Charles Boyle is a modern man of letters, editor, publisher, typesetter, designer and author. He is one of our leading writers of crossover fiction that slides into factual writing like Geoff Dyer and Nicholas Royle.
He has adopted different personalities for his writing as Jennie Walker and Jack Robinson. As a self-published writer he avoided identifying with his identity. Recently, he has republished Leila Berg’s wonderful memoir Flickerbook, a collection of glimpses of life in the North.
The Flickerbook technique of glimpses of other places and times is evident in The Other Jack. Charles Boyle’s latest book is written under his own name but there are elements of the elusive here; his coffee companion Robyn is briefly sketched out. She acts as a humanising foil, preventing him from heading into the clouds of the literary world:
“All writers have been rejected by a publisher at some point. And it’s hard. However sympathetically the rejection is expressed, you can’t help but take it personally. Harder than it is for the beggars on the street? Robyn asks. Who watch people hurrying by and not deliberately making eye contact.”
It is a dérive in a coffee shop.
Another writer Charles Boyle has published is David Markson of This Is Not a Novel and The Other Jack shares many of its features, most of all the deadpan humour and the jump cuts that are more usual in film. If the paragraphing is brilliant, so are the phrases and the sentences; “we are both certifiably middle class,” a neat ambiguity; “books can also arrive too early or too late,” “talk is everyday magic; “what would it take for me to be out of character?”; and “cooking is literary in a way that plumbing is not.” Each phrase leads into wider reflections and prompts and questions from Robyn. Charles Boyle is a master of the epigrammatic form.
This is a book of many directions and many twists and turns through the mind of Charles Boyle. The character that emerges is tolerant with a droll sense of humour, and a willingness to add a counterpoint to every point. Throughout his bookishness is undercut by tiny events or non-events from the “real” world:
“A woman at an outside table is reading a book, so lost to the world that she doesn’t even register how her body shifts in her chair to accommodate a stiffness in her elbow.”
Any Cop?: Yes, a book that deserves coffee shops of readers for its quiet subtlety. If you like the works of Geoff Dyer, Cees Nooteboom, and Nicholas Royle’s White Spines, you will enjoy this and read it again and again and again for its wisdom.