Saturday, February 9, 2019

Simon Ings

Simon Ings is the author of novels (some science fiction, some not) and non-fiction, including the Baillie Gifford longlisted Stalin and The Scientists. His debut novel Hot Head was widely acclaimed. He is the arts editor of New Scientist magazine and can often be found writing in possibly the coldest flat in London.

Ings's newest novel is The Smoke.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I've just finished The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark. My ex-wife had some run-ins with Dame Muriel: now there, she once told me, was a woman who could make a typist cry.

Towards the end of her life Muriel gave huge grief to her agent because her books weren't thick enough to compete, spine-wise, with the books they were shelved next to. (My new, slim Penguin edition of the Ballad uses exquisitely thin paper: some former typist's revenge, perhaps?)

Dougal Douglas (or is it Douglas Dougal?), an "arts man" consulting for a textiles firm, is taking the moral temperature of Peckham in South London. He advances this research by chatting up girls, provoking fights, and extemporising unusual dance moves. He cannot possibly come into the office, because this would get in the way of his field studies. Also there is the matter of his raise. Douglas flim-flams his way through the class-complexes of Peckham, wreaking quiet havoc as he goes. Spark never once breaks the fourth wall: If you find this sort of thing funny, well, that's up to you, dear. You absolutely would not survive a game of poker with Dame Muriel.

I lived in Peckham for years, and it was amusing to see which pubs are still going; daunting. too, to realise that the factory next door, Robert's Capsule Stopper Company, was probably the sole survivor of industries that gave Spark's community its life.

It's taken this long for everyone to stop baffing on about it for long enough that I feel that I can give Donna Tartt's The Secret History a proper read. Even then, my 15-year-old daughter had to press her copy into my hands. "Text me about it," she insisted.

What shall I say, after 13 whole pages? That it seems to have emerged from an alternate reality in which Woolf, Joyce and Carver never happened? I don't understand why I couldn't just re-read Dickens. It's unputdownable, of course. And it will probably turn out to be a work of genius. Books I avoid for no good reason usually turn out to be the very books that might have turned my life around.
Visit Simon Ings's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Smoke.

My Book, The Movie: The Smoke.

--Marshal Zeringue