Which books should a writer obliterate? Rupert Thomson chose two at the Stoke Newington Bookshop last night – his novels Soft, and Air & Fire. His reason for doing so is that he always felt he would write twelve, and has now begun his twelfth. Could he do a deal and wipe two books out of his catalogue so as to write more?
My own view has been that a writer can write however many books, but before death should select the best five to be the complete oeuvre. The rest can be sealed in some archive. Five seems to be enough for any one writer. More would crowd out reading time for better books by others.
Rupert Thomson is often set up to be taken as the UK’s most under-acclaimed writer – indeed, Charles Palliser made just such a claim in his introduction last night. I, of course, like many others, feel that tag belongs to me. Hilary Mantel used to feel it about herself. I found myself making comparisons all through the evening. Rupert has just finished a third draft of a new novel, and so is a third of the way through, reckoning on completing nine such drafts. For me the surprise there was not in the quantity, but in the counting. Since my novels seems to take twenty years or more, I guess its fair that I lose count.
I’ve a number of Rupert’s books on my shelves, to be resumed. He rivals Nicola Barker for providing my greatest number of false starts (though Great Expectations still holds my record for a single volume). His most recent one, Secrecy, broke my duck and pulled me right through to its close. It’s a dark adventure set in 17th century Florence, involving a maker of wax figures, some terrific romps across Gothic countryside, juicy secrets and wild characters. Recommended for a summer read.