Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.
Today’s guest is Sean Rabin, whose debut novel, Wood Green, has been published to critical acclaim in his native Australia, where it has been shortlisted for The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2016. The book has just been published in the UK by Dodo Ink.
Sean, who resides in Sydney, was born in Hobart, Tasmania. He has lived in Ireland, Italy, London and New York and worked as a dishwasher, cook, script editor, copy editor and journalist.
Without further ado, here are Sean’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:
A favourite book: Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi
One of the great things about Cain’s Book, by late Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi, is that once you’ve read it, every other junky book will appear amateurish. So you can pretty much avoid them. Trocchi takes the idea of being a heroin addict and thoroughly subverts it. Even accusing his fellow addicts in the book of not being real junkies, but rather someone else’s idea of what a junky is.
But there are other qualities to Cain’s Book that appealed to me as a young writer, and still do. Most notably, the book’s the structure. It moves between two narratives — one concerning Trocchi’s later life working on a scow on the Hudson River and being a junkie, and the other about his childhood in Glasgow and later life in Paris. While many books I admire have an imperceptible structure, this book delivers an abrupt back and forth in time and place. This might make it sound quite traditional, but Trocchi goes wherever he wants whenever he wants and in doing so appears very free on the page.
Trocchi, a self-proclaimed cosmonaut of inner space, presents ideas that are erotic (he also wrote pornography), cruel and doggedly intelligent. Whatever his faults as a human, this is a great book to learn that not all novels want to win your heart. Trocchi does not try to warn you off heroin, in fact he wants Cain’s Book to corrupt you. No Hollywood ending here.
A book that changed my world: The Lime Twig by John Hawkes
This was the first book I read by American writer John Hawkes. I found it in a second-hand bookstore in London many years ago. I can almost still see it in the shelf as my hand reached out to grab its grey spine. Something must have been guiding me because I knew nothing about the author, but I was so intrigued by the book I had to buy it.
The story concerns a group of petty criminals who steal a racehorse to race it under a different name. That’s the framework. But unlike any other American writer, Hawkes plays by none of the traditional narrative rules. The first shocking development is that the person you thought was the main character is killed off halfway through the book. The secondary characters then become primary and commence a storyline that you realise was The Lime Twig’s purpose all along. I love being wrong-footed by writers. Being held in the palm of their hand and played with is a delicious feeling. It reminds me the reading is all about giving up control.
The book is not long and the writing is spare, but Hawkes can do more in 10 pages than most authors can do with 50. His characters are alive instantly, and tend to stay in the reader’s head for many years afterwards. Hawkes is also a writer with an unnerving menace that is as cold as the London fog he draws so vividly. The Lime Twig is not a dream, it’s a nightmare. The book has a thrilling ending – tragic and unforgettable.
This book taught me there are no rules in writing. Be brave. Follow your true ideas. If you write with passion and sincerity, your work is always valid. Hawkes is a great innovator. I only learnt in later years that this meant he was a post-modernist. Such a thing had never occurred to me. I just thought he was a genius.
A book that deserves a wider audience: Miracle of The Rose by Jean Genet
I have read all of Genet’s novels at least twice, however Miracle Of the Rose was THE novel for me as a younger writer. Nothing was more free, more beautiful and more courageous than this book. This story of life in the State Prison of Fontevrant during the German Occupation of Paris provides the most extraordinary mix of reality and fantasy that I have ever encountered.
What most captures my attention most about this book, beside its eroticism and philosophy, is Genet’s ability to envelope the reader in his blurry dream. It is a masterpiece of non-linear structure. Even after three readings it remains illusive to me. His writing is deeply melodious. The whole book is a song whispered into your ear that then inhabits your body and changes your perception of reality. It is like LSD. Once you’ve seen the world on acid you can never see it the same way again. Well reading Genet is the same.
I fear Genet is being ignored by many young/aspiring writers these days. That he is considered too difficult, not “real”, or they do not feel enough control while reading him. Well, isn’t that the whole point! Genet was an incredible voice, stylist and thinker, and by not reading him you are missing one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.
Thanks, Sean, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
These books all sound rather wonderful — they are all new names to me, but have been promptly added to my ever-growing wish list.
What do you think of Sean’s choices? Have you read any of these books?