I will take the time to write about about Come Dance With Me by Russell Hoban (Bloomsbury 2005), because this was one book I read purely for pleasure. I refered to Gwyneth Jones’s book being schematic, but that is even more a description you would apply to Hoban’s work, particularly what he has done since Angelica’s Grotto. They are, for a start, short books made up of a large number of very short chapters (there are inevitably several chapters of a page or less). They tend to follow the pattern established in Turtle Diary, a mis-matched man and woman, alternating as narrator, describing the unlikely circumstances that bring them together and somehow manage to keep them together. The familiar catalogue of writers, musicians and painters put in an appearance (Odilon Redon is yet again very important), the bat from The Bat Tattoo puts in an appearance, as does Amarylis from Amarylis Night And Day, and inevitably one of the characters (a different one every time) lives in what is recogniseably Hoban own home (looking out across open ground to where the District Line heads south above ground). You can either read his books ticking off a mental list of traits and repetitions, or you can read them as if you are returning to visit an idiosyncratic elderly friend. This is not recurring images in the manner of a series (as in Lindsey Davis’s ‘Falco’ novels, for instance, where the same characters are expected to reappear every time), This is rather visiting the mental landscape of someone with a finite number of obsessions, but which are brought together in slightly different combinations each time. And though he makes every effort to present his characters as being deeply ordinary, they are invariably unlike anyone you will meet outside a novel. Hoban’s characters always talk in symbols and allusions, and the person they are talking to is always the only person who might catch the allusion, understand the symbol. The unlikeliest people are thrown together in museums where they are drawn to the same symbolist painting and understand the same passing quotation from a German folk tale – at least that is what happens here. One the one side we have a 60-odd year old bachelor, an American long resident in London (Hoban wiping a few years off his age), and in this instance one of the top specialists in diabetis; on the other we have a 50-odd year old rock princess who also happens to be an art expert. Our rock’n’roll star is obsessed with death, because all the people she has been close to, including her young child, have been killed in unusual circumstances (her son fell off a cliff in Hawaii when they went whale watching), as a result she is afraid of entering a new relationship. The doctor is simply afraid of relationships, period. But in his younger days the doctor wrote poems under a pseudonym, and wouldn’t you know it, the rock band adapted one of his poems for a hit song without either of them knowing the other. But now it’s coming up to the anniversary of the child’s death, and as the rock star flies to Hawaii for a personal pilgrimage, the doctor has to work out his own feelings to decide what he really wants to do about the relationship. And that is the story, all taking place in just a few days between first meeting in the museum and redemptive reunion in Hawaii (and even so Hoban manages to get the dates muddled up so that my edition of the book contains a rather charming little erratum slip). The whole book is charming, not very deep, not very realistic, but an unalloyed joy to anyone else, like me, who loves Hoban’s work.
First published at Livejournal, 12 April 2005.