My biggest difficulty is that I am a fast reader but not necessarily a thorough one. Having to talk about a book with others has forced me to slow down and savour more of the language and content. Although this can still be a bit of a problem for me. And of course there have been a few that I still don't care for.
Cockroach was a slow starter for me. I began it as the fourth one in the list leaving the book I have to defend to the last. But I had to put it down. It was depressing for me and Christmas is not a time to force yourself to read a depressing book. (Not everyone would find the story depressing I should add.)
The journeys of Rawi Hage
by Daniel McCabe
From Beirut to New York to Montreal, from photographer to novelist, and from cab driver to Giller nominee
That’s the Rawi Hage paradox: he’s become an important Canadian writer by offering Canadians a compelling glimpse into a world we rarely see.
The violence and uncertainty of life in Lebanon drove Hage to New York City in the early 1980s, but he doesn’t recall his time there with much fondness. He was lonely and broke, and took on a series of lousy jobs, including a backbreaking two years in a warehouse, in an area ravaged by the crack cocaine trade. He also experienced racism for the first time, he says, noting that for all the hostilities between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, there it never felt personal – it was simply about being on different sides of a war.
On the upside, New York did force Hage to perfect his English (his third language after Arabic and French): he wanted to keep reading, and his non-English options were severely limited. And as he bounced from job to job – salesman, waiter, cabdriver – Hage began working for a friend in a photographic studio and discovered that he had a knack for taking pictures. So in 1992 he moved to Montreal to study photography and visual arts at Dawson College and Concordia University.From there, Hage acquired a rep as an up-and-comer in art circles; both the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Musée de la civilisation de Québec have acquired his work. Hage credits photography with making him a better writer. “In visual arts, you’re encouraged to be more experimental.” He tries to bring that attitude to his writing; his prose style, for instance, often displays a dreamy, feverish sensibility.
So Rawi can be considered a Canadian author and this book is set in a Canadian city. The story includes elements of Hage's own experiences. It fits my criteria.
Once again I found a series of covers that are used on the book. I am becoming intrigued as to why there are multiples of covers.
|This is the cover page of my copy. Not particularly enlightening or attractive.|
Most fiction writers are primarily either stylists or plotters, but Hage is clearly both. There's a slight jolting sensation as the narrative shifts gear from poetic to cinematic, with guns and knives and elaborately contrived set-ups replacing the earlier evocations of drains and flesh and wintry streets, but it's all managed with great brio and expertise, and it all comes to a very satisfying climax. And if, a little later, you find yourself feeling that the book has after all raised more questions about the condition of wretchedness than its ending quite resolves, this is only further evidence of Hage's large and unsettling talent.
• James Lasdun's It's Beginning to Hurt is published by Jonathan Cape. Rawi Hage is at the Hay festival on Sunday 24 May
|A possible version of what the main character looks like|
|The main character thought he was a cockroach at times living in the drains|