Thursday, November 27, 2014

Charles Lambert, With a Zero at its Heart (2014)

Lambert, Charles, With a Zero at its Heart, Hammersmith: The Friday Project, 2014

With a Zero at its Heart at Goodreads
With a Zero at its Heart at IBList

Charles Lambert's Website

Rating: 7/10

Among the many talented contemporary writers I've discovered through the excellent periodical The Fiction Desk is Charles Lambert. Having read and reviewed (positively) his two contributions to the publication, the short story "All I Want" from TFD1: Various Authors, and the novelette "Pretty Vacant" from TFD2: All These Little Worlds, I offered him, via Goodreads, a review of his latest book at Casual Debris. Within a few short days I received a copy of this very attractive little book, and took it with me to London and Istanbul, starting it in the former and completing the last few chapters in the latter.

Because life is riddled with all sorts of minor experiences, along Charing Cross Road I visited the numerous second-hand bookshops there, and on the shelves of Any Amount of Books was a copy of With a Zero at its Heart, selling for 6£, just under half the cover price. (In excellent condition, if you're interested. It might still be there, though this was about four months ago.) Lambert's book is, like life, riddled with an assortment of experiences, major or minor, each equally significant to the bearer.

     24 themed chapters.
     Each with 10 numbered paragraphs.
     Each paragraph with precisely 120 words.
     The sum of a life.

Toss in a final paragraph of a hundred and twenty words and you have a work made up of 28,120 words total. In this oulipian challenge, Lambert's writing is precise, as each paragraph, whether detailing an event or describing an object, must resonate on an emotional level in order that each fragment carry its own significance. There are some sections I found to be stronger than others, with "Danger" and "Colours" being among the weaker, but overall the work is consistent and engaging.

These fragments make up a whole that features a sensitive man in search of self via objects, sex and a plethora of emotions and experiences. There is no traditional plot, but the style offers the opportunity to form character more vividly than most plotted stories would. Removing traditional plot removes the character-building limitations that a structured story-line normally requires. Removing structure also lends the work a sense of chaos, making fiction more like life (to paraphrase Virginia Woolf). This is particularly appropriate here since the work is most likely semi-biographical.

The title references paragraph two of the section on animals: "He's presented with three white mice in a plywood box, divided by a wall with a zero at its heart." (p.38) These sections ate like chambers of the heart, divided and yet connected by an opening, making the heart whole. The novel is like a set of chambers made whole by its protagonist, his life and self being the zero that connects the various experiences and emotions depicted in the book.

The book is attractively designed by Vaughan Oliver, and the internal formatting and design are great (too bad about that typo on page 60). Another error is more technical. On page 129 watching the excellent Psycho in the cinema, "[t]hey both spot Hitchcock pass in front of a car." In the actual Psycho the director is standing outside the door, silhouetted in the glass, when Janet Leigh as Marion Crane walks in. Minor but distracting, at least for a Psycho(tic) fan. Though perhaps he is only pausing as he is passing by a car.


Note that this review is late so as not to conflict with my review of the same book at Black Heart Magazine, which you can read here.



Friday, November 21, 2014

Bookshops: Famous Book Store (New Delhi)



This past August my search for books in New Delhi led me through Connaught Place where many a bookshop can be found, and more variety than I imagine any quarter in any part of the world wouldn't dream of maintaining. The difficulty with second hand books in India is similar to that which I encountered in Turkey: due to heat and humidity, older books are warped, browned and spotted with mold. (Surprisingly, in the oddest backstreet shops in Istanbul I found many an old pulp anthology, including several Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and while all were dirt-cheap, most were unsalvageable due to decay.) Expecting to find variety in New Delhi, I was disappointed in my search for British editions of paperback anthologies, but impressed by the number and variety of bookshops available.

My time was limited, however, and while I'm sure plenty more books lie outside Connaught Place; I was only a few blocks away. Furthermore, additional bookshops exist in and around Connaught Place, including many booksellers who set up on the streets (and who, it is claimed by locals, sell pirated books that are often incomplete), and in about four hours I was unable to visit even the ones I knew about; my search having begun with this 2010 Hindustani Times article, and I managed to visit:

  • BMP Books
  • The Oxford Book Store
  • New Book Land (Janpath Market, below Connaught Circus)
  • ED Galgotia & Sons (B Block)
  • Jain Book Store (B Block)
  • Rajiv Bookshop (Palika Bazaar)
  • Amrit Book Company (N Block)
  • Famous Book Store (Janpath Market)
  • Anil Book Corner (H Block)

My favourite of these was Famous Book Store, a hard-to-find little shop just outside the Janpath Market (where I tried to purchase a Superman shirt for my twenty month-old son, but they did not have baby sizes). The shop was packed full, mostly with novels and children's books. I was tempted to purchase some books by the likes of Shaun Huston and Ramsey Campbell that were quite cheap, but since I've decided to no longer purchase mass market paperbacks (with perhaps some exceptions of the anthology ilk), I passed. One reason I nearly left empty-handed was that a store employee was shadowing me throughout what should have been my browsing pleasure. It was irritating. He did, however, dig through some piles to pull out a few odd titles I wanted a closer look at.

One of these titles was 50 Crime Murder Mysteries and Detective Stories, published in 2007 by Indiana Publishing House, a publisher located in New Dehli whose official email addresses are with gmail and yahoo, and whose website expired on October 28th of this year. The anthology has no credited editor and a table of contents that includes mostly people I have never heard of, alongside the likes of Ross Macdonald, G.K. Chesterton, HRF Keating, and the Edwards Hoch and Gorman. It was wrapped in plastic and I wasn't able to peruse the contents or pages prior to purchasing, but at 195 (about $3) it wasn't much of a gamble. The production is inexpensive, with font I haven't encountered since I was in grade school; as though the pages are photocopies of newsprint articles. The shop did have other titles from Indiana House, mostly collections of authors whose works are in the public domain. Perhaps I should've purchased others, since they might now be extremely rare and valuable. If only I hadn't removed it from its original packaging! (I am not being serious here.)

In addition to my single purchase, the shop gave me a nice little cloth bag that fit the book perfectly (pictured at the top), and I took one of their business cards (above).



Testing a new map (as of 24 December 2015)