moo pakSe all those page points in the pages of Moo Pak? Those are all marking passages that say something interesting. And I held back on marking all of the passages. The sign of a good book? Nah. The sign of a great book.

If you are a person who requires plot, Moo Pak is not going to be for you. There is only the barest hint of a plot. The book is written in a single paragraph as one long conversation. But we only ever get one side of the conversation, Jack Toledano’s. Jack calls, no, he rarely calls as he claims he has no phone, he sends a note, to his friend, Damien Anderson, asking him to meet him at such and such a place and time on a certain day for a walk. Jack used to be a teacher but has decided that teaching is not for him, he is a writer. He has reached the point where he is working on the book, the one that will be his life’s work. Jack uses walking and talking with his friend as a way to think. And so the book represents ten years of walking conversations while Jack works on his magnum opus.

The conversations are narrated by Damien who only ever writes what Jack says with occasional remarks about where they are walking. The unusual structure of writing the book in one continuous paragraph gives the impression of a long, continuous conversation. And the conversations run right into each other without distinction for time and only sometimes place. And, like conversations, subjects and themes come and go, ideas get introduced then dropped only to be picked up again later. Everything circles around and sometimes repeats but not in the same exact words. It is brilliantly and beautifully done.

What the book amounts to the in the end is a meditation on language:

Throughout our lives, he said, we are haunted by languages we can’t quite decipher, can’t quite hear. Hence the fairy-tales about magic rings which give you access to the language of birds and beasts. But even those closest to us, he said, speak a language we can never quite understand. Always, he said, […] the most important things do not get said or get said in the wrong way.

on society:

everywhere I turn the values I believed in without even being aware of it are being quietly jettisoned and in their place is only naked aggression and money. How long can a society exist when it is drven by such an engine? he said. How long can it survive when the only values it recognises are power and money?

on art and literature:

It is as though by ourselves, with only the mirror to tell us who we are, he said, even with our loved ones and colleagues, we soon turn into monsters, soon forget what possibilities for the spirit there are, what we can still do. We need Dante and Rabelais and Kafka and Proust, he said, we need van Eyck and Bonnard and Morandi, we need Dufay and Bach and Beethoven and Stravinsky to remind us of that and to help us in our weakness and frailty. Most artists do not help us, he said, they hinder us, they lead us astray, they bludgeon us with noise and then leave us with nothing and less than nothing. Only a few artists, he said, and we soon discover which ones for ourselves, have the ability to lead us inward and forward and to make us look with the eye of hope and anticipation at the world and ourselves. Left to our own devices, he said, we grow small and hard and get to hate this small hard thing and end in lethargy and despair. We need the artists who matter to remind us constantly that there are possibilities there…

and on what it takes and what it means to create:

They are clearly much more self-confident than I am, he said, they clearly know much better than I ever will what it is they want to say, and they can tap it all into their Toffees or their Apples or whatever they are and watch it all come out on the screen. You can play around with the sentences, they say, you can sit there and play with the words and the sentences. But I don’t want to play with the words and the sentences, he said, once I start playing with the words and the sentences I will never be able to move forward at all and I will grow less and less sure which of the many possibilities is the one that will suit me best and then I will grow more and more unsure of what best means and of what I was trying to do in the first place and I will probably end up kicking the screen in out of frustration and despair.

References to Proust, Kafka, George Eliot, Milton, Goethe, Dante, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Klee, van Gogh, Mozart, Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and many, many more are woven into the fabric of the book. Along with this we get glimpses of the book that Jack is writing, Moo Pak.

Jack’s book Moo Pak is the history of Moor Park. Moor Park at various times has been the estate of Sir William Temple for whom Swift served as secretary (we get lots of bits about Swift), a school, an insane asylum, one of the locations during WWII where code breakers were working and where Alan Turing spent some time and as a primate research center. And all the various themes and ideas of the book weave in and out of what Moor Park has been and even explore the name of Moor Park and what is represented by placing the concept of a moor with that of a park.

As I said, the book is beautiful and brilliant. As I read closer and closer to the last page I wondered how this conversation was going to end. I’ll tease you all and say I was surprised and disturbed and a little angry but satisfied. It is not a good ending, it is a right ending, and, I think, a right ending is more important than a good ending.