Artizan Street Library met to discuss

Osama by Tidhar Lavie

OsamaThis time we met to compare notes on Tidhar Lavie’s concept novel Osama, the result of an intriguing idea he had of creating a pulp fiction world in which the real world of terrorist violence is treated, in turn, as pulp fiction. The apparent pulp plot involves a private detective being engaged to track down the reclusive author of a series of putative pulp novels describing real-life (for us) terrorist attacks.

But then, didn’t it ramble? According to a comment kindly supplied on Sara’s behalf by her spouse, Andy, she being indisposed, it was like a well-researched international city tour with too much getting into fights, smoking and drinking, mysterious women – the usual Chandleresque clichés, but not delivered with enough verbal control or ingenuity. OK. According to Malcolm, the narrative was a mess, nearly all loose-ends. There are clearly two worlds being referred to, with a narrative fiction connection between the two, but what, Rory wanted to know, was the significance of ‘refugees’ and ‘fuzzy-wuzzies’ in that context? You can guess, but the thing is unresolved in the book. And, by the way, holding up a paperback with a drawing of an Arab man in a headdress and the word Osama printed under it, is not a comfortable way to travel by underground. Noted.

Jenny could only agree that Lavie was no Chandler, too masculine and too laboured. And Janet echoed the judgement that the plot had too many disconnects. So was there any means of resolving the mess? Maybe, Jenny proposed, since opium plays a regular part in the plot, the hero, from whose perspective the whole thing is narrated, is an addict. Maybe, but Malcolm had found just one possible point of disentanglement – late in the book, without explanation, the hero, having somehow escaped from imprisonment by mysterious, dark-suited figures, finds himself in angry altercation with a woman who describes to him a catalogue of personal traits (including excessive drinking) and deplores their collapsing relationship. His wife?

After this intervention, he as suddenly resumes his status as a private eye in Vientiane, where the novel started. So the idea is that the author himself is delusional. The book becomes a sort of roman à clef, the key to it being Lavie himself, traumatised as a Jewish (Lavie is Israeli) survivor of terrorism – look no further than the brief biographical note on the half-title page where it is claimed that he and his wife narrowly escaped being victims of more than one of the attacks he describes in the novel. Then the most charitable thing is to assume the book is badly written on purpose, with all its infelicities, as an example of pulp stuff. He relegates his trauma to a fantasy world which he tries to substantiate with a narrative which serves only to reveal itself as a symptom of that trauma. Geddit?

Well, that was Malcolm’s best shot, for what it’s worth. He and Rory weren’t sorry they’d read it. Maybe a male thing. It was certainly well-researched. Jenny even knew the hotel the hero stays in in Montmartre. Loads of accurate detail about things like a disused London underground station and the misnamed statue of Eros in Piccadilly. Surely not another example of male autism?? Doesn’t bear thinking about.

Next time, an old bestseller from 1986, Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, a straightforward tale of serial murder and scent. We meet Monday 18 April, 6pm at Artizan Street library.

Best wishes

Malcolm Key

City of London Libraries