On location: Wakefield

I arrived in Wakefield at what I assumed to be Westgate Station. It had been a null journey, the train leadenly clunking over the flatlands in the faint autumnal sunshine. The franchise on this route seems to have been acquired by East Coast, but the carriage I was in had that absurd Grand Central livery: the blown-up photos of Marilyn Monroe, the chessboards painted on to the tables. Really, the last thing you want when you’re heading for West Yorkshire is to be reminded of the existence of Manhattan. Not, I hasten to add, because there is anything wrong with Wakefield – it’s just that the Grand Central decor is decentring: it makes you wonder where the hell you are.

‘The fate of our literary culture is sealed’

‘Let’s think about reading – about what it’s like to read. And after we’ve thought about reading for a while, let’s consider writing – and what it means to write. There are many ways of reading: we scan, we dip, we skip and we speed through texts we know to be intrinsically dull, searching out the nuggets of information we desire as a bent-backed prospector pans for gold. In contradistinction: we are lost, abandoned, absorbed – tossed from wave to wave of language as we relapse into the wordsea. All serious readers of serious literature have had this experience: time, space, and all the workaday contingencies of their identity – sex, age, class, heritage – are forgotten; the mind cleaves to the page, matching it point-for-point; the mind is the text, and in the act of reading it is you who are revealed to the impersonal writer, quite as much as her imaginings and inventions are rendered unto you. In the course of my literary career I’ve read various accounts of the reading process – ones that analyse it phenomenologically, neurologically and psychologically; ones that site it in a given social or cultural context – but none has captured the peculiar quiddity of reading as I experience it. In particular, no forensic or analytic account of reading can do justice to the strange interplay between levels of reality we apprehend when we read deeply. We don’t picture a woman in a red dress when we decipher the marks that mean “she wore a red dress” – and, by extension, we do not hold within our mind’s eye the floor plan of Mansfield Park or the street map of Dublin when we read the novels of Jane Austen and James Joyce, respectively.

More reviews of Shark pt II

The Financial Times: “… an intoxicating experience. Self’s powerful command of language animates the intense prose while his dry wit is given a freer rein than in Umbrella. Shark drives remorselessly on; it takes us with it.”

The Mail on Sunday: “Self is on a mission to revive modernist fiction and newcomers will find the text, excised of paragraphs and most punctuation, tough at first. But it is unmatched for vibrancy and sensation, and befits the novel’s raw, disturbing subjects – the traumatised lives that orbit Dr Busner’s therapeutic community.”

Real meals: The Duck & Waffle

How many times do you have to tread in vomit before it puts you off your dinner? This wasn’t, in my case and that of my companions, an academic question: as we walked from my son’s flat in Haggerston, east London, towards the City, we must have passed puddles of sick running into double figures – in some parts of Shoreditch the puke lay so extensively on the pavement that the chunks of food glistering in its bile seemed like some duodenal wrack, left behind when the Great Vomit Wave of ’14 finally retreated. Still, what did we expect at 11.30pm on a Saturday night? This part of London, having reached a critical mass of hipsters, has now started to draw in revellers from Essex, who debouche at Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street Stations, drink, dance and kebab up, then leave their viscid spoor behind them as they beat a retreat.