Great to be in Berlin again between Christmas and New Year, and to go to this warm and well-stocked bookshop in Friedrichshain, and with a fantastic café attached. The Rough Guide bills it as Shakespeare and Sons (part of a small chain of bookshops I believe) but as it says Books and Bagels over the door, I’ll go with that.
After much deliberation, I opted for Deborah Levy’s novel, Swimming Home, which I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I confess that I find novels and stories easier reads when I’m travelling. There’s something about the intensity of poetry that doesn’t sit well with hoping on and off tube trains and forever consulting the fold out pocket map.
Don’t be mislead by the cover – Swimming Home isn’t the ‘holiday read’ those yellow umbrellas might seem to imply. It’s a beautifully episodic book, placing a great deal of emphasis on imagery to build up an unsettling drama where so much of what’s going on is glimpsed below the surface. In the afterword, Tom McCarthy says: ‘her fiction seemed less concerned about the stories it narrated than about the interzone (to borrow Burroughs’s term) it set up in which desire and speculation, fantasy and symbols circulated’.
I think it’s fair to say the interzone is where a lot of poetry dwells too, which is perhaps why I was so taken with this novel. And that other interzone, of being abroad, in a half-familiar city, in a different frame of mind to the one I usually have when I’m in the 9-5 routine of work, that surely impacted on my reading of it as well. So, here’s to the interzone, and the hope that I can visit again soon.