Knopf, $24.95 pb, 252 pp
‘Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo … the young Venetian says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions [yet] only in Marco Polo’s accounts was Kublai Khan able to discern, through the walls and towers destined to crumble, the tracery of a pattern so subtle it could escape the termites’ gnawing.’
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
A new novel from the author of Julia Paradise, of Prince of the Lilies, and most especially of Billy Sunday, aroused in this reader an excited sense of eager anticipation. Yet I was pulled up brutally short by Nightpictures’ opening sentence: ‘When we look at other people we either want to fuck them or kill them.’ It is not merely that the sententia of this sentence is demonstrably untrue, or that ‘either’ might be more elegantly placed after ‘want’, but that the sentence is, aesthetically speaking, brutal and ugly. Perhaps it is those ‘k’ sounds. This is, however, a novel narrated in the first person, and the qualities which distressed me may be those of its narrator, ‘Sailor’, who fulfils in his individual career his universal generalisation, and my reaction may be intended.