Skip to main content

Backlist - A load of stuff reproduced without the author's written consent

 Being somewhat silly, I began my discovery of Jeff Lindsay by reading the fourth novel first (publisher freebie) and then watching the first episode of the TV series. As it transpires, that's the wrong way to do it. So, keen to make amends I picked up this three volume omnibus edition to motor through the first three books before I remembered what has happened to Sergeant Doakes, Dexter's arch nemesis (at least, his arch nemesis in the Miami PD) by book four.
The appeal lies not just in the pacing, the fact that our protagonist is a merciless killing machine, and that he's doing what most people have occasionally dreamed of doing - taking out the trash! - but in the oddly affecting and twisted humour of the novels. Whether he's ruminating on why his "dark passenger" guffaws at a particularly amateurish crime scene (amateurish from the point of view of the killer that is), or balancing the training and development requirements of his protégés (seriously) against the code his "father" Harry instilled in him, Dexter never fails to bring a bleakly humorous quality to the narrative. Take for example, the time he finds himself alone in his head without the dark fluttering of evil wings to keep him comfort - "I was alone in a dark, mean world full of terrible things like me." That's a good line right there.
The only problem with this omnibus is the third novel - Dexter in the Dark - which loses some of the forensic and psychological analysis of the killer's mind in favour of a John Connolly-esque supernatural solution which just doesn't gel, which feels flimsy, and which diverts the narrative flow by inserting a third party perspective on things. It's still good, just not as good as it should be. But at the risk of a feedback sandwich, I still really love this stuff. And I'm sure if you've stuck with me this far, you will too.

It's a trepidatious feeling, to have read a work variously described as a masterpiece. With the weight of so much opinion on the readers' shoulders (whether they realise or not), to attempt a review such as this is daunting. This is partly to blame for the length of time between finishing this novel and starting this review (the other reasons being laziness and lack of energy / internet access). For it was some time in spring when I read this on the commute between Cardiff and Swansea, and the memories I have of it are suitably dulled with the passing time. This isn't exactly a glowing reference for the prospective reader, but then Mihaly exists in some kind of dream world, and there were definitely parts of this book where I was almost asleep. Again, not such a great recommendation. However, it wasn't sleep; rather more like a trance. Szerb's story starts from a moment of crisis, where Mihaly gets his trains confused and, on his own honeymoon, realises with a rush the sudden freedom he has, and how addictive it is to live outside expectations. Of course, being the fool he is his idyll is soon shattered. He reeks of desperation. It is a curious experience, the reading of Journey by Moonlight, and whilst I'm sure my attempts at a review fall far short of the relative quality of the book, just look at the star rating [at www.waterstones.com] and be comforted by such simplicity. The book will not leave you so at ease with life.

For some reason, a reason that I can't fathom but that makes me slightly angry, frustrated and not a little melancholic, I can't get anyone to be interested in this really great book. I've tried comparing the story to Stefan Zweig's The Royal Game / Chess (depending on which edition you have), with Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union (because there's a chess puzzle at its heart), and with the only other English translation of his work, Night Work, a novel which with its unanswered questions polarizes opinion, and yet not one person who has read the blurb has decided to press on. Admittedly, it's based on a real-life chess player, the little known Austrian Grandmaster Karl Schlechter, and at its core is the game of chess. But the game does not overwhelm the story. It is necessary, serving to illustrate the fabulous characterisation of Carl Haffner, and the joyful creation of the Vienna school and of his opponent Emanuel Lasker, without ever threatening to bore those whose appreciations lie elsewhere. Haffner's very existence is geared to wrench an emotional reaction from the reader, steeped in pathos and so endearing that throughout the legendary duel one's heart is in one's mouth with every move of the pieces. It is uplifting and devastating, and despite the rather bland cover is a revealing portrait of what it is to be human. I loved it, and I hope someday to convert at least one person to Glavinic's brilliance.

Comments

What Readers Are Reading

The Perfect Fool by Stewart Lee

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr is an author I have been reluctant to attempt to review for some time. His Berlin Noir trilogy cost me some hours of sleeplessness and in the end I decided to skip a review and just be happy to have read it and therefore move it from the pile of unread novels, via the edge of my desk where the “to review” pile occasionally falls over on to the typewriter and spills my pen pot across the floor and thus causes significant risks when stumbling blindly about the room at night too drunk to remember where my bed is or having just been jolted awake by the boy shrieking from the next room and running asleep into walls and doors, to the back half of my giant Ikea bookcase where novels that have been read and have caused my self-esteem to shatter on the diamond-hard edges of someone else’s talent currently reside, gathering dust and moisture until hitting the mildew tipping point and becoming physically dangerous in their own right. This awesome crew consists mainly of Will Self, Jo…

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard

I thought I'd talked about Thomas Bernhard here somewhere before - the vitriol, the bitterness, the hilarity that was Old Masters - but it appears not, or, more likely, that I search like I think; superficially. Nevertheless, at least I now have the opportunity to present him for your consideration, albeit with the oily glaze of my opinion applied liberally. 

An Austrian author and playwright, Bernhard had a curious relationship with the land of his birth. He was highly critical of both the people and state, regularly attacking the church, the government, the populace (who he labelled stupid and stubbornly contemptuous) and venerable old institutions like the concert halls and cultural venues of Vienna. Indeed, in his will, he strictly forbade any new productions of his works, both unpublished novels and poems, and stagings of his plays. His characters often deliver long monologues filled with bile and spite, frequently inhabiting considered but oddly irrational-seeming positions. …

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…