The book in question is about eight inches tall and five inches wide with some three hundred and twelve pages of text, plus sundries, contained between its covers. The front cover features, along with the title of the work and its author’s name or pseudonym, a depiction of the silhouette of either an owl or a hunch-back against a grey stone wall. In the owl’s (or hunch-back’s) hand is a revolver, possibly (spoiler alert!) service issue. The back cover features an author photograph that I elected to cover with masking tape before I commenced reading.
The book is written with consummate competence. Characters are introduced and described, conversations take place, chapters begin and end with calming regularity. The main character, for whom the book is named, is skilfully drawn, although his hanging and quartering leave much to be desired. The story is well plotted and not once does the author give away the surprise ending – not even at the end.
In comparison with other recent major works, the present book is slightly less good than the one about the suburban family who are superficially perfect but in reality are a seething mess of resentment and hatred whose empty lives are emblematic of the modern human condition let’s all kill ourselves; on the other hand, the present book is slightly more good than the one about the guy who is middle-aged and going through a crisis that mainly involves having an affair with a younger woman and experiencing extended sequences of remembering stuff from his youth.
If I had one complaint about this book, this paragraph would be several sentences shorter. Despite its well-writteness, the book’s success is undermined by its author’s insistence on showing off. Time and again the reader is confronted by incomprehensible foreign words and phrases (“The maitre’d handed me a menu”; “Zis is – how you say? – most désagréable”; “Nine!”). Then there are the in-jokes and word-plays, the most egregious example being chapter eight which is written entirely in semaphore. In addition, the book exhibits a lack of heart, of soul. If only the author had followed the advice offered by his book’s title, this may have been the masterpiece of the season!
That said, the author is obviously talented and one can only imagine what his future holds. I personally envisage a steady rise to moderate popularity and critical success followed by a sudden but not unexpected fade to a lower tier where he will toil ceaselessly and fruitlessly until finally cirrhosis of the liver or some other pathetic writers’ ailment delivers him from this vale of tears into the ever-loving robéd arms of God the Almighty. But that’s just me. Maybe he’ll just win the Booker and have a whole bunch of wives.
In any event, the present book is certainly readable, provided one has the necessary level of English comprehension and a functioning eye or two. While not quite a rollicking good read it is nevertheless thought-provoking and not all of the thoughts it provokes are about the things one could be doing if one were not engaged in reading the book. It is above all a warm book, especially when ignited with the aid of matches or a cigarette lighter, and one whose wisdom and joy will fill the reader’s heart, especially if the reader happens to fall prey to an insane scientist bent on creating a grotesque human-book hybrid. In summary, this is the perfect summer read, although please note that this assessment is based on a simulated summer reading environment and may not reflect the book’s performance under actual summer reading conditions.