Not long ago, Emma introduced me to Rupert Thomson’s work. I started with The Book of Revelation, and after finishing the first third I thought, wow, he pulled that off surprisingly well, particularly given that the story concerns a man abducted by three women and forced against his will to perform sexual acts with and for them.
I expected my interest in the rest of the book to be far less, but Thomson’s exploration of his protagonist’s reaction to the trauma is what makes the novel a true standout. Last month I started reading The Insult, and (although I got sidetracked halfway through) it’s spellbinding. The protagonist suffers from a particular kind of blindness accompanied by hallucinations that convince him that he can still see.
Thomson’s nonfiction tale of writerly mortification appeared in last week’s Guardian (give me a break, I’m catching up). Here’s an excerpt:
“You’ve been chosen,” she said. “You’re on the list.”
I turned to face her.
“You’re one of the Best Young British Novelists,” she said.
“Really? Let me see.” My heart was racing.
We scanned the list of writers, but my name wasn’t there. We scanned the list again. There was no mention of me at all.
“But your picture’s here,” Kate said, her finger poised over one of the black-and-white mug shots. “Look.”
We both looked. It wasn’t me. It was Jeanette Winterson.
Confirming the suspicions of the proprietor of Daidala that Aimee Bender is “a non-typographer with typographic sensibilities,” the author confessed in The New York Times Magazine to maintaining
a file called â€œFonts,â€ where I make up different stories about fonts in the different fonts. Theyâ€™re like Helvetica, who is this fully realized person in my mind. Helvetica and her vinyl boots.
Somehow this calls to mind the narrator of Clare Morrall’s Astonishing Splashes of Colour (which I’ve yet to read), who suffers from synaesthia, a condition that causes her to ascribe colors to words. In a fascinating article for the Telegraph, Julie Myerson notes that several prominent writers, including Somerset Maugham , William Burroughs, Karl Jung and Vladimir Nabokov, were all sufferers. In fact, Myerson says, Nabokov “insisted his mother take his spelling bricks back to the shop because they were the ‘wrong’ colours.”
Myerson herself has the condition, and was surprised when she learned in adulthood that most people do not associate words with colors:
I had honestly thought that anyone you stopped in the street could tell you what colour “Wednesday” was – even if it wasn’t quite the same colour as your own “Wednesday”. I had genuinely presumed that, if I told you “Julie” was a reddish name with annoying flecks of black in it, you might not agree, but you’d at least know what I was talking about. And though I’d be the first to admit that the colours of a word such as, say, “unnecessarily” are a bit vague – the firm brown of the double “n” giving way to a wobbly ripple of rosy pink and egg-yolk yellow – I thought this vagueness was just me not paying enough attention.
J. M. Coetzee reviews fellow South African writer Nadine Gordimer’s The Pickup and Loot and Other Stories for the New York Review of Books.