Wednesday 16 January 2013


M. John Harrison, 2002
(December, 2012)

I have no idea how to start talking about this. While I was reading it, my wife and I had a conversation. What happened was this:
              - “This is a pretty weird book.”
              - “Really? What’s it about?”
              - “I don’t know.”
              - “How much have you read?”
              - “About half.”

Frankly we could have had that conversation at any point up to the last few dozen pages. There are three plot strands which, as is customary, slowly come together. The final conclusion (that’s FINAL CONCLUSION, spoilerphobes) is actually pretty satisfying as I realized for all that I was being smugly self-congratulatory about spotting emerging connections I’d completely missed one of the biggest and, in retrospect, most obviously foreshadowed. I’ve always been shit at anagrams.

After explaining so little in the build up the dénouement could only really have gone one of two ways, either wrap it all up nicely with a bow or leave everything hanging and admit that it had all been a complete wild goose chase. I’m almost (almost) disappointed that he chose the former.

The plot, however, is kind of incidental. This is a novel of quite stunning style, as it would have to be to keep me reading nigh on 300 pages with only the vaguest idea of what was actually happening. Style over substance then? Well, there is substance here, definitely, but perhaps not quite as much as it likes to think it has. And I cared about that not one jot.

There’s a very strong Vonnegutian streak running through all this. A similar narrative detachment. A similar economy and precision in gutting the characters and laying them out flensed for you examination and amusement. A similar blankly sharp appreciation of the absurdity of the mundane and the mundanity of the absurd.

On the down side one of the main supporting characters is called Billy Anker, which is really pushing it, and that cover is quite violently appalling. Still, I can think of few better ways of spending time than going deep in the K-tract. Fnarr.


  1. Replies
    1. Must be an inside...deep inside...really deep inside joke??

    2. Or a spambot. Same difference, eh?

    3. verb (used with object), flensed, flens·ing. strip the blubber or the skin from (a whale, seal, etc.). strip off (blubber or skin).

      great word, was i the only one had to look that up?

  2. I saw the thumbnail in my blogroll and thought it was a Grateful Dead album cover.

    They shoulda added the *W* to his name and been done with it ;)

    1. You say Billy, I say William, let's call the whole thing off.

      The cover's a bit Deadhead, isn't it? I think they've just reissued it in a more tasteful version, which just looks bland in comparison. Possibly less likely to induce epilepsy, though.

  3. Wait - is there an anagram somewhere? Did I totally miss something important? Crap. Don't make me read that thing again, it was hard enough the first time.

    I want to review this too, but haven't figured out what on earth to say about it.

    1. Yeah, a three-way anagram at that, which should give you a hint where to look if you're so inclined.

      I always find it easier to write about stuff I don't like than stuff I do. I guess it's because I'm too busy enjoying the good stuff, but with the bad you have to make your own fun, which results in the faults getting picked over. I've just finished nearly 2000 words on a book I really didn't care for at all, but could barely break 200 for this:

      "It's good! And reminded me of Vonnegut a bit. Did I say it's good?"

      Not one of my better ones, to be honest.