Anil’s Ghost

I’m listening to/reading Ondaatje — Anil’s Ghost, a book I started seven years ago, near the end of a cross-America drive. We were coming back home from Victoria, B.C., driving a Nissan Maxima from Victoria to Miami and then to Nassau, crossing two bodies of water and a continent to get home. I didn’t finish it back then. Don’t know why. But I was intrigued by the book anyway.

A couple of years ago now, I discovered that it was possible to get through books I couldn’t read for one reason or another by listening to them. The first one I listened to was The DaVinci Code, which was riveting on tape, but which I couldn’t bear to read — the grammar was too awful, and the writing painful, but the story was gripping. That was followed by Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, which I would read, and then by a Grisham which I truly enjoyed — The Last Juror. This year I discovered audio books for the iPod, and have so far got through Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. That over, I wanted something else, and decided to return to Ondaatje and to see whether Anil’s Ghost would work.

It does. I am loving it. Don’t ask me why I can’t/couldn’t read it; probably it’s too episodic for a person with ten minutes here and there in a day to read and make sense of, but driving and waiting in airports and walking and waiting on corners and cleaning house all give me the opportunity to get enough to keep all the threads separate and together in my mind. I’m going to listen to his new book, Divisadero, on the way back home from Montreal.

(Don’t ask. I’m on vacation, and am planning my future. Escape from the civil service is very much on my mind. But that’s another story for another day.)

That said, there was a reason I started this post. It was this:

He fought sleep. Usually he loved the letting go. When he wrote, he slipped into the page as if it were water, and tumbled on. The writer was a tumbler. Would he remember that? If not, then a tinker, carrying a hundred pots and pans and bits of linoleum and wires and faulkners’ hoods and pencils and — You carried them around for years and gradually fit them into a small, modest book. The art of packing.

The only thing about listening is you have no idea how the above would be laid out on the page. What was the hardest thing to read is the hardest thing to keep, in the end.

4 thoughts on “Anil’s Ghost

  1. “I discovered that it was possible to get through books I couldn’t read for one reason or another by listening to them. ”

    Interestingly, for some reason, I’ve had exactly the opposite reaction: I’ve found that books I couldn’t read because they weren’t well written come off worse when I try to listen to them. I discovered this with Stephen King whom I have always found unreadable because he just blathers on and on and on, delivering heaps of verbiage for its own sake rather than for the sake of the work. I thought maybe listening to him would be less tedious but when I tried I discovered he’s even more tedious and pointlessly verbose.

    But then, I never liked Seinfeld, either; I’m obviously a deeply flawed individual.

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