”

The novel is full of unthinkable, crazy, and adorably unsexy characters…

“It came out that Fina was spiritual leader or Den Mother of this youth gang. She had learned in school about a saint, called Joan of Arc, who went around doing the same thing for armies who were more or less chicken and no good in rumble. The Playboys, Angel felt, were pretty much the same way.”

“In April of 1899 young Evan Godolphin, daft with the spring and sporting a costume too Esthetic for such a fat boy, pranced into Florence. Camouflaged by a gorgeous sun-shower which had burst over the city at htree in the afternoon, his face was the color of a freshly- baked pork pie and as noncommittal.”

“Herr Foppl has ordered all the ladies to dress and make up as they would have done in 1904.” She giggled. “I wasn’t even born in 1904, so I really shouldn’t be wearing anything.”

“Oh I was only a young lad then, full of myth. The Knights, you know, one cannot come to Valetta without knowing about the Knights. I still believe… as I believed then, that they roam the streets after sunset…”

“… And that’s fine. The ride is a bumpy one, the roads sometimes parallel, sometimes divergent, sometimes overgrown with weeds. My favorite passage, for example, involves Father Linus Fairing, a priest who ministers to rodents in New York’s penumbrous underground, his parish “a little enclave of light in a howling Dark Age of ignorance and barbarity.” I could endeavor to explain what his story has to do with either Profane’s picaresque adventures or Stencil’s search for V. But I am not sure it would make much of a difference. Pynchon novels, like certain dishes, tend to only suffer from excessive explanation. I advocate surrender to Pynchon; letting your mind toss on the wild currents of his language is a lot more enjoyable than treating his novels like puzzles, wondering where the pieces fit: Who is Rachel Owlglass? Why are we in Egypt? Just enjoy the bumps—or try to.” ~ Alexander Nazaryan, New Yorker, March 29, 2013

Siege of Acre

The Hospitaller grand master Guillaume de Clermont defending the walls at the Siege of Acre in 1291, by Dominique-Louis Papéty (1815–1849) at Versailles.

#AtoZChallenge: April 23, 2013 ~ Thurn und Taxis

Thurn und Taxis

Castle Sankt Emmeram Most of my readers will be familiar with the courier company TNT, but probably not with its historical origins.  The family of Thurn und Taxis are one of the oldest princely houses of Germany, with roots in the Italian early 12th century.  Those princes were builders, brewers, and the inventors of the modern postal service in Europe of the 15th century.  Since 1748 their home is Saint-Emmeram castle in RegensburgRainer Maria Rilke wrote Duino Elegies while visiting Duino castle and princess Marie of Thurn und Taxis.

The family held the position of Master of the Postal Services  from the creation of the first service by Ruggiano di Tassi in 15th century Italy until the 18th century.

The Thurn und Taxis history inspired Thomas Pynchon’s novel “The Crying of lot 49”. They gave their name to a board game…

Deutsche Bundespost

Am liebsten

liebsterawardBlogging is an intriguing art. I do think it is an art, and of course one can practise it badly… Two dear friends, who do it magically, are Old Big Jim and Marny Copal, who have both been nominated for the Liebster Award, by Seumas Gallacher and John Dolan, respectively. Independently and at a few hours interval, Jim and Marny decided to nominate your servant, and I am deeply grateful to both of them.

Jim – a well travelled American of Scottish and Irish origin – is a pillar of strength, a talented and humorist writer and blogger, an asset to his friends and a great supporter of this community. Marny, who hails from Oregon, is a beautiful blogger and published writer who has a lot to share with learners like myself.

liebsteraward1In order to comply with the spirit of the Award, and since they are all interesting too, I will answer both Jim’s and Marny’s sets of eleven questions. But first, I have to talk about myself through eleven random “facts” – so I won’t, but, rather, talk about my “masterpiece” in waiting – LOL – the Page! Before I do I will look in amazement at the variety of badges the Liebster appear to have inspired: love you all!

11 “Facts” about the Page…

  1. It’s a long haul story, that now amounts to some 100K of chapters, unfinished stuff, notes, graffiti and pictures.
  2. It has its own site, where semi-finished products are beginning to appear (but still in editing mode).
  3. It’s being written on Scrivener, and there are already two drafts of it.
  4. I am not sure if it will ever get published, other than on that WordPress blog, and it does not worry me.
  5. The characters are, literally, writing the story, I just do the research and some editing.
  6. Since I started on this two years ago, the plot has evolved dramatically, as new influences biased the writing.
  7. Authors who inspire? In no particular order: Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Alain Fournier, Junot Diaz, Paul Auster, Thomas Pynchon, Neal Stephenson… and there are many more, in English, French and German!
  8. Do I know the end of the story? Of course not yet, and maybe there isn’t one.
  9. What does She think about it, if She has read it? She has, read the first draft, and convinced me to start again (where we are now).
  10. How much of my awake time is spent on it? Variable, probably 50% of my actual writing time, the rest being evaporated on smaller work, flash fiction and blogging on other subjects.
  11. Why? Just enjoyment, and discovery!

Jim’s questions

¶ What scares you the most, and why?

Poverty in the world, sometimes I think we won’t make it, and just regress to barbarity and self-destruction… We are hanging in by a thread.

¶ What three possessions do you think you just can’t live without?

The love of my wife, the respect of my son, my friends.

¶ When signmakers go on strike, is anything written on their signs?

“Our fight is your fight”

¶ If you could be a character in any book you’ve ever read, who would you be and why?

Tengo in 1Q84: he discovers a new world, and his lifelong love finds him…

¶ If someone wrote a book about your life, what would be the title?

Erm… “Gorgeous’ s husband, a biography”

¶ Would you prefer to spend life in prison or be executed? Why?

Death or freedom

¶ What got you in the most trouble when you were younger?

Fighting (with both fists)

¶ If you could be a religious or spiritual leader, who would it be? Why?

Ho-Chi-Minh who moved mountains

¶ What or whom do you most miss from your childhood?

My first Mistress (as school’s mistress!)

¶ Grab the book nearest you. What is the first sentence of the third paragraph on page 12?

“Whether he first puts his right or left foot forward, this too has been predetermined for each play…”

¶ When did you last write a letter on paper and send it through the postal service?

Ten minutes ago, to my aunt who’s 95.

Marny’s questions

¶ When did you first realize you liked to write?

At primary school, wanting to please my mistress…

¶ Who is your favorite villain from a book or movie?

Doctor Mabuse

¶ Can you name one item from your bucket list?

Firecracker

¶ Do you have a muse? If so, what is it?

She’s no “what”, she’s a beautiful and talented She

¶ What book excited you the most when you were a kid?

“20,000 lieues sous les mers” (Jules Vernes)

¶ Do you write in a linear fashion, or do you jump around?

I am a hobbit writer: I hop around, and back again!

¶ Do you live with animals? If so, can you read their expressions?

I enjoy philosophical musing with my pet spider

¶ Do you have a personal motto?

No, but my wife does

¶ Are you dying to know the answer to any mysteries?

I already know: it’s in my books!

¶ If you could witness any event in history, what would it be?

The resurrection

¶ Do you like dolls? If so, why?

I fear them. This is why

Geeky questions/exercises my nominees may wish to answer/do/cry about (or edit?) ~ or not!

This is deliberately tongue in cheek ~ for a more serious approach please refer to some of my previous posts… 

  1. Please read this book and then write a post on your impression (or do a drawing)
  2. Read this article, and find a picture to summarise it
  3. Would you invite this man at your Xmas party?
  4. Which one of my post(s) – here on this blog – talk about the devil?
  5. Write two sentences about this picture
  6. Any truth in this, in your view?
  7. Are you inspired by this song?
  8. Do you agree with this?
  9. Can you find “The Page” on Facebook?
  10. Write a haiku inspired by this pic
  11. Who is the skipper of the boat named Arrakis?

Well, that was a bit of work! Now about my nominees… The above notwithstanding I do love those writers bloggers:

¶ Rob Young at http://robdyoung.com/writes/

¶ Beth Ann, marathon runner

¶ Michael, who seized the storm

¶ Mon Ami, poet and erotica writer

¶ Joseph, love and dominance

¶ Gemini, loveable

¶ MarìMar, kinkiness

Beth, on the Sacred Road

Mirabella, ineffable

Heaven, sweet lust

Vincent, poet

Moon

For those who refuse to live in the real world: #Booker Award!

 Well, my dear friend Marina Sofia, who somehow finds time to write, has honoured this sinner of the very special Booker Award, and that seems to be particularly aimed at book lovers, and perhaps poets: indeed I am a book worm, if not totally immersed in fictional worlds… I have to say that among my fellow nominees I feel humble and perhaps not quite worthy –  this being typical (male?) timidity… Thank you Marina, your blog is a haven of sanity and calm in this hectic world! You were nominated by Pat Wood, and I must thank you also for allowing me to discover Pat’s wonderful blog.

I order, I will list my five currently most favourited novels, admit to what I am reading now, and, finally, risk nominating five innocent book lovers I admire…

I wrote “currently favourites” which shows what an unstable book lover this blogger is! It is a fact that favourites do change in time, as one reads, re-reads, and discovers new horizons…

At present (restricting myself to novels I read in the English language only, in so specific order):

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity Rainbow

James Ellroy, The Cold Six Thousand

Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire

Stephen King, The Stand

Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood…

Currently reading: Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao…

As to my five nominees – trying hard not to nominate readers already in receipt!

Donna B. McNicol, who writes her life, and is the inventor of the marvellously named Napping Blogger Award!

John Lavan, wondrous poet and world observer… who does live in reality!

Louise Hastings, the Wings of Beauty and the Phases of the Moon

Diana Lee, who sees life through beautiful eyes

Ash N. Finn, writer and survivor, a friend from Dublin.

 

I love this badge: #Liebster Award!

 

 I blushed last night when I realised Damian had nominated me for this most challenging of award: the Liebster – love the name too. Damian “makes things up and writes them down” at The Gray Pen, which makes at least the two of us (smile), and admits “to write about the spooky things that go bump in the night”… Did he say also he was “digging the blog”? I am wondering what creepy things will come crawling out of that!

Damian received his badge from Maeve at Wings and Waters and I thank both of them, humbly. So, dear reader, I must invite you first of all to visit the blogs of those two writers – if you are not already acquainted. To fulfil my obligations as recipient I am answering Damian’s searching questions, before setting out some of my own. Incidentally WordPress says there are just under 200 followers of this blog, but I confess I do not know if those are all subscribers!

1. How long do you typically write per day?

Variable, it must be around three or four hours on average, but there days “sans”!

2. Name the books that have influenced your writing.

In no particular order: Stephen King’s “On Writing”, Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”, Jonathan Littell’s “Les Bienveillantes”, Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”, James Ellroy’s “The Cold Six Thousand”… And of course French writers the list of which is too long for this blog!

3. Are you a Genre writer, literary, or both?

No idea! As you do Damian, things creep out and I write them down…

4. Are you into self-publishing or traditional?

I am nowhere yet, but my dear friend Gillian (but she did change her name!) is threatening publication of my short stories “Helena“. Qui vivra verra…

5. Do you ever have problems harming your characters? Explain.

There is a BDSM streak in some of my writing so I must be “hurting” someone from time to time, but then “they” are willing. 

6. Do you like to plot or do you like to just jump into the page?

I do both, depends on the day, whether the sun shines or not, and my mood.

7. How many drafts do you write before you stop?

On my main piece of work, The Page – hahaha – I haven’t stopped editing yet. I use Scrivener and keep everything. Incidentally, this blog is very much my “lab”, where I try things out, invent new characters, and mess around!

8. What’s your proudest moment as a writer?

For me this is a difficult question: I had several moments of elation, perhaps it was when Gillian said she was considering publishing Helena. But then I write for pleasure, and there were others, such when I discovered the boat named Arrakis (still on the bench!)

9. How old were you when you began to write?

I was at primary school (year 6 UK), and was told off to do graffiti in my workbook! I never stopped.

10. In your opinion, can the craft of writing be taught?

I dunno, but Joanne has a lot to say about that.

11. Aren’t you glad I’m done asking questions?

You could have asked the ones below!

Questions of my own:

  1. Which existing fictional character would you wish to have created yourself?
  2. How important is it for you to be recognised as a writer (for example by being published in the traditional sense)?
  3. Is there a location – geographical or fictional – that you favour in your writing, both as inspiration and “best place where to write”?
  4. If you had the choice would you adopt writing as your central activity, as opposed to other bread and butter work? (please think carefully on this one!)
  5. Have you ever fallen in love with a character you created?
  6. What is the most important event of your lifetime, that is as influence on you as a writer?
  7. Has evil any place in your writing?
  8. What is your view on “Flash Fiction”, fad, useless exercise, helpful, …?
  9. If you could commission a book cover from an artist – past or present – who would that be (painter or photographer)?
  10. Do you have a favourite anthem?
  11. Is there a different question you would have wished me to ask?

My nominees (not sure about “subscribers” though!):

Joanne at http://joannegphillips.wordpress.com/

Ash at http://ashnfinn.wordpress.com/

Ciara at http://ciaraballintyne.com/index.html

Roxy at http://www.roxyfreeman.com/

Procrastinatress at http://themindssky.wordpress.com/

… And now, as Damian said, “once you’ve posted your answers, comment on this post with your post link so I can keep up with the answers!”

 

 

#FiveSentenceFiction: Orange

Transit of Venus

What made them leave home and set sail upon dangerous seas, determining where upon the Globe they must go, was not – Pace any Astrologists in the room – the Heavenly Event by itself, but rather that unshining Assembly of Human Needs, of which Venus, at the instant of going dark, is the Prime Object…” – Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon

Transit of Venus“You have read Mason & Dixon” pronounced Gorgeous, in playful mood. “So, pray, how can it be you aren’t interested in the Transit? And a geek like you?”

I consider the position carefully, while observing the shade of black lipstick, the silken shirt, and, well… the fact that some beings are definitely superior to others…

“C’mon, jarhead”, continues Gorgeous, now going for the kill, “you’ll have to tell me tonight when I need kick your miserable arse out of bed, so that I can have nice pics!”

I smile suavely and pour a generous steaming mug of coffee, just for her.

“It is”, gathering my courage with both feet, “that I fear looking at Sol in the eyes, particularly when Aphrodite is watching me”

[From the UK only the last hour of transit will be visible just as the Sun is rising on the morning of 6 June. In Greenwich visibility will run from sunrise at 4:45 British Summer Time to the end of the transit at 5:55 BST – courtesy Greenwich Royal Observatory]

Transit computer at the US Naval Oceanography Portal

Related Articles

#toptenbooks

In response to:

http://kdrush.com/Main/content.php/179-The-TopTenBooks-Challenge

#10 The Kindly Ones (Les Bienveillantes) by Jonathan Littell:

I have listed this harrowing account of evil as I was surprised by the description of Europe’s worst nightmare by a young American author, who, besides, wrote in French. This is a giant of a book, and the horror is not  imagined, it was so.

#9 The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy:

A quintessential account of a horrific murder by a master of controversy. Somehow this book talked to me, and, yes, I felt for the Black Dahlia.

#8 The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C Clarke

Part from “inventing” the Space Elevator Arthur Clarke – who also predicted accurately the geostationary communication satellites – showed in this novel how to marry technology and spiritualism, a feat of fiction but also a lesson for living. I read it as an adolescent, and am still reading it.

#7 The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Well, it’s a classic. When I first read it – a few years back! – my English was still hesitant, and I struggled. A few years later (still well before the films) I fully appreciated what a masterpiece of language and adventures this was.

#6 The Magus by John Fowles

The mystery of youth, John Fowles’s first novel and to my mind his best. I travelled to that greek island in a dream, one of the inspirations for “The Page” (not a plug!)

#5 The Stand by Stephen King

Read it four times, and this is not the last time. One of the great novels of the second half of the last century, I am still in wonder. I cried for Fanny. I would have nuked the evil too.

#4 The Plague (La Peste) by Albert Camus

A unique allegory of what it was like in Europe under the fascist boot. Written in 1947, it is the account of ordinary courage and its opposite by a man of high values and principles. I think it’s as valid a read today as it was then.

#3 Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Pynchon’s greatest book, set at the end of WWII in London and Northern Germany. This book typifies for me the absurdity of the last (hopefully) European civil war, a shower of rockets, the ruins of cities, yet humour and love. I fell for that mischievous Dutch girl, yes I did…

#2 A La Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust

My bible of introspection. The language is unique, the mix of longing, eroticism and splendour is irresistible.

#1 La Chartreuse de Parme by Stendhal

The greatest love story of all times! To my mind one the summits of Western literature. Period.

Cover of "The Black Dahlia"

Cover of The Black Dahlia