This is the second book I’ve finished in my contemporary literary survey, and the most enjoyable so far – but all the same, I still have quite a lot of reservations. It’s the kind of thing I imagine Tom McCarthy would like to write (if only he had the talent), except it has characters and a plot and a lot of interesting ideas.
What’s It About, Then?
A man wakes up without any recollection of his past and …. but almost anything I say would give away what is most enjoyable about the book, which is the series of ideas that are subsequently thrown at you. In many ways it’s a strange book, falling more in the category of SF than literary fiction – obsessed with its own ideas, constructing its own coherent and different universe etc. Another genre one might want to throw at it is horror: there were parts I felt genuinely unsettled reading.
So What Wasn’t So Good About It?
Well, like most SF, it isn’t exactly very well written. Functionally so, let’s say, with the odd spattering of passages that made me wince. One particular tick Steven Hall has is an obsession with compounding two verbs together with a hyphen to make a third verb, for instance: “splash-ducked”, “tinny-chattered”, “throw-twisting” – although these were less common in the latter half of the book, so perhaps by then he’d worked it out of his system.
And What Else?
- There’s a well-drawn cat in it, for people who like cats.
- Steven Hall has a fair appreciation of human emotion, which I find usually tends to fall by the wayside in SF/popular fiction
- It contains the most soppy passages of romance between a man and a woman since Hemingway