Saturday, August 08, 2009

I Read a Bad Book

Topping up yesterday's unfinished coffee with a freshly brewed batch from today's pot - because in no way is that gross.

Nothing to report, really, except that I went to a garage sale and purchased a fur hat with earflaps for the princely sum of $5. As per usual, no-one is impressed.

Last night, I finished a book last night called Black Water Rising, which was a greatly lauded first novel by Attica Locke. I didn't like it, and - sorry Attica - I don't want any of you guys to waste your precious time churning through it in the hopes that it might improve (it doesn't)*. Here are the three main reasons why I didn't like it. I don't normally slam books I didn't like, but I'm annoyed that I wasted so much time reading this in the faint hope that it would eventually get better.

1. BWR could have been really good if it was two separate novels. The first one would be a classic crime thriller: down-on-his-luck lawyer is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, finds out too much, and spends the rest of the novel uncovering a huge corporate conspiracy and trying not to get killed. No complaints there (although as a matter of personal preference, I do like my villains to be lone sociopaths, not shady corporations, but that's just me being picky.) The second novel would be a thoughtful exploration of the black civil rights movement in 1980s Texas, seen through the eyes of a black lawyer who becomes caught up in a race-based strike and is, through his legal actions, forced to confront his own demons. No complaints there either, if that's your cup of tea.

In what some might refer to as an over-ambitious move, Ms Locke has written a crime thriller, intertwined with a thoughtful exploration of the black civil rights movement in 1980s Texas, seen through the eyes of a down-on-his-luck black lawyer who is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, finds out too much, and then is abruptly caught up in a completely unrelated race-based strike and is forced to confront his own demons whilst trying to uncover a huge corporate conspiracy.

It does not work, in the same way that making a chocolate-tandoori-eel-banana cake because you like all the flavours would not work.

What annoyed me more, though, is that the reader is not, under any circumstances, allowed to forget that this is a book about civil rights. I suppose this is why while white characters are referred to as men and women, black characters are usually referred to as cat or sister. I'm totally about to sound like a racist, but please. That's kind of a dumb, separatist thing to do anyway - it would be a little less annoying if the book was written in the first person and therefore it was the character saying it, but unfortunately it's in the third person. It's surprisingly hard (read: completely impossible) to remain engrossed in the plot, which if we're being honest was kind of not overly engrossing to begin with, when you're constantly being reminded what colour everyone is. It's impossible to just sit back and enjoy the story when Attica is constantly nagging you.

2. The main character, Jay, is completely unlikeable. I spent the entire story waiting for him to redeem himself, which he...didn't. A selfish, charmless caricature, Jay is an insensitive,
responsibility-shirking wanker through and through, and by the end of the book my initial ambivalence towards his character had morphed into a deep desire for him to die.

3. The novel's symbolism is about as subtle as the approach of Hannibal and his Elephants, and about as enjoyable for the recipient. Here is just one example: at the start of the book, the deeply unattractive Jay is paranoid about security and sleeps with a gun underneath his pillow. As he looks deeper into himself and his past, the gun becomes more and more important to the plot (one of them, anyway). At the novel's climax, after Jay has allowed himself to be humiliated for the greater good (incidentally, it's for his own greater good, which kind of renders the stab at redemption completely hollow, don't you think?) he throws the gun off the side of a bridge. OMGMETAPHOR.

Bleurgh, don't read it.

Do read Alexander McCall-Smith's Von Igelfield series. Really, do. I've just finished it and it's great. It made me LOLIL.**

*also, why do crime writers insist on setting things in bayous? Is it some kind of genre-wide dare? "Include a bayou in your next novel and get 20% off at the 2009 Crime Writers' Convention?" Anyway, I wish they'd stop it, I am sick of reading about bayous and also not really knowing what they are doesn't really help.

**LOLIL - Laugh Out Loud In (the) Library. It's basically a stronger form of LOL - slightly less restrained than a quiet chuckle, but without descending into the all-out, side-splitting hilarity of a ROFL. I made it up. You're welcome.


Holly said...

Meh. Doesn't sound like something I'd want to read either. :/

Sandy said...

LOLIL! Thank you for warning me off that one. Love your blog! Came here following a link on Mr London Street's blog and I am glad I did.
Do visit The Village Idiot sometime.

IT IS ALLY said...

Holly - exactly!

Sandy - Thank you for visiting!