Read an extract from Patient X by David Peace

David Peace’s new novel, Patient X: The Case-Book of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, follows the life story of the great Japanese writer. Here’s an extract on Akutagawa’s growing obsession with books.

House of Books . . .

Book after book, book by book, pile by pile, shelf by shelf, screen by screen and wall by wall, you build and you build a house of books, your house of books. Made of paper, made of words. A house of books, a world of words: everything you know about the world, everything you learn about the world, you know and you learn from books, through words. You cannot think of anything you do not to some degree owe to books. First books, you believe, then reality; ‘from books to reality’, your unchanging truth: you do not try to improve your knowledge of life by observing the passers-by in the street. No, rather you read about the life of mankind in books, in order to better watch the passers-by in the street. Yes, real-life people are merely passers-by. In order to understand them – all their loves, all their hates, their lives and their deaths – to truly know them as they pass you by, you sit in your house of books, in your world of words, and you read and you read, book after book, observing and noting peculiarities of speech, of gesture, facial expressions, the line of a nose and the tilt of an eyebrow, the way they hold their hands, rough outlines and sketches, in Balzac, Poe, Baudelaire, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, the brothers Goncourt, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Strindberg, Verlaine, De Maupassant, Wilde, Shaw and Hauptmann; you will be the most well-read man of your generation. But every book you read is a textbook for life, an instruction in the art of living. You will find yourself in love with certain women. Yet none will show you what beauty truly is; only thanks to Balzac, thanks to Gautier, thanks to Tolstoy, only thanks to them do you notice the beauty of a woman’s ear, translucent in the sunlight, or the shadow of an eyelash, falling on a cheek. If you had not read of such beauty in books, then you would have seen nothing in a woman except the female animal of your species. Without books, without words, life would be unbearable, so unbearable, so ugly, so very, very ugly –

Not worth a single line of Baudelaire . . .

But your house of books, your world of words, with its screens and its walls, with its windows and doors, is built from other people’s books, other people’s words, borrowed and bought, always, already stolen and used; in your second-hand house of books, in your second-hand world of words, your life is always, already second-hand, second-hand.

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