This is the old SA4QE website. See the most recent posts at

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Roland Clare 2009

Each time I chose a passage for this year's SA4QE, I checked on Gombert's fab new site ... and found that some fellow 4qator had had the same thought in previous years. So I approached the bookshelf with eyes shut, groped for the first Hoban novel that came to hand, and opened it at random. Scarcely surprisingly, it was a lovely bit – and amusingly it mentioned a Bristol landmark. Sadly, though, I couldn't get to the Clifton Bridge during daylight ... so I set out on an arbitrary half-hour's walk to see where the copies would end up. Text and pictures below ... click to make the latter large enough for reading the former.

Russell Hoban • My Tango with Barbara Strozzi
(Bloomsbury, 2007; pp 91–93)

I had a shower, put on fresh jeans and a sweatshirt, thought about going to Phil’s place, then decided not to just yet. I put on a jacket and went out to look for Hope of a Tree. WH Smith didn’t have it so I went back to the Fulham Road and over to Nomad where I bought the one copy they had. ‘How has this been selling?’ I asked.

‘We had two copies,’ said the woman at the till. ‘Sold the other one a couple of weeks ago.’

I didn’t want to go directly home so I went past the North End Road to Caffè Nero at the corner of Vanston Place. It was busy but I got myself an Americano and found an empty table by the window where I could start Hope of a Tree while drinking my coffee. The day was sunny and the Fulham Road was thronged with people doing their Saturday things. With my book and my coffee I felt as if I was in a little island of no hurry and no bother where I could let my mind be quiet for a while.

I opened the book. The dedication was To the memory of my father, J.B. Ockerman. The epigraph was from Job 14:7 –

For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.

Well, I thought, that’s optimistic. Then I started Chapter 1 and there’s Cynthia on Clifton Bridge thinking about jumping and here comes Sam to talk her out of it. OK, I thought, you can get a good love story out of a beginning like that. Then I noticed a woman who’d just sat down at the next table watching me. She was about my age, not bad looking, maybe a little too much jaw, dark brown hair in a Louise Brooks cut. Black polo neck, little pink leather jacket, black trousers and a Birkenstock. Very sleek, very cool and sure of herself.

She gave me a sort of knowing leer and said, ‘Enjoying it?’

‘Just started it,‘ I said. ‘Have you read it?’

‘Had to,’ she said. ‘I was married to the author.’

‘Oh,’ I said.

‘Do you know him?’ she said.‘Sort of,’ I said, ‘I’m his girlfriend.’ I was surprised to hear myself say that but I tend to take against sleek women on sight.

‘Really!’ she said. ‘He usually goes for the intellectual type. Which you don’t, at first glance, appear to be.’

‘It could be that he’s looking to change his luck,’ I said.

‘Which way?’ she said.

I stood up and took half a step towards her. She suddenly looked less sure of herself. ‘Maybe,’ I said, ‘You’d like to continue this discussion outside?’

‘Oh dear,’ she said. ‘Phil has come a long way down the female evolutionary ladder. This conversation would seem to be at an end. I suggest that you go back to your book and I to my cappuccino.’

‘While you still have your teeth,’ I said. She stayed quiet then, and when she picked up her cup it rattled in the saucer. I was amazed at my behaviour and quite pleased with it. Ms Ex-Wife finished her cappuccino quickly and left, avoiding eye contact the whole time.

Celebrating the great novelist’s 84th birthday •

Photos appear in the slideshow above. Commentary (in the same order):

Since my extract mentions Caffè Nero, I thought I'd
leave a copy outside the Clifton branch of the same

It doesn't mention dinosaurs, but nonetheless I went into
the Museum and gave a copy to the Plateosaurus

Another ended up in the Visitors' Comments book

'Do not leave anything valuable in this locker,' said the locker

Tawny extra perhaps

Here it is as a Borders Essential (not sure what happened to the apostrophe there)

Nice to find a copy of My Tango with Barbara Strozzi in Borders: I slipped it in to the
right page, as a kind of meta-bookmark. Riddley Walker was the only other Hoban there

I thought a copy might cheer up the chilly motorist who
would eventually have to defrost this windscreen

Time was running out so I gave the remaining copies to a very helpful
Big Issue seller ... let's hope Russ picks up plenty of new fans this way

That's all, folks ... Happy Russmas to all!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.