Monday, 1 May 2006
taking comfort obsessively
A recent study discussed on Radio Four said that peak 'book reading time' for many people occurs in their teenage years. Something to do with set texts at school, I suppose. Later, I guess people divide into those who read books and those who don't with special categories for non-fiction, historical, autobiography and sports.
I'm one of the people who does read and usually have one of those untidy piles of partly finished books. Two recent ones to be added are both blog influenced - Improbable by Adam Fawer (recommended by utenzi's blog) and Taking Comfort by Roger Morris (who writes a blog and has some amusing reflections on getting the book published).
I decided to read the Roger Morris book as soon as it arrived from Amazon and here's a few comments:
The story starts when our main character, Rob, sees a Japanese student with a 'Hello Kitty' binder throw herself in front of a tube train. Rob retrieves the folder and hides it in his briefcase, on the way to his new marketing job. At this point I was expecting a conventional mystery, but we see instead a nascent compulsive behaviour progressing in Rob and the way he views those around him.
Rob lands in a fairly typically described London City office, with the trappings of expensive desk furniture and a role which is not entirely obvious to the reader, or to Rob, it would seem. But that is incidental to the main emergence of his compulsive behaviour, which centres around collecting artifacts from misfortune. The Japanese folder is the first of a series of items he acquires in increasingly bizarre ways.
Interspersed with this are product analyses of everyday (and not so everyday) items, which are examined in minute detail, usually from a marketing perspective, sometimes by specification, and sometimes by benefit or functionality. This has a link to Rob's professional world, but the same analysis transfers to other actions and situations in the story. This varies from making a cup of tea (an almost Haruki Murukami level of description here) to feature-listing velcro adjustable concealable police body armour.
So this becomes a story about human edginess and obsession as much as about a series of events. There's a deadening of perspective (like in a madness) between the view of a fountain pen, a hand-gun and a claw hammer - all of which have important places in the plotline.
The situations accelerate in the last section of the book. Some unfinished business creates a situation where Rob's obsessions become exposed. I won't say more, in the interests of plot integrity, but there are some neat links to earlier parts of the book.
The author, Roger Morris, uses a style for the book which appears deliberately experimental and somewhat stylised. For example, there's no speech marks in the text and this adds a sense of transference to the interpretations of character motive. Is the character really thinking the way described, or is it the perception of this state from inside of Rob's head? I found myself thinking of Nikolai Gogol's Diary of a Madman in places, where the sliding perspective appears rational when considered from within the head of the person describing it.
And in places there are references to idiom (how an American can 'verbify' most nouns) and a few other linguistic tricks to create a smile.
I found this an intense book to read. I found myself inside Rob's head and the compulsive obsessive behaviour and a lowered sense of reality are distrubing traits, more so when they are blended with much other reality descriptions.
This is an interesting example of New Writing, I hope Roger does well from this experience and additionally continues his entertaining blog about the experience of writing.
And I feel I should also comment on the experience of the book itself. A hardback, 215 pages, weight, 0.315kg, Macmillan New Writing imprint, Heronwood Press Typesetting and Printed in China. You'll know why I'm saying this if you read the book.
Posted by rashbre at 08:04