(An account of encounters with, and spoilers for: Dracula, The Boys from Brazil and a page of The Intutionist. Also, spoilers for the gist of Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby)
At an antiques fair, I once saw a first edition of Dracula. It cost about £10,000 (Abebooks can get you something similar). I’ve never been interested in first editions, but poking gingerly at the yellow binding, I felt a thrill.
Because someone could have read this book, reached the climactic revelation scene, and thought: “Bloody hell! Dracula’s a vampire! He drinks blood! Surely not?! You could knock me down with a feather!” (etc.)
No reader has been able to feel that surprise for years.
I’ve known the basic plot of The Boys from Brazil for as long as I can remember. I wanted to read it despite that lack of novelty – I really rate the author, Ira Levin. (I’m in awe that one dude could pinpoint two such specific gendered fears in the 1960s-70s: Firstly, your husband would rather you were a sexbot, and secondly, you really don’t know what you’re gestating?).
It was a strange reading experience. I couldn’t lose my hyper-awareness of the big plot. It was like watching the Zapruder footage, waiting for Kennedy to be shot. The novel opens with a team of men moving deftly around a room in a restaurant. Their movement are described, but not explained:
The black-haired man closed the door, and facing it, raised his hands high curved his fingers, and set the tips of them on top of the doorframe as if to play a keyboard there.
…BECAUSE NAZIS. Right? Because NAZIS! I thought.
He inspected the frame, turned it over to look at its bottom…
BECAUSE NAZIS! It was a deafening voice in my reading ear and it’s a credit to Levin’s pacing that the novel drew me in anyway. And then I failed to spot the mechanics, and was surprised at the plot twists. Brilliant.
I started The Intuitionist knowing nothing except that I liked Colson Whitehead and wanted to read his debut novel. The title made me think of music-hall mind-readers, maybe of Jonathan Barnes’ The Somnambulist.
The opening doesn’t give you too many clues – again, it’s mostly small-scale detail. A woman has arrived at a building, 125 Walker. She doesn’t like the old guard where she works. The language is lush.
Then, the first sentence of the second paragraph:
All the inspectors who have visited 125 Walker in the past have been Empiricists.
I swear all my skin tingled. They were Empiricists. So she’s the Intuitionist. And there are more of them? There are – rival groups? Actually, I don’t think I was smart enough to piece that together. But the title of the novel settled onto the main character like a crown and I wanted to know more about her.