Dag Solstad’s T Singer is a cautionary tale of an absurd individual.
A warning, funnily enough you might think, for a ‘literary’ writer, against books. Singer, who for ten years tried to write, gave up when he realised he had nothing to say – there are some funny passages descibring his decade-long attempts to remould one sentence – and became a librarian.
He ends up coveting books that nobody reads in the basement of a library that nobody visits. His way of trying to impress young girls is to show them his method of airing unused books.
SInger is, or rather becomes, what might once upon a time have been described as ‘a sad case’: A pathetic, routine-driven individual, whose modest demeanour is the hypocritical facade for an obscure pride.
Pride in the only thing he has ‘achieved’ in his life, which is to maintain his own mystery – to himself. A mystery that only he really cares about.
His impact on the world around him has been minimal – until he takes the one and only stand of his life. After the death of his wife in a car accident – unknown to anyone else (though Singer is terrified that some people knew) she was about to divorce him anyway – he chooses to take over the care of his stepdaughter. The girl would, he admits, have left his life forever, but instead she stays with Singer. Desperate to escape the gossiping his paranoid mind imagines, he moves to Oslo with her. For a while he carries a glamorous image of himself as the heroic single Dad, inducting the girl into the pantheon of culture.
This decision, coupled with his inevitable failings as a parent, was the end of my sympathy for Singer. From this point on, I thought he deserved everything he got.
Dag Solstad asks a serious question with T Singer.
What actions – or inactions – add up to a guilty life?
Does failing to care, about the world, or about other people, because you are too wrapped up in an image of yourself, add up to a moral offence? Not that the question would really matter to Singer. There is no higher power than Singer in Singer’s world. Singer is the Nietzschean Superman – just without the Super.
Did I enjoy reading this book? With a queasy fascination, yes. Being let into the head of a person who doesn’t reveal anything to the world does that. And, when you think about it afterwards, the third person omnsicient revealing of Singer’s secret self is apt.
Hunted down, mercilessly narrated, and laid bare for all to see: it’s Singer’s worst nightmare come to pass.
A sort of ironic literary take on the old saying, ‘let the punishment fit the crime’.
What do you reckon?