One August morning in 1986, a 25-foot shark became stuck in the attic of a terraced house in Headington, a suburb of Oxford. The fish appeared to have plunged head-first from the clouds, although there had been no reports of a freak deluge of cats, dogs and chondrichthyes the previous night. Like all sharks, it snuck up without asking first.
LIMBO, by Dan Fox, is a short book about limbo. It is, in essence, a series of lists and connections that one writes down when one has “writer’s block,” which is the condition of not feeling able to write the thing you’re supposed to be writing so you write something else instead. LIMBO, in fact, was supposed to be another book entirely, but he wrote this one because he couldn’t write that one.
Don’t all writing projects careen off course and digress themselves towards new destinations? Possible exceptions: car user manuals, medical texts, protocol for deploying nuclear missiles. Best to stay on topic in those genres.
There’s a lot of free association. Dan Fox wants you to think it’s unstructured, a performance of procrastination hypergraphia.
If only I could write myself out of my funk, like Anthony Trollope, who claimed to start each day at 5.30 a.m. and write 250 words every fifteen minutes, for three hours. I was too old for the live-fast methodology of Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote 60,000 words of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde in a six-day cocaine binge.
And he calls himself out on it, several times, intertextually:
For Kafka, the experience of writer’s block was having ‘to see the pages being covered endlessly with things one hates, that fill one with loathing, or at any rate with dull indifference.’
But it’s more like a guided meditation, a consideration of his history with his older brother, who left home to become a sailor and never really came back. It’s a book about writing: the act of writing, the way we think about writing, the associations we make, the connections we perceive and curate. It’s also a book about family: perhaps, more correctly, the stories that a family accrue. Anyone with an interest in writing, the mechanics and method of writing and how a writer’s mind works will love this book. Also, anyone interested in limbo.
LIMBO, Dan Fox (buy)
And, yes, this is yet another Fitzcarraldo Editions book. Fitzcarraldo have only been going eight years and have already published three authors who went on to win Nobel Prizes. If you love books and you haven’t been paying attention to them even through all the damn times I’ve mentioned them, it’s time for you to take a look.