Novels you reread have a different role in your personal pantheon than novels you simply admire or revere. There is something troubling about The Spy that draws you back again and again. Partly it is the sense that you may have missed something – that you haven’t fully unravelled the intricacies and nuances of the book.
I was struck by this remark in a very fine article by William Boyd about The Spy Who Came In From The Cold in last Saturday’s Guardian. I don’t re-read that much, but I do recognise Boyd’s characterisation.
There are a lot of people who re-read as “comfort reading”, something I’ve never really got my head around. To me this implies reading a book that you want to stay the same all the time. Yet books never behave like that. Books change as you read them and between readings. Every time you open a book it’s a new journey. So when I re-read it is because I am expecting to encounter the book anew, and it is going to be a different experience, evoke new emotions, raise new thoughts.
As I say, I don’t re-read much, and when I do it is mostly because I’m going to be writing something about the author or the work in question. But the books I do re-read do indeed occupy that different place in my pantheon, they are intricate and troubling. And I re-read them precisely because I want to reconsider those troubles. A novel like The Affirmation by Christopher Priest I have read countless times and I have never failed to find something new in it, it has never failed to change the way I think, and it has never failed to disturb me. Similarly novels like Days Between Stations or Tours of the Black Clock by Steve Erickson remain puzzles no matter how often I encounter them, and each visit I solve the puzzle in a slightly different way.
So, what do you re-read? And why?