Sunday, 7 June 2015

Books as Medic and Medicine

Here's what you need to know. 50-year old Perdu is a bookseller. 21-year-old Max Jordan is an author who wrote his first book, Night, to great acclaim and now is lost and desperate with writer's block. He does not feel he deserved his success, at least, not so early in life.

"You see, Jordan," said Perdu, taking a different tack, "a book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailment: that's how I sell books."

"I get it. And my novel was the dentist when the lady needed a gynaecologist."



"Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you've got those autumn blues. And some...well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void. Like a short, torrid love affair."

"So Night is one of literature's one-night stands? A tart?"

Damn. An old rule of book selling: never talk to authors about books by other writers.

"No. Books are like people, and people are like books. I'll tell you how I go about it. I ask myself: Is he or she the main character in his or her life? What is her motive? Or is she a secondary character in her own tale? Is she in the process of editing herself out of the story, because her husband, her career, her children or her job are consuming her entire text?

Max Jordan's eyes widened.

"I've got about 30,000 stories in my head, which isn't very many, you know, given that there are over a million titles available in France alone. I've got the most useful 8,000 works here, as a first-aid kit, but I also compile courses of treatment. I prepare a medicine made of letters: a cookbook with recipes that read like a wonderful family Sunday. A novel whose hero resembles the reader; poetry to make tears row that would otherwise be poisonous if swallowed. I listen with..."

Perdu pointed to his solar plexus.

"And I listen to this too." He rubbed the back of his head. "And to this." Now he pointed to the soft spot above his upper lip. "If it tingles here..."

"Come on, that can't be..."

"You bet it can." He could do it for about 99.99% of people.

However, there were some people that Perdu could not transperceive.

Himself, for example.

But Monsieur Jordan doesn't need to know that right now.

While Perdu had been reasoning with Jordan, a dangerous thought casually drifted into his mind.

I'd have liked to have a boy. With Manon. I'd have liked to have had everything with her.

Perdu gasped for air.

Something had been out of kilter since he had opened the forbidden room. There was a crack in his bulletproof glass - several hairline cracks - and everything would be smashed to pieces if he didn't regain control of himself.

"Right now, you look very ...underoxygenated," Perdu heard Max Jordan's voice say. "I didn't mean to offend you. I merely wanted to know how people reach when you tell them, 'I'm not selling you this - you don't go together.'"

"Those ones? They walk out. What about you> How's your next manuscript coming on, Monsieur Jordan?"

The young author sank down, wit his melons, into one of the armchairs surrounded by piles of books.

"Nothing. Not a line."

"Oh. And what does the publisher think of that?"

"My publisher has no idea where I am. Nobody does. Nobody must find out. I can't cope any more. I can't write any more."


Jordan slumped forward and laid his forehead agains the melons.

"What do you do when you can't go on, Monsieur Perdu?" he asked wearily.

"Me? Nothing."

Next to nothing.

I take night walks through Paris until I'm tired. I clean Lulu's engine, the hull and the windows, and I keep the boat ready to go right down to the last screw, even though it hasn't gone anywhere for two decades."

I read books - 20 at a time. Everywhere: on the toilet, in the kitchen, in cafes, in the metro. I do jigsaw puzzles that take up the whole floor, destroy them when I've finished and the start all over again. I feed stray cats. I arrange my groceries in alphabetical order. I sometimes take sleeping tablets. I take a dose of Rilke to wake up. I don't read any books in which women like Manon crop up. I gradually turn to stone. I carry on. The same every day. That's the only way I can survive. But other than that, no, I do nothing.

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