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Books of Note

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Yah, yah, I know, I’ve been lollygaggin’ and work-shyin’ and leaving all my lovely spammers in Tamil Nadu with nothing on which to post spam but old reviews. I’ve not even been all that busy, except when it comes to slapping on weight and destroying some neural connections, both of which I’ve done with glazed-eyed indifference and robotic monotony. Still, I feel I owe it to GDR to at least put Shantaram to bed before I buy (whoops, sorry, already done) and read his next book, The Mountain Shadow, which even now is winging its way to my door by the magic of Amazon Prime Same Day DeliveryTM.
It turns out that GDR was indeed a bit of a knob. He robbed building societies in Australia, always dressed in a three-piece suit and minding his Ps & Qs, and only targeting those with adequate insurance. How he knew which did and didn’t have adequate insurance is not mentioned. On the back of this, or maybe it was the other way around, his wife kicked him out and he lost contact with his only da…

The Camera Killer by Thomas Glavinic

The whole area is cordoned off
and we're closing in.
I loved Night Work, Austrian Glavinic's own I am Legend, or maybe, more accurately, Last Man, given there aren't any vampires in it ('Neville, Neville!'). It was creepy as hell and completely unresolved, whilst being written straight, a little matter-of-fact, but cold and hard and sparse and brilliant! In fact, it put me in mind of Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (of which more anon) in so far as it was as though the Creator had lifted away all of the automatons whom He'd charged with interacting with the protagonist, in His divine experiment, leaving only the one real person and no explanation. Maybe His funding ran out!

I can't remember if I came to Glavinic through fellow Austrian Thomas Bernhard or if it was the other way around, but either way I was eager to find other works of his translated from Austrian. At only 100 pages or so, I'd considered this a little too slim to be a good read so left it for last. In the end, I think I made a singular mistake–this is better (in a different way) to Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw, his chess novel.

Okay, so it's going to be hard to review this objectively without a massive hint of a spoiler. Anyone who doesn't want the surprise ruined look away now. Maybe go read my review of Indiana, Indiana instead.

Right. Here it is. I'm sure all the Eng Lit graduates out there took a look at The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie at some point. You'll all know where I'm going with this. That was in essence a confessional novel. So is this. Although in retrospect it's given away in the very first line–"I have been requested to commit everything to paper."–it isn't until the very last page or so that the mystery is resolved. Our narrator is telling the story of his holiday with friends over the Easter weekend, which is tarnished by the reporting of an horrendous double murder, of two local children no less, by a man who filmed the whole thing. In reality, he doesn't actually do any of the killing, instead forcing the children into acts of suicide by threatening the rest of their family with terrible suffering and death. Anyway, this spurs on the media to a suitable and far too familiar frenzy, with one German TV news channel even going so far as to broadcast an edited version of the tape to its viewers. All the while the four friends (narrator and partner, and his friend Heinrich and partner) try to have a normal, relaxing, Easter weekend, playing games, eating and drinking, enjoying a little teasing and competition and attempting to patch up their typically slowly dissolving thirty-something friendships.

As the weekend progresses and they become alternately obsessed and repulsed by the media storm, they discuss the moral and ethical situation, try to find distractions, but are always pulled back into the story. As the net around the killer slowly tightens, we suddenly realise that the police are heading to the very house in which they're all staying–THE KILLER IS ALREADY IN THE HOUSE etc.

What sets this trite little morsel apart, though, is the bald telling, the humourless, emotionless voice of the narrator. He's reporting, as objectively as possible, on the situation as it unfolds, on the discussions amongst the friends and the reactions of the neighbours and the wider public. It's dry but taut with suspense! And the ending, although telegraphed so soon in the novel, is a slap-your-head moment. HOW COULD I HAVE BEEN SO BLIND etc. It's an optical illusion that once you see it, it can't be unseen and you have no idea how you could have seen it any other way before.

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