Please, Somebody Periodically Check That I’ve Not Been Crushed To Death By My Teetering Pile Of ‘To-Read’ Books As The Irony Of Such A Death Would Be Horrifying

by Bec Hawkings

Moses conceded yet again that his wasting life had been drained of potential years ago thanks to his obsession with the Gurskys. Even so, it could still be retrieved from insignificance, providing he managed, between bouts of fermented crab apples, to complete his biography of Soloman Gursky. Yes, but even in the unlikely event he ever got to finishing that unending story, the book could never be published unless he was willing to be carted off in a straitjacket, declared mentally unbalanced.

At the moment, I’m struggling to finish Mordecai Richler’s Booker Prize-shortlisted Solomon Gursky Was Here. I picked it up at a book sale quite a while ago, enticed by the interesting cover art and its price. It’s stagnated at the bottom of my ‘to-read’ pile ever since, and in a fit of determination I recently picked it up to read on my commute.

That, hindsight proves, was a mistake.

Solomon Gursky is not a book that you can read in short spurts, and it is not a book for the casual reader. It is unapologetically non-linear, almost completely devoid of a central plot, and its characters and time-points are so numerous as to become inevitably entangled in your head. Each time I pick it up, I’m forced to retreat a few pages previous, to try and grasp at where exactly I am in Richler’s sprawling Jewish-Canadian family history. And yet, I can’t hate it, or even despair at it’s complexity. Solomon Gursky is a furious, biting, savage beast of a book, with fascinatingly flawed characters and a fiercely moral undertone that defies its immoral protagonists. It is strangely comforting to be so confronted by a novel; to have to wade through the fractious swamp of stories, and to search for meaning in such a convoluted mess. Because of this complexity, it is immensely satisfying to uncover one of Richler’s beautifully half-hidden clues, which lurk at the edges of the scene and defy you to catch them before they slink back into the shadows. Mordecai Richler is a brilliant writer – his prose looms over you, drawing you ever-deeper into his world and the world of Moses and the Gurskys, so subtly and so slowly that you aren’t conscious of just how intertwined you have become with this beautiful burden of a book.

I once told you that you were no more than a figment of my imagination. Therefore, if you continued to exist, so must I.

A dear friend of mine recently joked that she’d probably only ever finished five books in her lifetime. I replied, only half-joking, that I’d finished just as many the previous week. I can’t understand her mindset, that refusal to read, though I respect it as she does my bibliophile tendencies. Good prose can leave me breathless; great prose is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. To contemplate a life without books is terrifying, and yet people who I love and admire very much could (and do) live happy and fulfilled lives without ever cracking open a page.

How do they survive without ever being able to leave their own minds and take a wander through someone else’s?

(Then again, they’re at significantly less risk of being crushed to death by a tower of hardcover books, their corpse slowly rotting away under the pages because their bibliophilic hermit lifestyle means that no-one is going to notice that they’re gone until the smell starts to seep through the walls of the cheap studio apartment or until the cats start to howl for supper. All of which is a legitimate fear of mine.)

Mr Bernard died on a Monday, at the age of seventy-five, his body wasted. He lay in state for two days in the lobby of Bernard Gursky Tower and, as he failed to rise on the third, he was duly buried.