I had good reason to pre-order my copy of this particular book as it was written by Lars Iyer, my philosophy lecturer when I studied in Newcastle ten years ago or so.
I used to read his varied and dense blog of the same name while at university and I was particularly drawn to the passages about the person he would simply refer to as W., his friend and apparent tormenter.
I often wondered why abbreviate the name to W.? Everyone knew who it was. He would gladly tell his philosophy groups stories about his friend and use his full name, which also begins with W. Was it just a hint towards anonymity? Did it preserve anything? Was it due to Lars’ obsession with Kafka, and a stylistic nod to the character, K.?
The novel. Within the first few pages, I had a feeling that I had read some parts before – of course I had on the blog itself. Pretty soon it ceased to matter. There is grinding repetition. It often has you think you have turned the page only to reread the same page again. Not unlike the feeling of reading Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night A Traveller, where the protagonist keeps returning his faulty books to the bookshop only to discover the whole book never really existed.
So what is Spurious about? It is a hedonistic journey into the apocalypse with W. and his idiot punching bag, Lars. The novel is a series of numberless chapters, mostly quite short. Something I quickly noticed is that Lars seems almost anonymous to the reader. Like the character of I in Withnail and I, he is for a large portion of the book nameless and exists only as mirror to W. W.’s speech is the only speech that is reported. Lars never gives us an opinion directly – every thought or attempt at thought is refracted through the hilariously hateful sneer of W.
I had the pleasure of meeting the real W. once or twice in Newcastle. I particularly remember sitting out on the sunny terraces of The Cumberland Arms and watching the two of them go into a hilarious double act of improvised verbal depravity. They would riff scatologically, each trying to out-gross the other, while draining pints of real ale. It wasn’t clear whether this was an act for our benefit, or whether we had somehow caught them backstage, or in private. Either way it was hysterical and I remember eventually leaving them and wondering down the steps to Ouseburn valley in a hazy stupor, inventively swearing to myself like some kind of unwashed Malcolm Tucker.
W.’s accusations in the novel are contradictory and often harsh. Much like the rough banter of friendship many men will recognise, only it is dressed up in a pretentious philosophical babble. W.’s main concern is that they are both philosophers, both studying and lecturing on the subject of thought and yet neither one of them has had a single thought worth mentioning. Not one original thought. They are always on the verge of thought, it seems, but how would they know if they even know if they had an original thought? Instead they drink endlessly and shamefully, dousing themselves in their own unfulfilled dreams (whatever they were) and increasingly bleak future.
Kafka is endlessly referred to as the ultimate hero. Are either of them Kafka or are they both Max Brod, the friend of Kakfa who refused written instructions to burn all of his works after he died? How is it possible to be friends with someone with such literary power? It is ok for Lars and W. because they are both Max Brod. They are both the jealous friend, the idiot incapable of pure thought.
Where the blog form can be overwhelming, endlessly scrolling down white pages to no fixed conclusion, the novel lends itself well to this repetitive style. While essentially we are none the wiser at the end of the book, we have been given a deep insight into the bizarrely intense friendship Lars obviously has with W. There is a wonderful recurring motif of Lars’ moulding and dampening house. It evolves into a character itself and Lars develops an ambivalent relationship as the moisture grows from a wet stain to a freely flowing river inside his house – a beautifully disturbing image. Perhaps a grand metaphor for modern living and indeed modern dying.
Do read it, it’s a treat.