Skip to main content

Last Night On Earth by Kevin Maher

Jayz, what a gom wan etc.
Before I begin, very many thanks should go to Kevin Maher and the social media team at Little Brown for a) sending me a free copy of this novel for no better reason than I was serendipitous and knowledgeable, and b) doing so graciously despite me chasing them across the social mediaverse and demanding that necks be stepped upon because the first copy didn't make it to my house*. They were, as far as reader-friendly authors and publishers go, exemplars of patience and kindness.

So, on with the story, and I should warn readers now that there may be plot and device spoilers to follow. In an attempt to be fair, honest and open** I must say that, at first I didn't enjoy this novel. Tellingly, strikingly, it begins with the birth of Shauna and Jay's oxygen-starved baby Bonnie, and for a man eating a cheese and tomato sandwich (on home-made saffron-, turmeric- and paprika-infused wholemeal bread with just a hint of nutmeg, and loaded with habañero Tabasco sauce), who has seen the miracle and trauma of birth first-hand, it almost put me off my lunch. Almost. Further niggles niggled with the confusion of narrators, the chapters of early 'letters' from Jay to his Mammy, irksomely referred to as The Mammy of Jay in oblique reference to a later revelation of import, the somewhat tacked-on involvement of grossly negligent psychoanalyst Dr Ghert, and the personal (for me) issue with the seemingly grotesque overuse of colloquialism and repetition of Gaelic phrases and idiom. I learned in critical theory seminars that form and content are inexorably linked, so I was set-up to dislike strongly whatever flowed from what I deemed an inauspicious beginning. 

However***, there are many pros to balance these, frankly subjective cons. Whilst I never once guffawed, chuckled or tittered out loud, there were moments that made the corners of my mouth twitch upwards, others–notably pretty much any chapter where Jay is with his daughter–where I was genuinely moved by the honesty and empathetic depth of feeling, of love, for his child, and still others where the shock of everyday horror–miscarriages, abortions, madness, domestic violence, self-harm–served up verisimilitude by the bucket-load, making what could have been a daft, parochial, village-mouse-in-the-city tale of naivety feel solid, real, depressingly genuine and all the more impressive. Jay's bathetic life in London, filled early on with promise and a bright future in television, a new love, family and success, quickly degenerates, like the bright future afforded all by the vision of New Labour and the thrill of a new millennium, into indulgence, cocaine, narcissism, and stupidity, and through it all, keeping it feeling a little like an episode of Father Ted, is the vaguely threatening presence of the Irish Catholic Church, willing Jay to accept their proffered role as envoy of a millennial spiritual fulfilment to be found only by visiting and purchasing souvenirs of the Catholic shrine at Knock. Cue kicking the bishop up the arse.

This is a well-scripted, thoughtful and impactful novel, suggesting deep themes to explore and holding up for scrutiny the folly of man, of the collective hysteria of seeing signs in arbitrary numerical systems, and of the Nathan Barley-type media typical of the end of the millennium. It's also a deeply human novel, despite its attempts at bare-arsed humour and occasional overuse of stereotype, and moving in strange and uncomfortable ways. Having not read The Fields, I'm in not position to judge the progression of Maher as an author, but on this evidence, I suspect he's just starting on an impressive career. 


*I suspect the neighbours, of whom no more later, of accepting a mis-delivered parcel and keeping it for themselves, damned filthy beasts. That's the last time I tell the take-out delivery guy they're the door around the corner, especially when they pay up front with a card...

**Thank you but no, I'm not drunk, just ill.

***Gah! Feedback sandwich - will I never learn?

Comments

How's about that then?

Free Fall In Crimson by John D. MacDonald

Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end. 

You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …