Thursday, 10 July 2014
Keeping Mum by The Dark Angels Collective
Those of you who might justifiably lay claim to knowing me quite well should be able to corroborate my claim that any book that leads off with a 'Who's Who' cast of characters is likely to get my back right up, the reason being that if any book is so unwieldy and poorly realised that you need constant reminding of which character is speaking or how they fit into the narrative at any given moment, then it surely needed more editing before publishing, or re-writing before editing, and so on. For me, a character needs to pop from the page, be embedded in the mind straight away, pulling you in, perhaps pushing you away, but always memorably. Admittedly, with so many contributors (the same amount, coincidentally, as the number of voices in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying from which the Dark Angels Collective drew inspiration) I guess it's equally likely that not to acknowledge each and their input to this MPOV novel from the get-go would put their backs up too, so I'll accept this as mitigation.
Indeed, a novel with Multiple Points Of View is exactly what this collaborative effort delivers, each character written by a separate writing entity, drawn from the unusual yet creditable writing courses (creative writing but in a business context) of the Dark Angels team**. We have what one might deem the main character, who's dead - a challenge for any writer that - her estranged husband, her three children and one daughter-in-law; a parochial Scottish copper, a glorified B&B manager, a morgue assistant with a flower fetish, a rather random Indian restaurateur, and some others that I have forgotten. Each is written by a different person, thus eliminating the need for one writer to develop different voices, but creating the need for a strong hand on the tiller. The plot revolves around the steady disintegration of the tissue of lies that the dead character wove in life and the impact this has on those in the family and beyond with an interest in her affairs*, and I consider the central conceit to be how many lies are told in life for a myriad of reasons, how the perception one might hold of someone can be subverted, and how the machinations set in place in life have to be dismantled on death, leaving lacunae and space for that which is not familiar. I love that sort of thing. Plus, it evolves into a bit of a road-novel, a bit like that Gram Parsons film where they drive around with his corpse in the back of the truck.
Whereas Faulkner claimed he never changed a word of his novel***, having written it in six weeks after finishing work each day, I suspect this novel has been the subject of some heavy revision. I say suspect but in fact I mean I know - the authors' page on the Unbound website goes into a bit of detail on the process and it sounds like there was a lot of mind-mapping, plot-hashing and character-, er, hmm, sorry, struggling for a suitable gerund. I don't know if this is the best way to work when there are fifteen people contributing to a single goal, but for the most part it worked. There are some characters that are weaker than others (I've just remembered one of them - a facile plot device of a character who is a child-guest at the Scottish B&B who causes the dead person's phone to go missing temporarily) and some feel tacked-on, almost like they had to be there otherwise one of the writers would feel left out and sad (I won't name names this time, but I think you'll see who they are), but overall, the parts fit together, the story progresses from one passage to the next, and whilst it's a tad predictable, it's still greatly enjoyable. It's too late to get your name in the back as a supporter, but it's never too late to buy a copy and enjoy a very interesting book.
*Whoops! Cheeky plot spoiler there! Sorry, couldn't help it.
**They're also on Twitter so they are.
***He made this claim in the introduction to Sanctuary, (Modern Library ed. 1932): cited A. Nicholas Fargnoli, Robert W. Hamblin, Michael Golay, William Faulkner; A Critical Companion Infobase 2008, pp.43–56 p.44