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Books We Have Read But Wish We Hadn't
on 7 June 2002
We all have lists of Books We Have Read But Wish We Hadn't. And in the words of Jesse from The Fast Show, this week I have been mostly Wishing I Hadn't Read Mick Jackson's Five Boys. (As I gave up 100 pages before the end, I half got my wish.)
The reason I wish I hadn't read it is because then I might still think it was good. Scott Aardvark below says that it's three stories that don't quite work, and that it's after the first part that it flags. I half agree: I think it starts badly too. Even in the opening scenes, while I still had a smile on my face and a letting-myself-be-taken-where-the-story-will frame of mind, nothing whatever of interest happens. There are no piquant observations, amusing incidents or moving characters. It's like Stepford in there.
We are led to believe from the cover that this book is "startlingly original" and "eccentric." While I agree it's "eccentric" to follow up a fantastic novel with a rotten one, the consensus ends there. The only way the string of sitcom-tastic self-contained scenes will intrigue you is if you're thrilled silly by such escapades as "boys have a nosey around old man's house," "boy helps out in church administration" and "visiting GIs shock local ladyfolk at barn dance with jitterbug stylings." Ho, and indeed, hum. All in all, as tales of provincial life go, it's too much Last of the Summer Wine and not enough League of Gentlemen.
And what makes this so doubly a sin, or at best a real head-hanging shame, is that (as you must know by now) Jackson's first novel The Underground Man was incredibly good. It had tragedy, comedy, originality, verve and skill - everything that Five Boys lacks. If it hadn't been written by Jackson you'd just toss it aside and think nothing more; as it is, it's a mystery: you can scan the pages of Five Boys all day for signs of the enormous talent that shone in every line of The Underground Man, but the horizon is uncluttered. And this is after reading (most of) it with goodwill and positivity aforethought: I dread to think how someone might react who hasn't encountered Jackson before.
All in all - in case you hadn't picked up the general vibe here - Five Boys must be the most disappointing second book since Harper Lee owned up to ghost-writing that Britney Spears novel.