A Book Without Beginning or End

It’s November, when reality takes a turn for the dark, the cold and the grim. In November, more than most months, we need novels. Why is that? A few days ago I began Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and came upon one of those passages that seemed to answer a question I didn’t know I’d been asking. I found it in a scene in which the protagonist is browsing through an old bookstore, idly looking for a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid:

It wasn’t really the great poem of antiquity that Dorrigo Evans wanted though, but the aura he felt around such books—an aura that both radiated outwards and took him inwards to another world that said to him that he was not alone.

And this sense, this feeling of communion, would at moments overwhelm him. At such times he had the sensation that there was only one book in the universe, and that all books were simply portals into this greater ongoing work—an inexhaustible, beautiful world that was not imaginary but the world as it truly was, a book without beginning or end.

To me, this is more than just a gorgeous way to describe why readers read and writers write. It gave me goose bumps–because I recognized that sensation.  I don’t know if I’ll manage to finish Flanagan’s novel (speaking of grim), but those two paragraphs alone are worth the price of the book.

Richard Flanagan

More very soon, including thoughts on the novel I did finish last night, the very strange new Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber.