The Vaults - Toby Ball - A Borgesian NovelThursday, March 17, 2011
|The Vancouver Public Library by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
Like many readers I try not to judge books by their covers and I read books from authors I am familiar with or I read such publications as the NY Times Book Review or the daily NY Times book reviews to see what’s new and what I might want to read. Because I read in Spanish, too, I have to use other methods to find my books. I frequently explore the web site of the Spanish publishing firm Alfaguara to see what’s out. Or in some cases when the Times reviews books that have been translated from Spanish I go out and look for the original.
My reading habits have changed a tad since January 2010 when I realized that some day soon my wife and I will have to leave our present big house and move to something much smaller. What will I do with my 4000 plus books? I decided in January 2010 not to buy any more books no matter how good they might be.
This has not been too tough a decision as our Vancouver Public Library has to be one of the best in the world. Not only do they carry many of the books I want to read in English but their Spanish section is quite spiffy, too. In fact it was at our VPL Main Branch that I discovered a treasure trove of one of my favourite writers in any language, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. He is a Barcelona-born writer who writes in Spanish and his Quinteto Buenos Aires is one of those novels (in my humble opinion one of the best that describes the soul and the milieu of Buenos Aires and the Argentine) that is different from the norm.
No matter how good some novels are they can be linear in a conventional way. There are few authors who manage to write from a point of view that almost feels alien. These authors, José Saramago and Jerome Charyn, are two examples of what I am trying to explain. And they are exciting to discover and read. When I first heard Cuban jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcava in an East German recording his music sounded alien. I sounded as if Rubalcava had never ever heard recordings of any kind in Cuban isolation. I was blown away by a pianist who was as out there as Thelonius Monk and Richard Twardzik had been. I like to find authors with similar independent qualities.
|Toby Ball by Lisa Nugent|
My Vancouver Public Library has enriched my reading not only because I have been able to find such books as Jerome Charyn’s The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson or after a very long wait( I ordered it on line but there were many readers ahead of me) John Le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor or given me the opportunity to read the classics such as Charles Dickens, but also because I have found books randomly.
Finding books randomly is one of the sheer delights of reading. It is here that you must be careful not to judge a book by its cover or (very important sometimes) by the author photo.
Consider that in 1972 I read and enjoyed Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. This novel was spooky and sensual. I had read the review in the NY Times which gave the novel a very good review and I was most impressed (shame on me!) by the portrait of Miss Tartt who looked like a sophisticated tart if we were to follow the joke that perhaps others had followed.
Last week in the new novels section of the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library I spotted The Vaults by one Toby Ball. I looked at the author photo (no comparison with Donna Tartt’s!) and smiled and almost returned the book. Then I read the short bio which says:
Toby Ball works at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. He lives with his wife and two children [my! he looks young!] in Durham, New Hampshire.
I then read one of the rave blurbs in the back by Michael Harvey, author of The Third Rail (My grandmother would have made the comment in Spanish that Michael Harvey is well-known in his home, at least). The blurb was:
“If George Orwell and Dashiell Hammett had ever decided to collaborate on a book, they might have come up with something like The Vaults. A wonderful debut.”
I read the jacket précis and then (something I always do) I read the first page which reads:
The Vaults took up nearly half a city block. Files arranged in shelves arranged in rows; files from every case handled in the City for nearly the past century; files arranged, cross-referenced and indexed. So complicated and arcane was the system that at any given time only one living person understood it. At this time, that person was Arthur Puskis, Archivist. He was the fourth Archivist, inheriting the position from Gilad Abramowitz who had gone mad in his final years and died soon after taking his leave of the Vaults. Abramowitz had mentored Puskis for the better part of ten years, explaining, as best as his addled mind allowed, the logic behind the system. Even so, it had taken Puskis most of the following decade to truly understand. He was now in his twenty-seventh year in the Vaults.
|Donna Tartt (no credit in book)|
I read The Vaults slowly so that I could savour every page. I can happily report that it is a novel very well worth reading. And again I urge you not to judge a book by its cover and or by its author photo! And yes the novel does feature a horrific crime against children, almost Dickensian in theme.