07 March 2011

Naughty in the Noughties

Something to Tell YouSomething to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi

A well-written, amusing and titillating novel that works well as entertainment but is unlikely to haunt you for ever. The setting is London in the mid-Noughties. The protagonist is a psychoanalyst with a mildly criminal past and some interestingly original views on morality and pleasure. He, however, would be the first to admit that he doesn't have all the answers; indeed, he uses this cop-out regularly in his relationships with family, friends and patients.

There is lots and lots of sex, both hetero and homo, nearly all of it kinky. The gay sex seems to me more realistically and lovingly imagined the hetero stuff, which tends to be more distantly observed.

My main criticism of this generally fine novel is that the bits of the protagonist's character don't quite fit together. This is a shame since the first-person narrative voice conferred on him by the author is strong and convincingly individual. Against this literary weakness, however, must be set a nowadays rare and very desirable strength; namely that the book has a proper ending, a conclusion that ties up all the loose ends and presents the reader with a dramatic and satisfying conclusion. Too many modern literary novels disappoint us with their endings: everything goes swimmingly until the last fifty pages, then it all starts to unravel, or just collapses. Hanif Kureishi nimbly avoids this pitfall to deliver a novel that delivers from start to finish.

Oh, and Mick Jagger makes a cameo appearance. With his clothes on, just in case you were wondering.

01 March 2011

More Scots on Drugs

These Demented Lands
These Demented Lands by Alan Warner

There’s a stain of creepy cold-weather surrealism that runs through modern Scottish fiction – think of Alasdair Gray or Iain Banks, or even Irvine Welsh. These Demented Lands belongs on the same shelf as the foregoing, though it isn’t violent or bleak; in fact, it’s fun.

I worked my way through the first half of this slim novel in delight, thinking ‘I’ve never read anything quite like this before.’ Which is true, pretty much. Further on in, though, I realized with some disappointment that a lot of the colourful stuff I’d been reading wasn’t material to the plot of the novel; and a little while later I realized that there really wasn’t a plot to this novel, either.

Strange to say, I still enjoyed These Demented Lands. The Scots-inflected prose is elegant and highly readable, with occasional rhapsodic elements. The descriptive passages are cinematic or psychedelic, the sequence of events has its own acid-fried logic, there are moments of bizarre yet laugh-out-loud comedy and everything does come together in the end, though it does so in a tearing hurry and not entirely to this reader’s satisfaction.

I realize I haven’t said much anything about the actual story or the characters in the book, or even about its setting. None of that really matters, though. This book is a trip, and a beautifully written one at that. Anyone interested enough to want to find out more should read this blogger's review, which I fully endorse and agree with. Or just read the book.