Sunday, 20 June 2010
The Man Who Loved To Blow Up Trains
by Peter Stafford
This is the first book in my SOS -- Summer Of Strangers. The point of the idea (to only read books by authors I've not read before) is to mix up my reading habits a bit, make new discoveries, et cetera et cetera, to infinitely-ridiculous-sickness (bad Latin joke?)
Not every new author will be a new favourite -- some may well be terrible -- but it's that spirit of taking a risk that SOS all about.
This book is perfect for that intent. I found it in a small campsite shop in Roskilde, Denmark. I'd only brought one book with me on my trip (see okay) and finished it sooner than I'd expected. I needed something else to read, but most of the second-hand books were in Danish, and there weren't even that many of those. So when I saw the Trains cover -- and the title -- I knew I had no choice.
It was a... fun book. The amazing blurb promised parody levels of pulpiness, but it stubbornly remained a proper book. Not literary, and with caricatures in place of characters, and exciting things happening in place of a plot, but still a proper book.
It might be too far away from what I am trying to do as a writer for me to learn much from it, but it does hammer home a point I tend to gloss over.
That point regards intention. It's always awkward when intention outstrips execution. When you see what the author was trying to do, rather than them actually doing it, you are drawn out of the world of the novel, into the world of the writer. And as David Lodge always shows, forgetting about the author is really important to a reader.
Trains is singularly unambitious in terms of character development and telling details, and by doing so never falls into that trap of showing us the author at work. I don't think that means I shouldn't try clever things, but it's a good argument for making sure I only try them when I can pull them off.
And how about SOS? How was spending a few hours in the company of a stranger?
Well it might not be the best book for disciovering new authors. Peter Stafford is most probably a pseudonym, and I can't find anything about him -- or anything else by him -- online. But it's a new discovery in another way.
The Man Who Loved To Blow Up Trains is a New English Library publication. It didn't take much Googling to learn that the NEL imprint was prolific in the 70s for a certain class of pulp novels, and it still has a cult following today.
So I'm going to keep an eye out in charity shops and second-hand bookshops for any book with the little NEL gate logo on the spine. And if the cover is amazing enough, and the title preposterous enough, I know I'll be in for a fun read.