Jarv’s Holiday Reading Part 3
This is the last part of the whole “holiday reading” marathon, and for the finale I’m covering 3 books, one of them is a mini-review and the other two will be in more depth.
A Clockwork Orange
There isn’t a huge amount I can add to the reams and reams written about this book. It’s probably my favourite novel of all time, and a book that I come back to periodically and find something to enjoy in it every time I do.
What I can talk about, is that the edition I read was the first time the full version of A Clockwork Orange was available to Americans, and as such contains Burgess’ introduction “Clockwork Orange Resucked”. This introduction is absolutely fascinating. Burgess lays out the production history of his novel, and it’s funny how times have changed. The proper novel, which contains the redemption chapter, was apparently “not dark enough” for American readers- which is hilarious considering the amount of things nowadays that are toned down for the US. Kubrick only read the American version, which Burgess sniffily dismisses as a “fable” as opposed to a novel, and as such Burgess believes that the film was fundamentally flawed. He’s right.
I was aware that Burgess grew to dislike the novel and detest the film, but I was actually unaware as to how virulent his feelings towards it are. He says that he considers Clockwork Orange to be a bad book for being overly didactic, and that he resents the fact that he’s basically known for his juvenile work, whereas his other, more adult and more developed novels are ignored. Anyhow, for what it’s worth, if I was going to buy another copy of this book for whatever reason, then I’d certainly search out this edition.
Nevertheless, A Clockwork Orange is a fucking seminal novel, an absolute monster of English writing, and if you haven’t read it then, O My Brothers, seek it out, and you will not be disappointed.
Jarv’s Rating: Do I really have to do this? 4 Changs.
This is a tough one to review, because the novel is just so surreal, nevertheless, I’m giving it a shot.
The Resurrectionist is Jack O’Connell’s third (or it may be fourth) Quinsigamond book (for the record, I haven’t read any of the others). Quinsigamond is a dilapidated town in America’s “rust belt” that barely even qualifies as a shithole. It’s a nightmarish place that reeks of decay and decrepitude. Dominating the landscape is the neo-gothic Peck Clinic where experimental Doctor Peck and his daughter Alice treat long-term coma patients in the hope that they may be able to prompt an “awakening”.
The Resurrectionist is about Sweeney, a pharmacist with serious mental problems, who has abandoned a great job to move his comatose son Danny to the Peck clinic in hope of a revival. The novel deals with his encounters with the outlaw biker gang, The Abominations, and revealing the mystery of Danny’s accident and his mother’s suicide.
That summary doesn’t really do the novel justice. O’Connell takes us on a twisted and bizarre journey through the subconscious, and it’s a nightmarish read. Half of the novel consists of extracts from the comic “Limbo” written by the reclusive Menlo, about the misadventures of a travelling group of circus freaks. Limbo is, incidentally, where the biker gang try to go through injecting “the soup”, a strange and volatile narcotic that has, amongst other unmentioned ingredients, the brain juice drained from the cerebral shunts of the coma victims at the Peck clinic.
If I’m absolutely honest, I have to say that the extracts from Limbo (especially the tragic denouement) are absolutely riveting and overshadow the actual narrative. This is because Sweeney, as a character, is a complete asshole, and following his assholish antics around town is much less compelling than the adventures of Chick, Bruno and the other freaks.
The Resurrectionist considers lots of things, the power of narrative, the need for forgiveness, alienation, and what is consciousness, but does it with such a light touch that it’s very easy to miss these themes.
The Resurrectionist is a sad, strange novel that flirts with genuine brilliance. It’s challenging and intelligent and I have to say more than worth a read.
Jarv’s Rating: 3.5 Changs out of 4.
A pity to finish on this, but nevertheless, I’m going to end on a downer. I knew this was a bad book when I read it the first time, but I was toying with doing a full length review and so reread it in the vague hope that I was being harsh. I wasn’t.
Weathercock is the novel Duncan was meant to be writing when he penned I, Lucifer. It’s a massive, weighty treatise on the nature of good and evil and the choices that men make. It’s also an epic failure. Duncan is a talented writer, and has a real way with description, but fuck me is this book terrible. It’s obvious that he was blocked, and reads exactly like he knew how to end it, just not how to get to his preferred ending.
Weathercock is the “autobiography” of Dominic Hood, a foul sadist, and tells the story of his life, but particularly two miracles and his on-off relationship with the damaged and cruel Deborah Black. Hood is religious, in that he believes in god and the devil, but ascribes his sadistic urges to the devil. He seeks validation from a barely remembered childhood priest called Ignatious Malone, and the novel builds layers of nihilism up to a limp and soggy climax.
There are good things about Weathercock, Duncan can turn a memorable phrase, and the childhood section is well written and believable, however, this is nowhere near enough to compensate for the absolutely ginormous flaw in the novel.
Basically, the problem with this book is that it has aspirations that Duncan can’t meet, and to explain why I’m going to have to spoil the end of the book, so if you’re interested in the novel, skip the next paragraph:
The climax of the novel, but not the end- it waffles on for about 100 pages afterwards, takes place in a cellar in Pennsylvania where Hood and Black are preparing for murder. Dominic is waiting for some sign, some climactic instance, that will show the existance of supernatural evil. He doesn’t get one, and is forced to conclude that the shitty and sadistic things he’s done were not inspired by the devil, but merely done for gratification.
No. Shit. The conclusion drawn by the novel that that the only evil is man made is so completely and utterly banal, and so dreadfully anticlimactic, that it throws the rest of the novel into utter disarray.
The problem here is that without the big and profound conclusion (which that certainly is not) what you are left with is 500 grubby pages of nasty sadism. Hood tortures an autistic girl (for sexual kicks) emotionally devastates his fiancée (for sexual kicks) and is preparing for torture and murder (for sexual kicks). He is aware of his own depravity, but is trying to find an excuse for it by passing it on to forces greater than him.
So why write it? it isn’t, despite what it thinks, a profound novel. It isn’t an important novel. It doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been done better elsewhere (notably A Clockwork Orange above), and as such is completely and utterly redundant.
So why read it? Well, I read it because of I, Lucifer and the excellent Love Remains, and I have to say that it’s scared me off reading any more of Duncan’s novels. I will come back to the author at some point, but this is a real dog of a novel. My best advice is: don’t read it.
Jarv’s Rating: Orangutan of Doom, and very well earned. What we have here is a massive case of an author overreaching himself, writing beyond his ability and insight and the sheer banality of Weathercock, and the sheer level of failure outweigh the many good points.
Well, a shame to finish on that piss poor garbage, but that’s now me done with the holiday books.
Adios, it’s been emotional.