My latest odd old read is The Cobweb, by William Gibson. Not that one! This book was written in 1954 and I bought it at our local tip, a place of much wonder and joy.
I picked it up because of the author’s name, thinking perhaps it was an early book by that other William Gibson. Then I was intrigued by it. It begins, “The trouble about the living-room drapes arrived in the shape of a fat brown envelope in a bagful of mail on the Friday morning train.”
A novel about living-room drapes? Surely not. And of course it isn’t; it’s about what happens to a group of people involved with a psychiatric clinic over the course of a few weeks. All of it stems from the drapes and the many different ideas as to how they should be installed. Do you install a drape? I’m sure there must be a better word than that.
It wasn’t an exciting novel, and I really only persisted because Gibson manages the sense of impending doom so well. I knew something was going to happen because of his language.
He’s very much into detail. That first sentence was not out of place throughout the novel. Details about colours of envelopes or shoes or cars, details about how exactly someone moved through the house, including the furniture they pass, how the carpet feels on their feet, what object de art they notice.
Very, very detailed. I talked about this at dinner with my husband and kids and it turned into a meme.
Son: “I am now picking up my bright green glass and drinking the last sip of my raspberry cordial. Now I am putting the glass down on the slightly old dining table and leaving a round circle of a mark of cordial.”
Daughter: “I am getting out of my blue cushion chair. It makes a scraping noise as I push it back. The noise makes me think of other chairs pushing up and also the gate when I open it. Now I’m walking to the kitchen which we just got fixed up.”
Etc. It went on for some time.
I was curious as to why someone would write this way throughout an entire novel, so I looked Gibson up. He was a theatre writer! Used to giving specific stage directions! That answered the question. He didn’t translate well from theatre to novel. His editor should have said, “We don’t need to know how many steps it took from the bathroom to the bar.”
Still, it was an interesting book.