Top critical review
28 people found this helpful
A noble idea, but it doesn't work...
on 11 October 2010
A strange combination, this. In essence, it's a formless freewheel that follows the death of an alcoholic in an East Midlands estate. At various junctures, his friends, acquaintances and family fill in some of the gaps of a life surrounded by drugs, squalor and struggle.
For much of the book it would seem to be carefully researched, and as `authentic' as you would wish. The gritty detail is there, and little is spared. The language, too, is essentially the thoughts and words of the individuals written down, including the pauses and unfinished sentences. However, it often seems false or stilted - the addicts appear unduly co-operative, and reluctant to resort to crime or violence for their next fix. My understanding of this kind of addict is that they would happily sell their granny to score, but in the novel this desperation is rarely present. In addition, some of the characters seem to blend together into the same person, and the constant tailing off of sentences passes from realistic, to just plain annoying.
The structure is a further problem - the book is deliberately shapeless, but this robs it of any immediacy. Instead, the reader floats around and occasionally drops in, but out of temporal sequence. It is a stylistic decision, but it detracts from what the author is trying to convey - it is too bitty to allow the reader to build up any lasting emotions. Less would be more, here.
Ultimately, I want to like this book because it attempts something brave, it is often unflinching, and it shines a light that needs to be shone. However, the shapeless and messy style, the lack of distinction between characters, and hints of punch-pulling by the author, count against it.