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The Basic Eight September 4, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Literature, Small things.
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What’s the difference between a bad marksman and a constipated owl?  One can shoot but can’t hit.

I was in Waterstones today and couldn’t resist buying a copy of this:

basic eight

I first read it aged sixteen, and thought it was absolutely fantastic.  I still think it’s absolutely fantastic, and it makes it onto every top-ten-favourite-books-ever list that I’ve made since the first time I picked it up.  Every time I read a few pages I get hooked.  And although I absolutely can-not-must-not read any more books before I go back to university and have no time for an entire term… I couldn’t resist.

You may have heard of Daniel Handler, or, more likely, his pseudonym Lemony Snicket.  Lemony Snicket is a bit of a Marmite-type author in that people to seem to love him or hate him (except one, yes, alright, some people might be ambivalent too…) but Daniel Handler writing under his own name has written three books for older audiences with a completely different tone.  These are The Basic Eight, Adverbs and Watch Your Mouth: An Incest Comedy.  I have to admit to not really enjoying Watch Your Mouth as much as the other two, but then, both The Basic Eight and Adverbs rank among my favourite books ever.  He has a tendency to choose quite a lot darker and potentially more easy-to-screw-up topics – absinthe abuse, various forms of love and, well, incest, respectively.  And, no pun intended, I personally think they’re very well handled.

Adverbs is a book of short stories about love – conventional head-over-heels love-at-first-sight stories, and entirely unconventional ones.  One of my favourites is about a man who, one day, gets half a dozen people he’s never met knocking on his door and trying to get into his house for the sole reason that he’s such a great person and they just really want to be around him because he makes them so happy.  There are some really odd, off the wall stories.  And they’re all written cleverly, and beautifully, and I really, really recommend them.

Off the wall seems to be what Handler does best.  The Basic Eight is the high school diary of a girl, edited by her while in prison for killing a boy in an allegedly Satanic ritual while under the influence of absinthe.  I’ve described it before as a masterclass in unreliable first-person narrative and writing about schooldays without turning into three hundred pages of solid twenty four carat cliché.  Oh, and the twist.  You won’t see it coming.  (Marcus insisted he did.  I think he’d been watching The Usual Suspects a bit too much.)  It reminds me a bit of The Prestige (film, haven’t read the book yet) in that there are hints to it all the way through, but it’s still a shock.

So I’m going to go back and read it.  Fully recommend.  If anyone wants to borrow my copy, as soon as I’ve finished the last hundred and fifty pages of The Return of the King (I’m getting there…), add an extra two days for me to do nothing else but solidly read and you’re perfectly welcome.

On an entirely different note, I’ve just been reading PostSecret.  I remember feeling this.  I know people who still would.  I had the best year this year, so… thinking of ‘anyone’ I don’t think I would have done, and I still don’t think I would, anyone, but I would, most people.  Failure hurts, even if it leads to something else wonderful.  It hurts one hell of a lot.

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