Monday, March 12, 2007

Hanging out with dead men

On days when I’m feeling hot-breathed, clean-boned and immortal, I don’t mind walking around the cemetery at Montmartre. I meow at the silent cats guarding the tombs, watch old graves crumble away to make way for new inhabitants, and look at the photos on some of the headstones and think, `you were once alive, how did this happen to you'.

A couple of weeks ago we visited the grave of Francois Truffaut. A stylish grave for a stylish man. Just a flat, black headstone, with his name and span of existence. No fanfare. No angels trumpeting his successes. There were some flowers and a note from a fan, but none of the hullabaloo you find around other celebrity graves in Paris. We were the only people there. There were no weeping hippies blowing out poems, no lovelorn graffiti like at the grave of Jim Morrison in Père Lachaise cemetery.

The simplicity of Truffaut's headstone contrasted with the whopping bust of Karl Marx towering over his grave in Highgate cemetery in London, this monument to individuality going against all his collective theory. Well at least Marx's grave is not in the elite part of Highgate cemetery you have to pay to visit.

My favourite dead men are buried all over the world. As I mentioned in my previous post, all the novels in my top ten (which doesn't contain ten novels) are by dead men - although admittedly William Styron is just freshly deceased:

Of course there are many other novels I’ve loved in my life, but for the moment, no other novel has shaken enough skin off me to add to my top ten. [This little exercise in cutting and pasting book covers has reminded me exactly how much I prefer the plain French editions to the covers of books in the English-speaking world which make every book look cheap and nasty].

When all your favourite novelists are dead you lose all hope of having the opportunity to exchange ideas with them [or of them publishing another novel]. Back in London I remember that trickle of excitement when I read Martin Amis’ Rachel Papers followed closely by London Fields – a contender for my top ten and he is alive! Devious thoughts beetled around my brain. Maybe we can actually exchange ideas. I'd been a faithful fag hag to Proust for so long, listening to him soliloquising over Ritz cocktails, and I’d been such a good listener to Tolstoy never saying a word while he chanted on and changed his mind about oh yes, oh no, maybe I do believe in god now after all. Perhaps Martin Amis will let me speak.

And then...a beetle of hope. I saw that Martin Amis was going to be speaking in North London, answering questions [listening!] and signing his latest book. And then, the beetle of hope was squashed. It was like Question Time in the British House of Commons. The nondescript Mr. Amis, with deaf ears, promised to pass my neatly prepared question on to his publishers.

Maybe I should just give the guy a break, do him a favour, put one of his books in my top ten. After all, sometimes when I duck down the road to the local epicerie to buy milk I haven’t put on my social face and I can’t construct a sentence. Squeak replaces speak. But geez Martin, you weren’t going out to buy a kipper and a lager down at the local minimart, you were showing up to talk about your book. Couldn’t you have at least been charismatic, a little less drab, maybe even a little taller, a lot funnier and more overtly intelligent?

Living authors can be so disappointing. I imagine living readers probably are as well.