Sunday, 13 November 2011

Backlist - More stuff inappropriately appropriated

There is something intrinsically pleasing about Baker's work. Whilst this is not his best by a long way (for that you should pick up Box of Matches or The Fermata - pant-wettingly brilliant stuff), this transcript of a (CIA?) taped conversation between two friends in a Washington hotel room is something other, a novel that is social and political commentary, that is a stylistic adventure, that deviates from the norm without falling into the post-modern mosh pit of literature by the likes of John Barth or Mark Z. Danielewski. It's also damned funny. Until fairly recently I had no strong opinions on American politics, on the lust for scandal and the love of celebrity that saw the population elect, in the words of Jonathan Coulton "a sweating filthy liar" in Richard Nixon, and a slightly deranged cigarette spokesperson and cowboy in Ronald Regan. Of course, W changed all that, and Obama has helped somewhat, like a temporary salve on a wound that will only fester eventually. Baker just sticks it to the man, having lots of fun in the mean time. If you're looking for something conventional, perhaps this isn't for you, but for an hour on a train, or indeed on a bench outside the Lincoln Memorial, then this is the perfect tonic for the world-weary.

Perhaps if I hadn't known that Jasper Kent had written musicals, then I may have enjoyed this more than I did. As it stands, I was stuck between enjoying the premise and the gore of it all and being terribly annoyed by Kent's almost 19th century Russian novel style narrative, with long introspective passages more suited to a down moment in a Broadway show (with accompanying musical diminuendo) than a properly horrific horror novel. As Aleksei "struggles" to reconcile his enjoyment of the lovely prostitute with his "love" of his absent wife and child, I struggled with my desire to put this down and go rock climbing or kick boxing, something manly and dangerous that wouldn't rob me of my masculinity. Still, being the avid devotee of violence and bloodshed that only a child exposed to George A. Romero movies at a very early developmental stage can be (and I am very definitely NOT blaming zombie movies for my lack of social skills - that was deliberate on my part) I pushed on through the guff to get to the good bits, and there were just enough of those to keep it interesting.
In conclusion, this is good, but flawed, much like the best of us, and if he could temper his willingness to replicate his musical style or the long-winded rumination typical of those great (great meaning large or immense - I use it in the pejorative sense) Russian epics, then he could have a future as a writer of horror. If not, he better sharpen up on his show tunes.

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