400 Days Later


At last, the new novel is ready to be handed in, after 400 working days spread over two years, minus a week or so. When Truffaut named his most famous film Les Quatre Cent Coups he was using an idiomatic expression – something like »living the wild life«, »sowing one’s wild oats«, which is hardly reflected in the film’s title in English. But The 400 Blows: that’s how I’ve felt during most of my time working on the book. It sounds like a cliché, it is a cliché, yet each day has been a struggle, and each has brought some form of disappointment. Not 399 or 401, but exactly 400 blows and setbacks: after a few hours giving it a final going-over I emailed what I thought was a flawless manuscript to the publisher – only to discover, one minute later, an appalling mistake.

The Apollo Theater in Harlem plays a certain role in the book. When my protagonist, a former rock guitarist, elucidates the neon sign poised on the façade of the venue he claims that the lettering is in outline, which is to say that the contour of each letter is traced but not filled in. Alas, the vertical APOLLO lettering at 125th Street in New York is inline: there are thin lines (actually neon tubes) inside each of the letters.

The novel was not even spared this: a blind protagonist. He, who treats his Fender Jazzmaster as others might a rosary or a voodoo doll, can’t see that the letters making up the name of the god of the arts, this leader of muses usually depicted with a lyre, most of all look like the six strings on a distorted guitar neck.I will be cleaning the matter up in the proofs. But the moral nevertheless has to be (as a German poet once said): beaten by Apollo.