Sunday, October 14, 2007

fade to grey

An uninspiring cover opens to reveal a novel more typical of previous Booker lists, yet quite out of character this year. Pages of prose offer prolonged musings on the human condition. Mostly centred on one family, and their hangers on, we move between London, Paris, New York and St Petersburg - each appearing more bleak than the last. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that calls on the colour grey quite so frequently -

‘The road was striped from the centre with grey sludge - plain grey, dark grey, darker grey and black grey, churned and squashed and churned again by endless traffic.’

The cold introspective tone of the setting suited the people it housed. These characters are indulgent people - not just materially but emotionally and mentally. Happy to sit for hours stewing in their own juices - though by the last quarter I began to despair at their constant complaining and wanted to shout aloud to pull themselves together.

You may think by now that I didn’t like this book - on the contrary I almost loved it. There were moments of pure poetry in Docx writing -

‘battered Czech wrecks and tattered Russian rust-crates’

and he managed to portray time as a distinct and animated presence -

‘the worst night of his life was squatting black and heavy in the shabby courtyard outside.’

Maybe the mood of the book suited the recent change in our weather. And St Petersburg according to Docx felt far more recognisable and welcoming than Barker’s Ashford. (I am somewhat familiar with both places, from childhood visits to an Aunt and Uncle in the latter and a one day trip to the former).

Clearly a self obsessed kind of novel I enjoyed getting caught in the meandering loops of someone else’s thoughts even if I didn’t like the person very much. Unlike Darkmans Self Help seems to solidify into the memory of a great read the further I get from it - and I shall be searching out Docx other novel. Whilst not a light or particularly pleasant read, and probably not the kind of place I would want to come to often, Self Help is somewhere good to visit every now and again, if only as a warning to myself.

1 comment:

Stefanie said...

i agree, there were definitely moments of brilliance, but I had trouble with everything else between those moments. Glad you enjoyed it though!