33. ‘Suddenly, A Knock On The Door…’

22 Jul
33. ‘Suddenly, A Knock On The Door…’

Suddenly, A Knock On The Door…Etgar Keret

(A warning before you continue: this blog entry contains far and away the best links I have sourced so far on this blogging adventure. Muurakami Haruki’s homepage is a work of art, David Mitchell on Italo Calvino is genius on genius, and I am not sure there is anyone I would rather meet in the world, if given the chance and the dead-raising powers, than Kurt Vonnegut, and the video linked below gives us a chance to at least see him in action in a proto-TED talk on the story lines of literature. Enjoy them!)

I had the fortune of hearing a talk by Etgar Keret at this year’s Jewish Book Week, and the even greater fortune of meeting him afterwards to get a copy of one of his older books signed, (not the newest one, which was only out in hardback and more than I could afford to spend on a writer I’d never read before after a week of book-bingeing). He seemed unbelievably friendly and shy, and wild-haired and self-depreciating, but what I didn’t realise was how good he was.
He is Salman Rushdie’s “voice of the next generation,” The Independent’s “voice of young Israel,” and according to Clive James “one of the most important writers alive.” So when I found a proof copy of his newest short story compilation on a browse last weekend, I snapped it up, and soon after snapped it open and subsequently devoured it in a day and a half, on the London Underground.
37 short stories, from four short pages to a couple of dozen, feature recurring themes like Murakami-esque dreams; couple separated due to death, distance or just life; and the creative process, of writers or businessmen or lovers, but usually of writers. Yet the overall feeling of the collection isn’t the topics, but the mood: constantly surreal, (at times overtly, such as people living inside other people, escaping through zips, but more often understated and philosophical, such as the man who keeps everything in his pockets in case he ever needs something), often dark, (death, divorce, suicide, cheating, alternative realities where we aren’t unhappy), but never depressing, and most of all, funny. Sharply, observantly funny.
Keret manages to write about both the minutely small details of daily life, (getting a bus with a young son, meeting strangers in a cafe), and the infinitely universal, all at the same time, as epitomised by one of my favourite quotes:

“Whatever they may have thought at that moment, in the end it led to marriage. Well, maybe that’s wrong, in the end it led to death. But at some stage in between, it led to marriage…”
as well as a constant playfulness with words, and struggle against cliché:
“On long flights, Michael tells me, the different between business and economy, it’s just day and night.
‘What do you prefer,’ I ask him, ‘day or night?’…”
There is also a masterful use of the short story as art form, reminiscent of Italo Calvino or Kurt Vonnegut: some of the best stories are the ones we don’t even get to read, that Keret doesn’t even really have to write but merely outline through the thoughts of his characters. Here is the start of one of my favourite stories, ‘Creative Writing’:
“The first story Maya wrote was about a world in which people split themselves in two instead of reproducing. In that world, every person could, at any given moment, turn into two beings, each half his or her age. Some chose to do it when they were young; for instance, an eighteen-year-old might split into two nine-year-old girls. Others would wait until they’d established themselves professionally and financially and only went for it in middle age…”
Time to start hunting down all of his other short story collections…

Posted by on July 22, 2012 in BOOKS


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5 responses to “33. ‘Suddenly, A Knock On The Door…’

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