Sartre’s Sink: The Great Writers’ Complete Book of DIY
Written and illustrated by Mark Crick
Granta £10.99, 139 pages
FT Bookshop price: £8.79
Three years ago, Mark Crick brought us Kafka’s Soup, an ingenious cookbook in which each recipe was written in the style of a famous writer. Applying the same idea to home improvement, Crick has now produced Sartre’s Sink. This brilliantly inventive DIY manual both parodies and celebrates great authors: Milan Kundera re-glazes a window, Edgar Allan Poe boards an attic and, in the title story, Jean-Paul Sartre unblocks a sink.
Each chapter works as a distinct story. In play format Samuel Beckett remedies a drawer that sticks – though his protagonist needs only a single wax candle to carry out the task, in true Beckett fashion it takes three acts for the task to be completed.
Crick is a brilliant literary ventriloquist. In “Hanging Wallpaper with Ernest Hemingway”, we meet an old man: “He had worked for two days and two nights to strip away the old wallpaper and now on the morning of the third day, the time to hang the new paper had come and he was tired.” He recreates the snippets of prose that comprise a Marguerite Duras story: “She is standing. She watches. She watches a sink, a tap. He advances towards her. She sees him come. His clothes are dark.”
The stories also include actual tips about how to do the job in hand. In “Painting a Room with Haruki Murakami”, we have a typical set-up from the Japanese novelist: a man meets an attractive young woman whose boyfriend killed himself the year before; drawn to her, he offers to help repaint her apartment. But Crick also infiltrates the piece with the dull details of repainting a room: the need for sugar soap to rid the walls of grease and dirt; how to fill cracks and sand down a surface; the importance of waiting for the paint to dry before applying a second coat.
Every aspect of the building trade is laid bare in these pieces. “Tiling a Bathroom with Fyodor Dostoevsky” sees an amateur tiler barge his way into an old woman’s flat, botch the job and break her sink – as he flees from her home, the woman’s false teeth, which he shoved into his pocket when he cleared the bathroom, bite deep into his thigh in a beautiful Dostoevskian moment.
In a story “by” Goethe, a man awaits a builder’s return to finish a job. Eventually, he decides to apply sealant around the bath himself. He captures that rare satisfaction of completing a job well: “I swear that every man should pass a few moments of each day in such common labour. Its simple pleasure is a balm to the heart.”
Home improvement may never be the same again, however, after reading “Painting a Panelled Door” with the famously erotic Anaïs Nin: we watch the protagonist “thrust the stiff animal bristle of his brush” into the tin of paint; later his lover thrills to feel “the dark rectangle of stiff hair beneath her fingers”. Paintbrushes have never been so exciting.
So next time you need to replace a light switch, seal the edge of a sink or put up a shelf, this is the book for you. And you can comfort yourself, as you toil, that at least you’re in the company of great writers.
Rosie Blau is the FT’s books editor