Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Christopher Brookmyre #3

Okay, I've finished The Sacred art of stealing . I've already written about it here and here. What an odd novel.

I seriously think this is a classic example of why it is a disaster that editors have all but disappeared from the book publishing business, as anything other than glorified PR/sales merchants. If a competent reader of fiction had got hold of this novel it would never have seen the light of day in this draft and saved Brookmyre the embarrassment of producing such nonsense.

The damned shame is that there's a very good novel in here. He writes very well when he lets himself, when he stops licking his own arse in gratitude at his own magnificent erudition and quicksilver wordplay. He has real drive, when he is telling a story the scenes fly past in a blur of excitement.

But then...

Most of the trouble is at the start. It's curious, it feels like a first novel, but it isn't. There is a prologue in a completely different voice from the rest of the book which turns out to be completely unnecessary. Yes, it comes into it at the end, but we could easily have done without it. It's pointless, it serves no function.

Then, once the story proper begins there are two completely pointless characters from whose point of view we see the action. That they both share the same smartarse voice as the main narration, despite one being a feckless student and the other a seriously hungover bank clerk, is only one howler. The point is THEY DON'T MATTER. They're nothing, they don't come into the story again, they serve no purpose whatsoever.

It's almost like Brookmyre was afraid of turning to a straightforward omniscient narrator and had to invent these two characters to "see" the action for us. Why? If it was going to be a stylistic tic of the story, okay, but it only happens once more, and that feels completely wrong too.

This is a right wing journalist, a cartoon character written with no redeeming features or believable characteristics. He is created, you instinctively know, so that he can be knocked down, kind of a writer's straw-man character, I guess. (He is knocked down, of course, and I have to say that it was exceptionally funny - I roared with laughter at it. This is the kind of set-up Brookmyre is brilliant at.) But the point remains, he didn't serve much purpose - more than the student and bank clerk, certainly, but the digression into his existence felt laboured and (until that ending) seriously unfunny.

Characters: well the main is a second-generation Ugandan escapee from Idi Amin who supports Glasgow Rangers because, surrounded by Celtic supporters, she identifies with the feeling of outsiderness this creates. Fair enough, interesting idea, and it's argued persuasively on two or three occasions. I quite liked her but I never completely believed her. She could just as easily, through each and every action, be a Scots lass, or even a man. There is nothing particularly distinctive about her. She's an Everycharacter.

Zal I liked. I would have preferred it if he wasn't so spectacularly brilliant - the only time he ever comes close to failing is when he ejaculates the second Angelique touches him, but since he's been in prison for four years that's probably to be expected...

The interplay between these two is very good. This is when the story is at its strongest, with these two together. At other times it feels much weaker and there were times (the right wing interludes) when I simply lost interest because I knew they were only tangentially important.

Good novel? No. Could be a good novel? Yes. Author too full of his own importance? Oh yes. Author capable of writing something brilliant? Probably.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Sorley MacLean

Been reading about Sorley MacLean, the great Gaelic poet, and I came across this quote from him that I liked very much:

If I have time to do it, I brood over something until a rhythm comes, as a more or less tight rope to cross the abyss of silence. I go on it, as far as I can see, unconsciously.