Notes from the Bookshop 6: Ira Levin

I’m sure readers everywhere have their fair share of experiences involving books they’ve been after for a long while turning up when they least expect them to. I have too; for instance: One evening (aeons ago), walking out of a restaurant, I found amongst the books on display on the pavement, the exact book—Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas—I was looking for at that point of time. And amazingly it wasn’t a cheap photocopy, but a not-so-easy-to-come-by, original, Vintage paperback edition! These days, though, with book buying having become an almost exclusively online affair, experiences of this kind are a precious few, and far far between. (Sigh.) However, over the last weekend, I was reminded that “physical” bookshops still possess the power to surprise.

I was at the Phoenix mall in Chennai to catch the new James Bond movie (it’s silly, if not downright stupid, by the way) and, with more than an hour to spare, sauntered into the bookshop there. Browsing at the Mystery section, what should I come upon but a bunch of books by Ira Levin! I’ve watched Polanski’s adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby and read the book itself in parts, but have been looking for Levin’s other books for a long time. And here they were!


And only the day before, I was rereading Pradeep Sebastian’s essay on Levin:

Levin’s thrillers are not about “whodunit” but “who-will-do-it”. Suspense, not shock, is what Levin is after. He is more interested in the process of suspense, its nuances. And he builds it with small, sure nudges and stifled shrieks. His misdirection is subtle, even comic, never obvious or guessable. He sets up cunning red herrings to heighten our sense of paranoia: characters and situations remain eerily ambiguous till the end. Most suspense novelists are content with a single layer of suspense in their plots. Levin’s genius is to shade the plot with several layers of suspense that can leave you (pleasurably) in knots.

Talk about coincidence.

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2 Responses to Notes from the Bookshop 6: Ira Levin

  1. Heather says:

    I love how you have written here about books turning up unexpectedly. I have had that experience many times. Where I live, there are many used book sales (where the books are usually sold for a dollar – or less – apiece) and every time I go to one I always discover some unexpected treasures. One of my most recent finds was a book on birds (with gorgeous colour plates) that was originally published in the early 20th century.

    • Surendran says:

      Thanks! One of my prized possessions is a 1945 edition of Addison and Steele’s The Spectator (Volume 1 of a four-volume set of pocket sized hardcovers, published by Everyman’s library). I picked it up for 100 rupees (a little over a dollar) at a used-books shop in Bangalore.

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