The recent release of Peter Carey's new novel had me thinking about titles. If I am ever capable of a title as soppy as The Chemistry of Tears I hope the people around me have the good grace to pull me up. I have no idea what's between the covers of that book, perhaps it's very good. I haven't read Carey since I was in my late teens, when for some strange reason all things quirky seemed artistic.
Once I was working with a pleasant American lady in her sixties and it was Friday afternoon. Knock off time.
'Thank God,' she said swinging back on her chair.
'Too right,' I said.
Said the American lady, 'I'm going home to put a hot water bottle under my knees, a cat on my lap and watch Midsummer Murders.'
'My God,' I thought, 'You and I have a different idea of fun.'
That is how the title of Peter Carey's book makes me feel.
While it's rare that a really great writer is capapble of a title as poor as that, good book's don't necessarily have
wonderful titles. Dostoyevsky wasn't great at it: Crime and Punishment sounds like an American TV series; Tolstoy seems
not to be even trying: War and Peace could be an undergraduate history essay - it needs only the sub-title 'in 19th Century
Ireland' to make it perfect.
Graham Greene was hit and miss, the very ordinary titles Heart of the Matter and Honorary Consul (both superb novels) are
counterweighted by the Power and the Glory, which manages to be both ironic and sincere by turns, and the subtly beautiful
and also ironic, The Quiet American.
Hemingway was superb: A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Death in the Afternoon, A Moveable Feast all beautiful and strange phrases with deep resonances.
Who is making great titles today? So far as I can see, no well known writers - at least, none consistently. Just one film maker comes to mind: the director or Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited. In books and films good titles are thin on the ground.
And yet, I have noticed that composers of contemporary electronic ambient music are uncannily good at it. Take
shoegaze outfit Belong: 'Remove the Inside' from the verse that says 'Remove the outside and you find the inside, remove
the inside and you see the soul' or 'I Never Lose, Never Really' .. Or Last Days: 'Saved by a Helicopter' or 'I remember When You Were Good'. Truly for the next book of stories I write I must pinch some of these.
Pensees - spelling and punctuation mistakes and all ... I believe at least three quarters of what I say. ... And the good stuff only stays posted for an hour or two.