‘I don’t know’, says the writer

I’m waiting for a knock on the door. One of the upsides of lockdown, and Melbourne is now in lockdown again for five days, is that some bookshops offer to drop off books to any reader within a five-km radius. Last night I ordered a couple from my local store, Jeffrey’s. Same day delivery – just like Christmas, without the wait.

In case you’re curious, the two books are Lyn Yeowart’s debut novel The Silent Listener, and Pip Williams’s The Dictionary of Lost Words.

During last year’s lockdown, Jeffrey’s popped a bag of books on my doorstep, among them two of Colum McCann’s books. The Irish-American author had just brought out his seventh novel Apeirogon, about two friends, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, each united by the loss of a young daughter in the conflict. That was definitely an essential purchase. At the same time, I bought his slim volume Letters to a Young Writer.

I watched a broadcast of Colum McCann conversing with Mark Raphael Baker of Melbourne Jewish Book Week last June. He talked mainly about Apeirogon, of course, because of the Jewish connection. About his love of birds, and their role in the novel. Birds go freely across borders, while humans cower behind fences and take pot shots at each other. Birds migrate, spreading the story.

It was lovely to see the man himself, still with his Irish accent, in his home in Long Island, talking in his garden at 6am on a summer’s day. Wriggling on his seat, he said he had a favourite phrase at the moment: I don’t know. It reminds me of the phrase a cloud of unknowing that has always haunted me. To remain ignorant, in a state of unknowing, but exploring all points of view. That’s his style.

If you want to hear more about Colum McCann, you can listen to my podcast on Melbourne Writers Hub website:

Carol’s podcast on Colum McCann

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