Nicholson Baker: Travelling Sprinkler

by jenniferlbryce

This was my first experience of Nicholson Baker’s fiction and I thoroughly enjoyed Travelling Sprinkler even though it is a sequel to another book narrated by poet Paul Chowder that I hadn’t read.

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We are drawn right into Paul Chowder’s somewhat frustrated 50 year-old poet’s life by wonderful stream of consciousness writing. There is a love story running through: Paul hopes to get back with his ex-girlfriend Roz, and by the end of the book this looks like a possibility. He is trying to write poetry – and indeed, has succeeded in the past, but now it is mainly song lyrics, which he puts together with his guitar and relatively low cost technology. (Nicholson Baker/ Paul Chowder has posted some of these on YouTube.)

http://tidido.com/a35184374441904/al55f1a3bba5f39075739e0731/t55f1a3bda5f39075739e07bf

We go to his Quaker prayer meetings and we drive with him in his car. Why travelling sprinkler? There are such things – those watering devices – a version was invented in Australia – that move around the garden: ‘a heavy metal slow-motion techno-dance-trance device with two cast-iron toothed read wheels that dig into the turf, and a sort of baton or helicopter blade on top that spins’ [page 239]. Paul Chowder gets entranced by things like this.

 

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Paul learned the bassoon (and indeed seems to have an intimate knowledge of the repertoire) and there is some beautiful description of music in the book. I particularly enjoyed his impressions of Victoria de Los Angeles singing Villa-Lobos: ‘she sings like a mad tropical bird, and it’s just a fondue of molten wanting and grieving and everything that you wish you could remember and feel and know’ [page 215].

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