‘The Thought Gang,’ Tibor Fischer
Well, it always looked likely to happen. Day 23 of a 31 day trip and I’m already on the last of the nine books I brought with me, (even including a bonus one so small it subsequently only lasted a couple of hours). Oh well, more time to get these reviews written, and maybe even a few bonus posts on the many and varied joys (and tribulations), of reading. But for now…
I have gotten into a pattern recently of finishing a non-fiction book and treating myself to a nice bit of fiction. (In case that makes me sound anti-fact in any way, let me quickly point out that I then polish off a fiction book in order to treat myself to a bit of non-fiction. I guess I’m kind of lucky that way. Optimistic, some might say).
Whilst browsing through a dire and largely water-stained selection of second-hand books in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, over the Summer, my eye had caught on the name Tibor Fischer
. It took me a few minutes of flicking through the paperback to remember that I’d been to a talk by him at the Hay Festival and that he had been shortlisted for the Booker prize once and had won all sorts of Best Young Novelist awards. On impulse, despite The Cupboard back home creaking with unread tomes, I bought ‘The Thought Gang
,’ his second of several dysfunctional novels.
I turned out to be strolling the streets and stalking the cafes of Tel Aviv with a 300-page exercise in style reminiscent of Queneau
, fitting considering most of the action takes place in France. Having recently read an excellent book on codes, I knew that something was up when Fischer had used words beginning with ‘z’ a dozen times in the first few pages alone, or approximately 11.5 times more than was statistically likely. By the end of the story, (of an ageing, alcoholic philandering philosophy professor with an allergy to work who fleas a post-blackout situation of police-involving proportions and subsequently teams up with a hapless, limb-limited failed robber to form a more successful and surreal bank-robbing team operating across the waters in France), I still had no idea why this ‘z’ obsession, and I didn’t care. I just loved the book.
What was there for me not to love? This nonsensical adventure contained all of the things I appreciate in a good read: non-
-sequiturial linguistic acrobatics, reminiscent of one of my literary heroes, Kurt Vonnegut
; philosophy for beginners, (and advanceders); plots that arrive unexplained, from nowhere, before disappearing again with equal disdain for standard story-telling tradition; larger-than-life protagonists, more stereotypes than characters; tongue-in-cheek self-referential
post-modernism; even a football match, for crying out loud. Danes, a seance gone awry, verbs, scathing wit, Greek, and
sentence at one point. Perfection.
Among other things, ‘The Thought Gang’ provided me with a constant flow of turns of phrase, (turn of phrases? turns of phrases? cute lines?!), and twisted ideas which would have warranted a place in my old quote book, and will instead be dutifully archived here:
“Suddenly I smelt broken nose…”
“I didn’t want her to find out that, like most men, I’m a life support system for a phallus…”
“…your closest friends are the ones it takes you longest to discover you don’t like…”
“…(a forehead, as someone once remarked, that has conquered its way to my neck)…”
plus a whole host of other eminently quotable quotes which I can’t provide, as I somehow removed all of the post-its from the pages which were housing them before I’d typed this review. Luckily the spine fell open at this description of one fleeting character who hit remarkably close to home:
“Sitting down, what was most striking was the booklessness of his table and no volumes were visible or perceptible about his person or down by his side. He would carry three volumes at a time, over a thousand pages on his person; the book in his hand had been so customary it had seemed like an evolutionary innovation. I remembered him saying that one of his greatest fears was a free consciousness and no text to plunge it into…”
My elder brother
, (not to be confused with my younger brother, since he doesn’t exist…wow, Fischer’s style is catching…), studied philosophy at university before vacating his adopted country for his (literally) native one, which led to lots of jokes about what a philosophy degree can lead to, (besides, in the existent brother’s words, change being the only constant, and a request to passers-by if they can spare any). The actual answer, it seems, is that with a firm, possibly choking grasp of the English language, coupled with a knowledge of the Greeks, the Romans, the French and the Others, you can write incredibly fun fiction.