Will Self? he asked.
Hmmmm.....no, I said. Oh I wanted to, don't get me wrong. There's no way quicker into my heart than a capriciously crafted turn of phrase and certain sentences of his have been known to make three of my internal organs stop working simultaneously. But every time I'd try to open my mind to a long term, loving relationship with his perky prehodiernal past tense and swooningly sardonic verbs it descended into an ill tempered one night stand and I'd invariably find myself on the night bus home at four the next morning in yesterday's knickers with an unpleasantly literal nasty taste in my mouth.
This did not go down well with him. Will Self was hovering precariously closel to the top spot on his own list of literary crushes and he started to wave the sherry bottle about his head in an agitated fashion.
But, I declared, sensing the wisdom in a timely change of subject, the soiled feeling of a night spent with Will Self is much more palatable than the crushing disappointment of being led astray by Martin Amis only to find out, two books in, that he is a cad who keeps trophy knickers from his conquests in an Asda bag under the bed. London Fields had me smitten from page one; ready to declare that I'd never known true love until now and how foolish, how terribly foolish I have been to not see the exquisite joy in big white dresses and the perfect church venue and please take me right now on the back seat of the 29 bus from Wood Green. But then - and how these words rend my heart! - I started to read Money. And before the end the first chapter he was nothing to me but a drunken man at a bar, trying to impress me by telling me how much his watch cost.
He put the sherry bottle down and his arm round my shoulder, nodding sympathetically.
Such was my hurt, I continued haltingly, that I started to fling myself at Ian McEwan. My companion gasped with shock, but having started to bare my soul in such a manner I decided to press on and let the worst be known. Wearing low cut tops and the tightest of skirts I visited any bookshop where he might be, picking up novels at random without any thought to their character or suitability. I took a different one to bed with me every night but found no solace in their cold exteriors and verbose, self-conscious techniques.
We sat quietly for a few minutes while my confession settled around us like dust.
And then, I said, when I was at my lowest point and had sworn off novels for ever in favour of cheap pornography and women's self-hatred monthlies, I met Julian Barnes. Of course I was aloof at first; if it hadn't been for a tutor making the introduction I think I'd still be reading the Top Ten Things He Wishes You Knew In Bed. But she insisted that the first five chapters needed to be read by Monday morning and so I took him home with me. Nervously we sat together on the sofa and when I could no longer think of any excuses I held him on my lap and he said this:
One of the troubles is this: the heart isn’t heart-shaped
Love is a kick to the stomach from someone with inexplicable reasons but singular aim. This is why David Tennant's Doctor Who may have the well filled pinstripes and the insouciance and the smile but Christopher Eccleston's has my heart. Tennant wears Converse but Eccleston had steel toecaps.
My friend eyed me suspiciously. That's a dubious metaphor, he said.
I know, I said. But how else to end this story?
We're out of sherry, he mumbled sadly after a while. Shall I tell you the terrible thing I once did with Edith Wharton?