on 28 May 2009
The latest novel from Nick Laird is presented from the perspective of the main protagonist David. David is a teacher and a `blogger', who seems hell-bent on destroying his flatmate James Glover's life - specifically his love life.
Laird's no-nonsense style means a straightforward read but also a strangely compelling one - the writer's chief focii include faith, religion, sex, art, and the way in which individuals torture themselves with desire and disgust. The main protagonist, David, a man whose self-loathing and inadequacy know no bounds, seethes with resentment at the unfairness of life, and brings to mind Mark from Peep Show - although with infinitely less charisma and a far greater tendency for self-destruction and the alienation of all who come near him.
The novel is littered with slightly pretentious aphorisms, and leaves the reader faintly dissatisfied at its denouement, however it never fails to engage and is overall a thoroughly satisfying read.
A classic case of the narrator you love to dislike, or towards whom you may come to feel a certain moral superiority, David Pinner sees a photograph of his old Goldsmith's tutor, Ruth Marks, in Time Out - she's exhibiting work in a gallery in London and he decides to go and check her out, to see if she's still as lovely as she was back then. And she is, of course, though David sees signs of ageing. What people look like is important in this novel, as it is in life, and David feels a surge of hope that he will come to mean more than just an ex-student to Ruth. He almost doesn't notice at first, that it is his flatmate, the good-looking and much younger James Glover, that Ruth is interested in.
Their relationship blossoms, even though Glover is a bit of an innocent, and a Christian, which David finds bizarre. David is knowing, cultured, he writes a critical art blog which is starting to get noticed. His feelings for Ruth remain achingly strong and he begins some very small incremental actions that he isn't exactly focused upon, but which will come to coalesce at a later stage. It isn't even at the halfway point and you begin to suspect that things will go spectacularly wrong. For someone - though I for one wasn't sure who.
I enjoyed this novel and it's deliciously poised and brutal conclusion. I like the way Nick Laird writes - his is an unobtrusive narrative that nevertheless manages some gorgeously effective moments. For instance: "The dark glass of the window reflected the bulb hanging over the table and it seemed as if one could cross over and enter that reflected world of liquid shadows and black depths, of antimatter and all its possibilities."
Laird chooses the moments for this kind of wavering, half-conscious looping of visual and cerebral thought very well, building the veracity of his human subjects with effortlessly classy effect. I liked this book and look forward to reading more from him.
on 4 July 2009
Set in contemporary London this novel is essentially about deceit and betrayal and the sly manipulations of one disaffected man, determined to exact revenge on his flat mate and best friend, a kind of handsome lothario with an early twenties naivety. Although none of the characters in Glover's Mistake are particularly likeable, the novel has a compelling acerbic and cynical quality, where an ill-fated romance between a young man and an older woman is set against the trend setting art world.
The tale begins and ends with obsession. David Pinner is absolutely in thrall to his ex-art teacher, glamorous and beautiful forty-five year old Ruth Marks. Ruth is poised to set the UK art world on fire with her contemporary retrospective here in London - abstract works a sheet of black papyrus four or five meters wide, reflecting her pseudo lesbian/feminist themes. When David reconnects with her at a gallery opening he feels a gut wrenching attraction, the conversation leaving him charged and affected, her seductive aura leaving him feeling drunk and a little engulfed.
A writer and a teacher of English literature, who normally spends his evenings alone, blogging on the Internet, chatting on a forum, and managing his webzine, The Damp Review, his meeting with Ruth plunges him into the real of the urban cultural participant, "engaged in the world, aboard in the dark." Ruth - obviously acclimatized to prosperity at an early age - eats up the attention, at first all too willing to take up David's offer of doing some kind of art project together set in urban settings. But even as Ruth begins the cold shivers of hesitation and David settles into an uncomfortable passivity, Ruth is drawn to James Glover, David's hunky, flat mate and the barman, at David's local pub.
Even in his early 20's Glover has an undeniable elegance and sex appeal, his physique nothing but tendon and muscle. His easy comicality framed around his apparent naivety. He might share the same flat with David and enjoy the spurts of their jocular and easygoing friendship, but the fiercely intellectual James lives in an entirely different universe. Ironically it is Glover who makes David feel masculine, pumping up his frail manly ego, this once ugly duckling who feels he has grown into "a penguin, a dodo and a booby."
Laird's acerbic and caustic novel is framed around the cynical maneuverings of these three personalities with their little hierarchy of ids and egos and superegos. At first all of them hitting it off An edge of banter, David and Glover becoming her wayward boys, cocky mocking and sly, all three sharing intimate trips to the theatre, art house cinema, gallery exhibitions and dinners. It doesn't take long, however for James to develop an irritating sense of being overlooked when Ruth starts showering attentions on Glover. Soon to become a negligible thing. an invisible man, James he feels them both pulling away from his texts and messages, seldom eliciting replies, their affair only a hint of the passion, the marital promises, and the ultimate betrayal to come.
As James sets about clandestinely sabotaging the fledging relationship, Nick Laird's London is laid out like a postcard, like its own advertisement: the Millennium Wheel, Big Ben, Tower bridge, the pyramid top of Canary Warf. As this story unfurls just like Ruth's art installations, the reader is left appalled at Andrew, Ruth's and Glover's stunning self-involvement and rapacious shallowness and the fragments of the relationship, the particles and fibers of which are eventually driven and dispersed by David. Poor David is certainly at a loss among these people, mostly characterized by the pretentious Ruth, with their casual manners and ironic patter, their insinuation that surface is depth and that appearance is content. In the end, these are "people who pick other people up and examine them and set them down and laugh." Laird's novel is as dense, rich and as detailed as David's over-worked mind and his skewered sense of devotion. The banality of love and the power of hate along with what passes for love in a threesome gone horribly wrong is the at core of Glover's Mistake where everyone you meet is wearing some disguise and where "the lover is the best liar of the lot." Mike Leonard July 09.
It would be possible to cast the film of this book without giving the lead parts David Mitchell and Robert Webb, but it would seem like a conceit. In very rough terms, beef Mitchell's Peep Show character up intellectually, make Webb's less dissolute and have Webb steal Mitchell's girlfirend elect. Mitchell then plots the downfall of the relationship.
Which sounds tedious, but it isn't. Laird's characters are brilliantly complete - each strength is perfectly and subtly counterpointed by a flaw - all voices are believable, and even the very odd technique of writing third-person in a near-first person voice is finely judged to keep the reader from identifying too closely with any character.
It's a grown-up version of the men's Literature Lite being churned out to great success by a few authors, it's intelligent, witty, and sprinkled with references which, if missed, take little away from the experience. A good read, but not a re-reader.
on 3 September 2009
I expected great things from Laird's second novel. I enjoyed the sharp intelligence and humour of his first book, Utterly Monkey and hoped that I would find more of the same, perhaps with a little more depth, a more original plot and storyline and executed with more confidence. Alas, I found the book difficult to love. The characters, like the art world they inhabit, are shallow, but without any compelling character traits to truly intrigue me.
The writing has style. It is no surprise that Laird is an accomplished poet (however I find his poetry has more depth then this novel shows).
If you enjoy the style and are not looking for plot or not that fussed about character, then you'll probably enjoy the book. If you're looking for a little bit more, then this might disappoint a little.
David Pinner is a a bit of a loser. He lives his life by proxy, dissecting events with bile on his blog, but not really participating in anything. He uses facebook and friends reunited to track old friends, but never actually meets any of them.
When he meets up with his old Art Tutor, Ruth, from his days at St Martins, he quickly develops a crush on her. Unfortunately Ruth is interested in David's flatmate James Glover, a younger, friendlier, better-looking man.
David becomes resentful of their relationship and turns on Glover in a childish manner, determined to split them up and act as the shoulder to cry on for Ruth. He observes their relationship from a distance, commenting on it in the same way as he comments on art in his online persona. He belittles it and decries it and ultimately seeks to destroy it.
The feeling of aloof judgement, of seperation by one stage, is a thematic motif throughout the book, from the vacuous Art world parties they attend, to the insubstantial online relationship Pinner indulges in, to the stripped back conceptual nature of Ruth's artwork, it is the shallowness of a life removed.
That such a fundamentally unpleasant character as Pinner can be so compelling is a testament to Nick Laird's craft. Glover is the only truly likeable character in the book, his naivety a contrast to the cynical, pseudo-intellectual sharpness of the other character's personality.
What is Glover's mistake? Possibly to trust in friendship and love? Or maybe to allow himself to be swallowed up by the emptiness of Brit Art?
on 24 April 2009
A tale of male rivalry, big-city loneliness and the trials of modern love, Nick Laird's second novel follows in the long tradition of satires about smart young men whose emotions fail to keep pace with their intellect.
Thirtysomething David is a teacher at a London crammer. His spare time is spent looking at porn, cyber-stalking old schoolmates and writing a little-read cultural blog, The Damp Review. His flatmate Glover, a decade younger than David, approaches life with a boyish naivety. The two men knock along together well enough.
Then David invites his old art school lecturer Ruth to dinner. In her forties, and now a famous American artist, she rejects David's impotent longing and embarks on a relationship with the younger flatmate.
As generations of sitcom writers have understood, the odd couple set-up is made for misanthropic humour. The trouble with Glover's Mistake is it's neither funny nor cruel enough. David's jealousy feels tepid, while Ruth's carelessness with others' emotions is largely excused. When it comes, the reckoning is bathetically domestic when what we crave is bitter cathartic laughter.
The writing, too, is infected by earnestness and peppered with aphorisms such as: "A friendship, too, is a kind of romance". Or it's strained to the point of the surreal: "If a wedding can be likened to a natural disaster, it's the avalanche it has most in common with."
Laird is a poet, and every so often his instinct to polish a single phrase to high-gloss pays off, as when David surveys London from his flat at night: "out to the south, over zone three and zone four and zone five and onwards, a silver bank of cumuli had aggregated".
That reduction of the city's infinite hopes and dreams to the zones of a Tube map is worth pages. But otherwise the novel's attempts to conjure the teeming, atomised metropolis seem dutiful, while Ruth and her art-world crowd have all the three-dimensionality of characters from a Richard Curtis film.
Having read Nick Lairds previous book Utterly Monkey, and disliking it intensely, I wasn't expecting too much of his latest effort, Glovers Mistake, particularly when I read it was set in the London art scene 'awash with new money & pretension'. Yawn. Having to read this book seemed akin to washing the car; something I didn't really want to do as I could think of lots other things I would rather do/read.
As it turned out I am quite pleased I did read it because, apart from the last forty pages or so when it started to wear out its welcome, I enjoyed it. The story is about three people caught in a love triangle - the main character, David, loves Ruth but Ruth doesn't love him; she loves Glover instead. What makes the book readable is despite the story being told from David's standpoint it is very difficult to warm to him because of he is an unlikeable bloke who does some pretty despicable things in an attempt to nip the Ruth - Glover relationship in the bud. The character of Ruth is nothing special; an experimental artist who as had relationships with other women in the past, but Glover, the third side of the triangle is portrayed as a slightly immature but totally decent chap. So instead of rooting for the `hero' David, I found myself feeling sorry for Glover, the (almost) innocent party.
I liked it, and it was certainly much better than washing the car.
on 22 May 2013
This novel pulls off a very difficult trick: it's a mainstream novel about a misanthropic thirtysomething male, with many of the usual Hornby-esque markers, yet at the same time it's an effortlessly (and accessibly) literary novel with some wonderfully written passages. Don't go by the negative reviews here. If you want a superior lunch-break novel, or something to read quickly on the train, buy it. You might find you read it in one sitting - the momentum never slides, and despite none of the characters being flawless, you might find it quietly heartbreaking into the bargain.
A quirky novel that has issues at times with realism, which has sublt and slow-burning storyline, and whose emotional drama remains muted, courtesy of David's machismo and embittered inhibitions, yet is written with a confident narrative tone. It is deftly plotted at times, and is a cut above the usual 'lad-lit' It won't change your life but it'll keep you diverted.