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Where do good ideas come from?

Sometimes you read a book with a strikingly original and simple idea; you then think, “Well, of course, I could have thought of that if I I’d tried,” but the point is YOU DIDN’T.

Two examples from books I’ve just read:

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan. We know Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which opens with a man waking up to find he’s a giant insect. Why not reverse that? Have an insect who wakes up to find he’s turned into a man? Brilliant. And when we learn that that man is the British Prime Minister, who is leading the country into a whole new economic system that merely a few years back was advocated only by people who were thought crackpots …. Well, you can finish the sentence. A topical satire and, as I’ve said, a great and simple idea. (Unfortunately I’ll have to return the book to my sister who lent it to me, as she got it signed by the author at the Cheltenham Literary Festival.)

The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent is the other (translated from the French by Ros Schwartz). Here the simple idea is to have a central character who loves books but is compelled to work in a factory that destroys them. This is an appalling place where books are pulped. They are devoured and converted into a disgusting slush by a dreadful and dangerous machine into which our hero has to climb each day as part of its maintenance. And each day he rescues a page from whatever book is going into its maw, and reads it to his fellow-commuters on the train to work the next morning. They love it. The other characters are grotesques, all with some often bizarre link to books and writing. (Fortunately I was given this by a friend so can keep it. Thanks, friend.)

Wondering what to do with that gift card you got for Christmas? You could see if you like as much as I did what these writers made of these original and simple ideas.

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan, published in 2019 by Jonathan Cape, ISBN 978-1-529-11292-4 RRP £7-99 (it’s only 100 pages)

The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, translated by Ros Schwartz, published in 2016 by Pan, ISBN 978-1-5098-3685-7 RRP £8-99