Book reviews 2018 - #5 You Should Come with Me Now
An ill lit room, weak curtains leaking urban light, muffled sounds of traffic and struggle. A low table. Armchairs, two, tired and uninviting. Books and magazines in uneven profusion, hunched against the skirting board and the armchairs and spilling from the bookcases. Signs of animals. Discarded plates, empty bottles, abandoned boxes that once contained food. Ashtrays. Electronic light from two or three obscure sources.
Has something happened? Is something happening? Will something happen?
There is a single book on the low table: You Should Come with Me Now, by M John Harrison. The pages are heavily fingered, as though a reader has repeatedly returned to different sections of the book. There are multiple coffee rings on the cover, where the reader has stared into space.
Space? Or time?
Is there a difference?
Harrison enters the room with disquieting control. What is he up to? Has he a message? If he does, will he share it? If he tells us, will we understand?
Today he chooses shadowplay. He weaves the dark and the light. Shapes and sense appear fleetingly, then fade into elliptical ambiguity. We laugh and cry; we are startled; we are bereft. Suddenly there are characters; and then there are none.
Certainly not. This is M John Harrison. Even if there was an escape, why would you want to? Look what he can do: you just have to trust him.
The room is a lake, then a beach, then a café. Harrison is an old man, a young woman and a family. We are all together. We are apart. There is a strange aroma, as though a childhood memory had corrupted a fresh hope, as though a deep well had summoned a warm breeze, as though a misplaced simile had hybridised an unsettling analogy.
How long will this last?
It’s difficult to say. Sometimes no more than half a page; sometimes 10 or 20 pages. It depends on the interference, on the medium, on the hunger. There are forty two of them. Not everyone will eat. Many will distrust their tongue. Some will wonder:- is it deliberate that there are 42 texts in a collection which, in the round, could be taken as a sort of snapshot of what it all means, in some sort of here and now, as if Douglas Adams and J G Ballard had had some sort of bet and had transmitted their hilarity via a previous Harrison text on faster-than-light travel and which was now simply walking into this dirty and frankly unappealing room with the intention of –
See, there you go again, looking for something that can’t be there. Do you look at Rothko expecting literalism? Listen to John Cage for the tunes? Read Bukowski for the bucolic bliss? It’s not how this works. You have to WALK INTO THE ROOM and when you get there you have to SIT DOWN.
Experience it. Become uncomfortable. Wonder what the fuck is going on. Feel the breath stolen from your lungs by a sudden shard of unfathomable brilliance – how ON EARTH did he make that just happen in your soul?
When you’re done, walk out. Glance back at the detritus. Look again. Remember what you can. It could be useful.
And it’ll make it that bit easier next time. Trust me. It’s M John Harrison. You’ll be back.