The Bat Tattoo by Russell Hoban

I’m not sure why, but my respect and love for his work is much greater than my memory for him. When I think of my favourite writers, or the best living British writers, he seems not to leap to mind, but he should. I don’t know why he has for so long seemed to produce work of the highest quality and variety, without ever breaking big, in the literary or popular arenas.

Maybe it’s because he’s an odd writer, hard to pin down. His work has elements of the Postmodern, even of magic realism, of fantasy, but you couldn’t sensibly put him in those boxes. The cover of this book has a bewildering array of adjectives thrown at it by critics: weird, angry, playful, surreal (a horribly misused word), sweet – but nothing gives you too much idea of what kind of novel you might be holding – the blurb is hopeless, suggesting divine intervention in the plot, something that is not in the story inside. It’s in fact an eccentric and rather lovely story about romance and art, two people brought together by a fascination with a little bat image in a museum. It’s full of motifs that feel like themes, odd links between the characters even before they start seeing one another – the bat, crash dummies, crucifixion. There is a sense of fate in their relationship, a feeling that they belong together. It’s a charming book, full of precise and fresh imagery and original perspectives. I can’t see it finding an audience beyond Hoban’s fans, but there should be plenty of those, surely?