24 September 2011

Glover's Mistake, by Nick Laird

I adore Nick Laird's prose. It's charming: expressive and friendly but somehow also elegant. It has that British quality of slightly goofy, self-deprecation, but also its sophistication. It's a pleasure to read. With this novel, however, he's set himself the very difficult task of starting with a likable character and chronicling his transformation into a bit of a monster. It's not a very pleasant experience. In fact, everyone in the book becomes less likable, increasingly petty and trivial and thoughtlessly cruel.

The book is told entirely from the main character's perspective, except for a bit at the end that seemingly randomly switches to someone else's. I think that the purpose of the switch is to somewhat redeem that other character, who was starting to look like a complete jerk, and to make you aware of how much your view of the events was con trained by the increasingly limited and small minded vision of the protagonist. It's an interesting move, but it's not entirely successful, precisely because our outlook has already been so poisoned. I suppose, then, that one could see the novel as a kind of cautionary tale about, well, not being a jerk.

Actually, one could go further and say that it's a reflection on how spending too much time on the internet, anonymously blogging your toxic views, can turn you into an asshole. It's not necessarily that your vicious posts will come back around and have hurtful consequences, though sometimes they do. It's more that it affirms you in your viciousness. The novel illustrates this in a sublimely subtle way - it's actually quite masterful.

Thinking about it, then, it's a much more interesting novel than I initially gave it credit for. At the same time, I can't say it was an entirely enjoyable read. I guess I didn't fully realize what I was in for - I picked it up thinking it would be a light-hearted leisure read, like his other novel, Utterly Monkey (which I really enjoyed). And it started off so warm and likable that I kept waiting for it to get back to that. So I guess at the end of the day, I think it's a pretty good book, just be forewarned - it's a pretty dark sort of read.

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