A hint to put it aside

It is intriguing why we sometimes persist with reading a novel past the point when we discover a lack of concern for its characters or its way of observing the world. Sibylle Lewitscharoff’s Apostoloff, translated by Katy Derbyshire, is written in brisk, elegant prose but around the midpoint, despite its admirable qualities, I decide to put the book aside and move onto something else.

A bookish narrator that reads Beckett and Lowry kept me going longer than expected, together with the odd references to Greek myth, and a curiosity to find out why a supposedly secondary character, the chauffeur Rumen (“Rumen is our Hermes”) Apostoloff is important enough to bear the story’s title.

But on this reading I go no further, with just a moment to drop off a passage from an enjoyable chapter with the narrator’s insomnia.

Tonight there’s no rain and I can’t get to sleep again. Perhaps I’m in too much of a good mood to sleep. Reading doesn’t help this time, certainly not by this dim and dingy bedside lamp. I’ve got Koba the Dread with me, a gruesome but excellent book about Stalin, and I took the sentence The laughter should have stopped around then as a hint to put it aside. It won’t be of any help to me tonight. I normally pick up a Martin Amis book in the evening and don’t close it until I’ve finished it the next morning. Then I read it at a slower pace again later.

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