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Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright

Well typed, clean pages.
She wondered what the title meant.
I've no clear memory of when, where and why I decided to obtain and read this novel. I make no claims therefore to its place in the intertextual flow of my life. In fact, I have begun to fear this record is simply so much vanity and fluff, given I've let it slip to such alarming degrees that I'm personally amazed it was all of four months ago that I read this. 

Regardless, I can clearly recall the novel itself, such was its effect. Reading an old Telegraph review, I was pleased to note their observation of echoes of David Lynch, something I had noticed but to which maybe I hadn't put a name at the time. In retrospect, it did leave me feeling like I did when binge-watching Twin Peaks last year before embarking on the new season. It is in parts creepy and unsettling, and in others eerily disturbing in its acute facility with the depressing lives of suburban Americans. 

The story goes that Susan, housewife and frustrated writer, given over to the quotidian boredom of keeping house for her surgeon husband, receives in the mail a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward, whose writerly ambitions had seemed to have died when they were married, twenty years past, leading to the end of the relationship. He asks her to read it, and she is flattered and annoyed in equal measure, unsure if she will or not.

Of course she does.

What she reads is the story of a man, Tony Hastings, whose life is torn asunder by the rape and murder of his wife and daughter after an altercation on an American highway. In the inevitability of this crime, the reader has little chance to hope for a happy outcome. Indeed, by adding the interface of a reader, in the form of Susan, Wright has managed to take some of the power of the (actual) reader to create the story themselves away from them by offering plausible reactions ranging from contempt to a frisson of illicit excitement at the horror unfolding. The same Telegraph article mentions how railroaded a reader might find themselves bu this artifice, but to be frank, I didn't much care. The writing is crisp and clean, Susan is the epitome of white middle-class America dragging her rather dull history behind her through the fresh green lawns of suburbia, and Tony is a man beset by his passivity, eager to be directed along a path chosen for him and never taking the opportunity to forge his own. 

That chimes with me somewhat too.

In feeling, this is a weird, unsettling novel. In its readability, it surpassed expectation, Wright's writerly writing cleverly submerged beneath the metaliterary artifice. It's one to tear through, maybe in only three evening sittings as did Susan with Nocturnal Animals the name of Edward's novel in the novel.


How's about that then?

The Elephant by Sławomir Mrożek

It’s a wonder that Sławomir Mrożek lived to be 83. Maybe the post-Stalin regimes of Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev were less likely to pitch a critical satirist into an unmarked grave or have him dragged off to winter in Siberia than was Uncle Joe. Maybe he just wasn’t widely read and therefore not deemed a threat. Or perhaps his support of the Stalinist persecution of religious leaders in Poland and his membership of the Polish United Workers’ Party (until he defected) stood him in historical stead good enough so that he didn’t find himself on the sharp end of a radioactive umbrella. Because frankly, having read The Elephant, published in 1957 but not banned until 1968, it’s hard to see anyone in the Soviet bureaucracy letting this level of criticism go unpunished.
Take the titular story, The Elephant, one of 42 similarly absurd political satires in this slim volume. A provincial zoo, lacking “all the important animals” is awarded an elephant by the Party, muc…

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

Hi, how’ve you been? I’ve been busy myself, thanks for asking. In fact, I was so busy I began contemplating a terminal hiatus from this, ostensibly purposeless endeavour. However, for reasons, I chose not to take it. So on with the show and back to Helen DeWitt.
If there’s one thing about this dense, frankly mind-bogglingly erudite book to love/find empathy with (apart from my own Canadian edition’s deckle-edged hardbackedness – deckle edges; good or bad? Discuss!), it would have to be the passages narrated by Sibylla, mother to genius progeny Ludo. As a parent to one post-toddler and one pre-toddler, as well as occasional taker-up-of-space in the lives of three other young human beings, there are so very few occasions where a simple conversation can be carried out to its logical terminus without interruption and digression; conversations start, stop, return to the beginning, are interrupted once more, are delayed and postponed, and cycle back again until it’s time to give up, get off …

The Last Werewolf Trilogy by Glen Duncan

A trilogy of werewolf novels, the remaining three books of Duncan’s published oeuvre left for me to read, and I’ve gone and devoured them all in one go. I’ve made similar mistakes before; reading every single book I could find by one author as soon as they’re found. It usually ends up in a colossal mess of plot lines, meaning and symbolism in the gray matter, and an inability to unravel one from the other and explain, convincingly, to anyone why they should be read – especially challenging when one’s former job was to sell books to people on the strength of personal recommendations. Nonetheless, I decided that to read these three contiguously made sense, in so far as I have a strong distaste at being left hanging on for the next instalment, be it television series’, serialised print articles or trilogies. And, *COP OUT KLAXON* to review them in one Mega Review Article was the way forward too. So, here’s the quick and habitual disclaimer / plea for clemency. This way, you’ll have to de…

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr is an author I have been reluctant to attempt to review for some time. His Berlin Noir trilogy cost me some hours of sleeplessness and in the end I decided to skip a review and just be happy to have read it and therefore move it from the pile of unread novels, via the edge of my desk where the “to review” pile occasionally falls over on to the typewriter and spills my pen pot across the floor and thus causes significant risks when stumbling blindly about the room at night too drunk to remember where my bed is or having just been jolted awake by the boy shrieking from the next room and running asleep into walls and doors, to the back half of my giant Ikea bookcase where novels that have been read and have caused my self-esteem to shatter on the diamond-hard edges of someone else’s talent currently reside, gathering dust and moisture until hitting the mildew tipping point and becoming physically dangerous in their own right. This awesome crew consists mainly of Will Self, Jo…