Review: Spurious


There was a moment when I thought Spurious was Waiting for Godot. Then I realised that it’s really Lucky Jim, without the women. It’s a philosophical novel about thought, but really it’s an academic novel about failing to think, about all the things we do instead of thinking, and about – well, you know, what is thinking anyway?

Sure it’s definitely Beckettian. The action is two anonymous guys talking to each other and about each other, lamenting, pitying, vacillating. ‘When did you know you weren’t going to amount to anything?’ Lars’s problem, or his great good-fortune, W. says, is that he doesn’t know. Maybe he still thinks he’ll amount to something, that he’s not as stupid as W. insists he is.
‘Of course we’re never really depressed, W. says. What can we, who are incapable of thought, understand of what the inability to think means for a thinker?’ At other times, they say they are ‘essentially joyful.’

Lars has a grotty flat in Newcastle. It is deeply, inexorably damp. Soon, the damp will be everywhere: ‘Yes, it will be everywhere. The flat will be made of damp, and spores will fill every part of the air. And I will breathe the spores and mould will flower inside me. And I’ll live half in water, like a frog.’

There is nothing to be done about the flat. It doesn’t really matter. Here is why this is more of an academic novel than an existential novel: the lives of both Lars and W. are the vessels for careers. It is career that drives them and drives their depression. However, the meaninglessness of that drive is, of course, the existential point.

The academic is always Max Brol, the fat executor of Kafka’s literary estate (‘Kafka was always our model, we agree… At the same time, we have Kafka to blame for everything’), the friend whose only meaning was to proclaim his friend’s genius.

‘He can picture me, W. says, working at my desk, or attempting to work… surrounded by books by Schelling and Rosenzweig and Cohen, and books that explain Schelling and Rosenzweig and Cohen, and then by still other books with titles like The Idiot’s Guide to Jewish Messianism and Rosenzweig in Sixty Minutes.

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This is the sum of academic thought. It is not real thought. It’s not real. ‘It’s all shit, it’s all going to shit. It will always have already been shit,’ W. says.’ No, this is not a hopeful novel, it’s not that kind of messianism. But it’s funny. That’s all we have, isn’t it? Redemption through laugh-out-louds.

 The book is also (of course) about writing, trying to write. W. and Lars are writers. It is mysterious, like thought, like greatness… like damp. ‘His book is better than him, W. and I agree. It’s greater. What’s it about?, I ask him of a particularly difficult section. He’s got no idea, he says.’