Shop now Shop now Shop now See more Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More DIYED Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Shop now Shop now
Customer Review

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where everybody hates your name, 8 Nov. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Ablutions (Kindle Edition)
I used to really love boozy, druggy novels when I was a teenager, regularly devouring books by Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Hubert Selby Jnr. and Patrick Hamilton where the protagonists were either alcoholics, drug addicts or both. But that was when I was a teenager and my literary tastes have since changed. So I was surprised to find myself drawn into Patrick deWitt's debut novel "Ablutions" which takes place almost entirely in a dismal Hollywood bar filled with deadbeats and human detritus getting sloshed and snorting powder in the dark.

Like most people I came to deWitt after reading his excellent Booker-nominated western "The Sisters Brothers" about a pair of bounty hunters in the old West on the trail of one of their targets. It's an excellent book which I highly recommend and led me to seek out this, his only other published novel (so far). "Ablutions" is a completely different book to "The Sisters Brothers"; where "Sisters" was a fast-paced first person narrative that read like an intelligent thriller, "Ablutions" is without a plot, told in the second person by a consistently drunk narrator, his attention reeling from one character in the bar to another seemingly at random and without any direction.

And yet "Ablutions" is still a hypnotic read. Maybe it's the character portraits of the broken lives that litter the bar. There is a drug- addled manager, an alcoholic former child actor, two slutty drunken school teachers, a wannabe artist and a dealer, as well as corrupt bar owners and the despicable narrator. The setup is that the narrator wants to be a novelist who gets work as a bar back because he feels he will meet a number of interesting people with stories he can exploit by putting them in his novel. Combine this with the fact that the author used to work as a dishwasher/bar back and the uneven, scattered approach to writing this novel and you could almost say that the author is the narrator and that his cynical approach worked. Almost. Because the writing is too damn good to dismiss the book as opportunistic and exploitative.

The comparisons to Bukowski are only superficial. Yes it takes place in a bar, a setting which Bukowski featured prominently in many of his novels, but his writing style was far more straightforward and raw, focusing more on dialogue than prose. DeWitt includes dialogue but, as the subtitle "Notes for a Novel" suggests, much of the book is written descriptively and the style feels more lyrical. The atmosphere of the bar culture feels very real and the details are convincingly authentic. DeWitt captures life on skid row as ramshackle, scary, deeply unpleasant and ugly while portraying the mind-set of an alcoholic with mesmerising alacrity. We get to see his inner workings, believing his car is "magic" because he drives home drunk each night and never gets pulled over by police, and while at home, he hides stashes of aspirin so his wife doesn't realise his increasing dependence on, and abuse of, substances.

He does utilise novelistic tropes that set the book apart from being a simple retelling of scenes from a bar: it's "written" by an alcoholic narrator whose life is falling apart so the lack of cohesion in the broken layout could reflect the narrator's scattered and unsettled mind. Also, the business model of the bar is bizarre: the staff (seemingly all alcoholics) can drink as much of anything in the bar for free while doling out free drinks to regular alcoholics who show up every night? And why is there a doorman for an establishment so low-class whose clientele are practically all homeless derelicts? How does this place make money when it's in the hands of such reckless, irresponsible personalities? Unless a lot of this is made up and/or misremembered by an increasingly unreliable narrator who storyline becomes more unhinged as the book reaches its conclusion.

If you're going to read this - and I do recommend it - beware that it is a slow burn. It doesn't take a while to get going because it never really does, it trundles along at an unhurried pace throughout, occasionally giving the reader something more substantial than bar scenes. The solitary road trip to the Grand Canyon was brilliant with the scenes at the rodeo being the best in the novel. But it's slow pacing and detailed telling of the lives of these troubled and troubling people is fantastic and the portrait of the narrator is fascinating. "Ablutions" is a good novel and well worth the time you give it, just don't expect the kind of novel he delivered in "The Sisters Brothers". Cheers!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in