London! Since Brexit, this town feels a little different, not as intimidating as before, no longer the capital of the universe. At breakfast at my nice hotel, a Russian is screaming to his business partner back home: ‘Well, they got this fucking democracy here. It’s hard to do business.’ I tweet that dialogue out and am told to watch my tea and sushi consumption. Tonight’s reading is at the London Review Bookshop with the writer Adam Thirlwell, who happens to be my OBF, or oldest British friend. At the book signing, a watch geek brings me a watch strap to sign. Also, a young man tells me I’ve won a prize. It’s a series of yellow envelopes stuffed with information, including something called ‘Gary Shteyngart’s early retirement worksheet’. A quick scan of the materials includes a dense meditation on my tweets, Jews, cricket, the number 666 and Ben Stiller. He bought two books over the course of two readings (the next day he showed up in some kind of cricket
get-up), so this bloke is OK with me.
I love walking around London because I don’t get to my native Russia much, and it’s fun to hear Russian as the primary language on the streets. This is my last day here, and it’s a suitably grey one. The reading is at King’s Hall or some such place and the audience is lively and terrific. London’s watch cognoscenti are out in force tonight and pretty soon I’m ass-deep in Omegas, Rollies and some truly funky old Seikos. I get back to my hotel and have a dream of turning into an Orkney scallop. I wake up feeling at peace for the first time in my life.
This is an extract from Gary Shteyngart’s Notebook, which appears in this week’s Spectator