Damascus Paperback – 3 Mar 2005
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"Beard is a talented writer, crafting many scenes with luminous precision" (Time Out)
"Damascus recounts a day in the life of young lovers Spencer and Hazel, 1 November 1993. It's the day they finally meet again after years communicating only by phone. It's also the day that they appear, at various points throughout the book, to be aged 10, 13, 18 or 21 or indeed, in the opening chapter, zero. It may spoil the novel to give away its ending" (Jonathan Romney Guardian)
"The climactic showdown is not only an apt marriage of the novel's form and content-but also gently comic, the characteristic tone of this undertaking. Ludic in a peculiarly British manner-An assured achievement" (Times Literary Supplement)
"'Like Nick Hornby and Jonathan Coe, beard comically unhinges style, character and point of view to tell us that indeed we are in the chaos of the contemporary world'" (New York Times)
'One of the most ingenious, resourceful and entertaining novelists in England' Philip HensherSee all Product Description
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Overall, this is a book of effective, entertaining writing that enabled me to ignore a muggy gray Saturday.
Additionally, there are many things that are hard to pin down. Beard is constantly giving lists of possibilities. For example "somewhere in the Kingdom, in Quarndon or Northampton or Newry or York, in Kirkcaldy or Yeovil or Lincoln or Neath" runs part of the first sentence of the novel. A couple paragraphs later it's "somewhere in the Kingdom, in Harlow or Widnes or Swansea or Ayr, in Reading or Glentoran or Nantwich or Hull." This is followed by many more place-name lists. And he doesn't just do this with places. We're given possible advertisements, sporting events, magazines, TV shows, and on and on with the lists. I found this to be very irritating after awhile and started breezing through these lists to get to the meat of the story.
And Beard does have something interesting to say here. He is saying something about how people tend to look for a sign to help them know whether they are living right rather than making decisions for themselves. Everybody in this novel is looking for a conversion experience (like Paul's on the road to Damascus--hence, the title) to know with absolute certainty that what they've chosen is the perfect thing. Of course, this leads these characters to empty lives.
And herein lies the main problem with this novel for me--the characters. They are somewhat interesting but mostly unlikable and then, in the last few pages of the novel, they all change. They all somehow overcome their inhibitions and do the right thing for themselves. The potential serial killer realizes his problems, the boy and girl overcome their fears and get together, and the man trapped indoors by panic attacks can go outside. Perhaps they all had the conversion experience they needed but I couldn't buy it. They just didn't seem like real people.