Books of Note: WEEK #9 & #10 – The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan and Fup by Jim Dodge


10 weeks into my 2017-52-book-challenge and I read books #9 and #10: The 39 steps, a classic UK thriller, and Fup, a cult college hit from the US.

What they are about:

39 steps: A man-hunt in the Scottish highlands on the dawn of WWI .

Fup: A grandson who lives a reclusive and eccentric farm life with his grandfather.

Why they matter:

Well, the 39 steps is a classic and one of the first man-on-the-run thriller archetype, a story type that almost became a cliché in Hollywood more recently. Also this book has spawned more than half a dozen films and plays, most notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935, most weirdly as a London west-end comedy in 2012.

Fup became an instant cult book when it was first published in 1982 and has not been out of print ever since. It is not only memorable because of his eccentric characters and the sheer fact that a 80 year old drunk raises his grand son who is 76 years his junior. The grandson`s greatest passion is digging postholes for fences and his granddad makes his own whiskey which, and he firmly believes that, gives him an eternal life. Together they decide to raise an overweight, paranormal duck and try to teach it how to fly. Sounds weird? Yes, it is, but in a very sweet way. Interestingly, Fup is now a set text in many colleges and high schools in the USA.

Everything yearns to be wild

Favourite Sentences:

39 steps: “If you are playing a part, you will never keep it up unless you convince yourself that you are it.”

Fup: “You white men desire to tame everything , but if you just stand still and feel for a moment you would know how everything yearns to be wild.”

Storytelling elements:

The 39 steps is technically written in a road movie structure with its protagonist constantly changing his location and meeting numerous people on the run. It is very episodically narrated and thus a precursor of a lot of Hitchcock thrillers. It also cleverly weaves in the political and historical context of the dawning WWI.

Fup starts with two totally unrelated stories and the reader only finds out later how these stories are interrelated. Also there is a lot of magic realism in the book; strange occurrences that cannot and should not be explained.

“If people make it out here, I talk to them”

Some trivia:

Fup´s author Jim Dodge is an ex-gambler who lives a secluded life on a North Californian ranch and he has skilfully avoided publicity. He is not quite as seclusive as JD Salinger though. Dodge recently said: “If people make it out here, I talk to them.” Might be worth the trip…

What others said:

” It doesn’t matter that the reader has no clue where he is being taken or, when he gets there, how the thing happened as it did. All that matters is that once you’ve started, you can’t put the book down.”

– Stella Rimington, The Independent about The 39 Steps

“The novel’s faux-homespun style, plus its quirky design and distinctive illustrations by British artist Harry Horse, have marked it out as a bankable cult success.”

– Vanessa Thorpe, The Independent about Fup


Two beautiful books which I enjoyed reading.

The journey continues.

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