Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Backlist and backlist and backlist again

There was a guy I saw buying Garbage Man by D'Lacey and I quizzed him about this book, D'Lacey's first. He said it was so good he bought another copy so he could leave it on a train and someone else might pick it up and read it too. I was intrigued, as this wasn't the kind of guy who looked like he usually bought Stephen King, or smelled like he bought Poppy Z. Brite. And yet it's with something of a sigh of annoyance that, having taken his recommendation and read through this, that I find it falls somewhere in between, where the lay person, usually disdainful of the genre, might be tempted to sully their hands with something gruesome and gory. I guess I expected the exceptional, and what I got was only pretty good. The premise, having been emblazoned across the front cover in true lowest common denominator style by schlock publishers Bloody Books, is that there's something rotten in small town wherever. The fact that small town wherever is in the centre of a post-apocalyptic wasteland is something that could have been explored a little more, but such is life, and on with the story! What's rotten is meat - the inhabitants are dependent on it, and in it lies the powers to control the populace. The twist, pretty clear almost from the outset, is that, as the cover tells us, "You are what you eat", and friendly neighbours are happily (perhaps obliviously, but certainly not all of them) chewing through cuts of the freshest homo-sapien. There is a further twist towards the end which I'll graciously acknowledge did sneak up on me, but all in all, the book relies heavily on butchery and debauchery for its shock value - why let cannibalism run free when you can add sex and they can have a party?Anyway, snobbery aside this is pretty decent for what it is. I did have to stop eating for a bit when he starts in on the slaughter at first, but as a product of a liberal upbringing there's little that has the power to upset my less than delicate sensibilities for long, and I was soon happily reading whilst munching a ham sandwich. D'Lacey is a little guilty of telling the reader how to feel in parts, but otherwise, not even slightly ludicrous gaps in the narrative were sufficient to derail his momentum, and the book does drive forwards with the inevitable velocity of a slaughter house conveyor belt. Not for the squeamish, but then having seen the cover, you pretty much know what comes next.

Within the body of work that Hrabal produced in the Moravian's life (ended tragically when he fell out of a fifth floor window whilst feeding some pigeons), Dancing Lessons... is more like one of the stories that Hrabal told whilst holding forth at his favourite watering hole, than his "hyper-realistic" novels like Closely Observed Trains. In style, it is one very very long sentence that surges forth like the source of an experiential river carving a valley through the life of a small town, through the eyes of its cobbler, a bawdy, burlesque character so typical of the "wise fools" with which Hrabal populated his novels. And in a sense, this choice of style could be its undoing. It's challenging to read, quickly mutating from its original theme like a stymied version of Joyce's stream of consciousness, or like a very drunk person digressing during a particularly involved history. In truth, there are several points where the sentence has actually ended but for the punctuation to signify such a stop. But this doesn't stop the novella from being a superbly entertaining and endearing piece of fiction, and a showcase for the talents of the man who in my opinion tops Kundera and Kapek as the Czech Republic's greatest author.

This one sat on my shelves for some time, being all orange and vulgar and putting me right off. But, as I was moving house and realised the extent to which my library consisted of books I may or may not read but are loathe to throw out, I came to the conclusion that chance would have to play its part in the selection of the next book I read, rather than good old fashioned logic. So, when I opened my eyes, dizzy from spinning, and saw my finger pointing to this giant orange tome I was a bit perturbed. Nonetheless, I am as stubborn as I am ridiculous, so onto the train it came, and stuck into it I got.What I found was nothing like what I expected. Okay, that's not strictly true. I expected a cop thriller with twists and turns set in a Disney-esque theme park, and that's exactly what it is. What surprised me was the totally accomplished voice, the effortless creation of suspense and the verisimilitude of the two LA cops, Lomax and Biggs (composites from a million TV shows, but still good solid cop type fellows). This is good stuff, and I must admit I read it pretty much straight through, with only minor detours into the daily duties of a retail manager, and a quick stop for lunch. Great value for the money, and a groovy way to spend a day becoming myopic.

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