The Beat of the Pendulum — Catherine Chidgey

This experimental “found novel” is great. Once I got into it, it was like a beautifully edited minimalistic fly-on-the-wall documentary in print.

Every day for a year, Catherine Chidgey recorded or wrote down a conversation, email, overheard snippet, advertisement or some other piece of text. That’s what this book is. Initially it’s pretty disorienting as there’s only speech — no introductions, descriptions or even “he said” or “she said”. It takes a while to figure out who the characters are and what their relationships are. Even by the end of the book I was still losing track of who was talking during long conversations.

This situation featured in the book I read after this one: Lost in a Good Book, the second book in the literary sci-fi comedy thriller series (really) by Jasper Fforde. There’s a joke about literary characters having trouble keeping track of unattributed dialogue. Maybe that means I am actually fictional. I think I prefer not to consider that possibility for now. Anyway, those Jasper Fforde books have a lot of fun ideas: they’re well worth reading even though they are different from The Beat of the Pendulum in almost every way.

There was also a connection to the previous book I had read. I was surprised when some of the characters in The Beat of the Pendulum talked about Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic novel The Master and Margarita — that was the book I read before this one. What an amazing coincidence! I thought. But then I realised it’s probably similar to the way that once you get pregnant, you suddenly start seeing pregnant women and babies everywhere. It just primes your attention. Read a Russian novel, and you’ll start seeing them everywhere.

So quite neat the this book was connected in some way to my previous and subsequent reads. But there is also a connection to my life in general. I enjoy reading NZ fiction partly because I often recognise the settings. This book was even better as I eventually figured out that I know some of the supporting characters. It turns out that friends of mine know Catherine quite well and feature in this book. That counts as a brush with fame for them, so for me it’s a brush with a brush with fame. Maybe that’s as close as I want to get.

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