Simon Savidge was talking about Classic v Contemporary reading recently – he’s worried about reading too much contemporary fiction and missing out on some older gems. I worry about reading too much older stuff and missing out on what’s going on now, I also worry that my reading habits are to set – I mean there are only so many books by middle class English women out there, and although I’ve barely scratched the surface it wouldn’t do to entirely ignore books by a) Men, and b) anyone who isn’t from the UK.
Still life is too short to worry much about things like this. I keep up with the contemporary stuff vicariously and otherwise mooch along picking up whatever captures my imagination – and really what other way is there to read? This is all a very long preamble for an upcoming review of Angela Carter’s ‘The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffmann’, because it was via Carter that I discovered Hoffmann, and Hoffmann which led me to buy the Carter.
How interesting (I imagine you saying) please, tell us more – well okay then it was like this... With books to return to Waterstones (it’s happened) a couple of years ago, and wandering what to exchange for I found ‘Tales of Hoffman’. It rang a Carter bell so I bought it as Christmas reading, he turned out not to be the most festive writer I’ve ever read, but creepy enough to suit winter very well, and as he’s a he, and also German I feel like I made a gesture to diversity as well.
The first tale I read in the collection, ‘The Sandman’ was unexpectedly familiar, the ballet Coppelia is based on it. Hoffmann’s like that, he creeps into things (like your subconscious) and jumps out unexpectedly. He writes romance with a twist of the freakishly weird and grotesque; plenty of demons and devils along with a shifting sense of what’s real and what’s not. I’m finding ‘The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman’ a challenging read but all the better, and sort of clearer, for having encountered Hoffmann in person, he and Carter have a lot in common.