Sunday, 18 October 2009


A portrait of Guy Johnson (or possibly his uncle and father-in-law, Sir William Johnson)

Have you ever really looked forward to getting a certain book (as a birthday or Christmas present, for example), received it, and then been reluctant to start reading it because you were afraid it might not live up to your expectations?

Early last week I took delivery of my latest Amazon order: Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and Wu Ming's Manituana. I quickly tore open the box and ripped off the plastic wrapping, then held each volume in turn, weighing it and noting how it differed from the image of it I'd created in my mind. Wanderlust was smaller than I imagined, its extremely thin cover giving the book a generally flimsy feel. It is quite literally a paperback. Manituana, on the other had, is a hardback, solid and robust. It oozed freshness, and I felt the urge to lift it to my nose and sniff it. It didn’t take me long to decide which of the two I'd start reading first.

And yet, both Wanderlust and Manituana remained on my bookshelf untouched until two nights ago. One reason is that I was near the end of another book (Gerald Seymour's Timebomb), and even though I wasn't really enjoying it, I wanted to finish it before starting Manituana (unlike some people I know, once I've started a book I almost always read it to the end, and the thought of skipping parts never enters my mind). But for some reason I was also afraid that Manituana wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Perhaps it was because I didn’t enjoy Wu Ming's last effort, 54, quite as much as their first, Q, and was afraid that a trend had been established.

Well, I'm happy to report that these concerns vanished as soon as I opened Manituana and read the opening quote (from Voltaire). I'm enjoying Manituana immensely. Have you ever started reading a book and been reluctant to read too much each day because you were afraid you'd reach the end too quickly?

The only problem I've struck so far is that, like 54, Manituana has a huge cast of characters making it difficult at times to remember who's who. Further complicating matters is the fact that many of them have the same surname. So I've adopted a practice I first employed when reading 54, which is to write down on a piece of paper the names of all the new major characters as they appear and their relationships to the other characters, so that I have a kind of family tree I can refer to whenever I get confused. It helps that many of the characters in Manituana are real and searchable on Wikipedia. So I was able to determine that Guy Johnson, for example, was not only the nephew of Sir William Johnson, but also his son-in-law.


Anonymous said...

I always feel the same about your blog, bro. It takes me a few minutes to build up the courage to read it. Will it be up to my high expectations? So far, yes.

I find I have to keep notes of the people in my own family, with photos so I recognise them.

Mark (the brother a few years older than you)

Walking fool said...

Nice try, but I don't have any brothers.

Anonymous said...

Well, I will have to write you out of my inheritance. Any more dangerous stunts with bread knives, and you won't be around for it anyway. "It" being the one ngultrum.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I enjoyed your note on Manituana and you addressed a fear I had. I really enjoyed Q and 54, and have been eagerly awaiting Manituana. It hasn't appeared in the shops here (Dublin) yet, so I might have to resort to Amazon.

Thanks for posting your thoughts. I'm looking forward to Manituana now. (Have just finished Iain Banks' "Transition", so am in the mode for range of characters and intricate plot.


Walking fool said...

Hi Peter
Actually, the plot in Manituana has been surprisingly conventional so far (I'm just over halfway through), although there have been a couple of twists since the setting has shifted to London. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.