For some time now I’ve had a problematic relationship with reading. There are books I really enjoy, many of which I’ve mentioned here, but I don’t find myself seeking out books hungrily, as I did when I was younger. Why is that?
Part of the problem is that I’m a writer. Back in high school, upon hearing that I wanted to be a “writer”, a friend told me to be prepared for a different relationship with books. The constant critical sense would get in the way, and I’d lose one crucial part of real story enjoyment—the ability to entirely lose myself in a story and its characters, as if they were “real”. I thought her warning a bit overstated, but decades later I found her words had, in fact, been proven right.
Inevitably, I’ve felt a bit gloomy about this realization. As I say, I enjoy books, but I remember how I used to enjoy them, how the words would disappear and I’d be taken over by pure story and drama and feeling. Without all the knee-jerk analysis of sentence (“Oh, that last clause really should be cut.”) and craft (“How did he do that? Can I use a trick like that in my next book?”). While I can’t say that all the joy has been sucked out of reading, I can admit that some of it has been.
Which is why I’ve recently been stunned by Robert Wilson’s latest, The Ignorance of Blood (US, UK). It did to me what I thought I might never experience again—it absorbed me completely and utterly, so that I felt the same anxiety, elation and deep sadness as the characters. I even rooted for them—something that, as a writer, feels slightly absurd. They are, after all, just made-up characters.
It probably doesn’t hurt that I’m a father now, and a certain amount of the story involves a child in peril. Certainly those were the sections that had my stomach twisting the tightest. But there was so much more in the book that kept me riveted to the page, unnaturally relieved when people made the right choices, full-body anxious when they didn’t.
Those of you who’ve followed Wilson’s Javier Falcón quintet will know that The Ignorance of Blood is his final outing, and he goes out in a big way. It’s a big story, multilayered and full of rich characterizations, bringing together threads from the previous books and giving Falcón a full, rich ending. For those who don’t know the previous books, some of the final revelations might make less sense, but they certainly won’t hinder your enjoyment of this very human tale.
I could mention elements of the plot—Russian mafia, terrorists, a kidnapped child—but attempting to relate the plot seems so cursory and makes the book sound less the blast of fresh air that it is. Suffice to say, it starts with a whallop and twists and turns itself vigorously until the last pages.
It’s coming out next week in the States, and came out alongside The Tourist at the beginning of March in the UK. If you’re already a fan of Wilson’s, then you know to go out and pick it up. And if you’re not, do yourself a favor and pick up The Ignorance of Blood. A wonderful book that just might have restored my relationship with literature. And that’s no small thing at all.
[For full disclosure, Rob Wilson is a friend of mine, but my friends know that I wouldn’t launch into this kind of praise unless I meant it. You’ll just have to trust me on this.]
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)