Skip to main content

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.

Comments

How's about that then?

Selected Holiday Reading - The In-Betweeners Abroad

I always try to travel light, a goal, something with which those among you with bookish leanings will empathise, that is challenging for someone intending to do as much reading as they can whilst ignoring as much culture and scenery as is possible. So huzzah and indeed hurrah for the generic e-book reader and its market competitors. Ten years ago I would likely have suffered a paroxysm of disgust for any apologist of the hated technology. Now, it seems, I must take one everywhere I go for more than one night.



The trip to which I am coming, an August sojourn by ferry to Santander and then by VW through Calabria, the Basque country, and north through Aquitaine, Poitou-Charente, Pays de la Loire and Bretagne, was a chance to get some serious reading under the belt. Twelve days of driving, drinking, books and beaches. The only 'real' books that made the trip were The Vagabond's Breakfast, of which more anon, and All The Days And Nights which, as I was on a deadline, I quickly …

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…

Augustus Carp, Esq., By Himself: Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man, by Henry Howarth Bashford

So it goes that, for one reason or other, I was asked recently* to recommend a list of classic British comic novels that one might take on holibobs, to be read at the pool, on the beach, or in this case at a sprawling, crumbling ancestral seat in the heart of Ireland during a month-long fishing expedition.
Unfortunately, every suggestion I made was knocked back, either for reasons of personal (bad) taste or because it had already been read. I thought long and hard** and serendipitously, most likely due to having read this post from the most excellent Neglected Booksblog, but equally likely due to a ringing endorsement from Anthony Burgess at some point or other, I came upon Augustus Carp Esq, a book I noticed I had on my e-reader, although how and why it was there is anybody’s guess.
Penned by a notable English physician, one which any blog of note would not neglect to mention once was physician to a contemporaneous English King (George the something?), it is ill-in-keeping with any of …

The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills

It’s hard to say, when asked as I was recently at a meeting of local writers (who you can follow on Twitter if you wish), who might be my favourite author. If you look at my book shelves, you might see groupings of books by modern authors such as (WARNING - gratuitous alphabetical roll-call):
Paul Auster, John Barth, Richard Brautigan, Thomas Bernhard, Jim Bob, T.C. Boyle, Karel Čapek, Jonathan Carroll, Stephen Donaldson, Glen Duncan, Tibor Fischer, Peter Høeg, Michel Houellebeq, Bohumil Hrabal, Ismail Kadare, Andrey Kurkov, John D McDonald, Harry Mullisch, Haruki Murakami, Cees Nooteboom, Victor Pelevin, Thomas Pynchon, Jon Ronson, and Kurt Vonnegut (my usual go-to favourite when I don’t have the energy to explain).
In addition, you might just spot every book ever published by one William Woodard "Will" Self (minus Sore Sites which mysteriously vanished while moving house a few years back). Whilst a fan, and also willing to admit experiencing an embarrassing and sometimes di…