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Monday, 20 May 2013

A.M. HOMES - THIS BOOK WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. NOVEL.

This is a very curious book. And also kind of addictive and wonderful.

It is the story of Richard Novak, who lives in LA and who has made money in finance.

We know almost nothing about him at first, he is undescribed, faceless, seemingly anonymous.

Los Angeles, and its natural environment, are also key elements in the novel. There is a sink-hole in the ground that is expanding and threatening to envelop Richard's house. Also there is tar soaking through walls and into buildings. Then forest fires start, and threaten to burn down the whole city. Things are unstable, crumbling.

This is mirrored in the character of the protagonist, Richard. His world too is unstable. He has tried to gain a measure of control over everything by sticking to a routine, hardly leaving his house, shutting himself off from new experiences, keeping to a strict diet.

Yet one day he experiences a bout of intense, full-body pain that throws him into agony and forces him to go to the hospital. His health issue makes him reassess his life, and prods him back out into the world again, to meet people and take chances again.

And he goes from one extreme to another. From the life of a quasi-hermit to someone who performs acts of great bravery, who becomes friends with famous people, who attracts all kinds of eccentrics. "You're like a freak magnet," one of the other characters says to him at one stage.

Like The Place Beyond the Pines, this is another story of fathers and sons. Richard's key trauma is his lack of a relationship with his son, Ben. Richard's regret at not being there for Ben when he was growing up is the central reason for the existential crisis that he goes through, and their reconnection is the key to Richard's reawakening.

The book is curious for a number of reasons. For one thing, the novel is peopled with characters, famous, eccentric, colourful, though we hardly know what any of them look like. They are kind of faceless. The reader has to do the work of imagining a physical presence for each of them.

And the narrative just proceeds along relentlessly, from one strange and slightly surreal encounter to the next bizarre happening, all told as if we were listening to the news, totally deadpan. It is all so underplayed, and yet so intriguing and entertaining, that it takes a while to get used to the style.

Once you do, it is a story that draws you in, slowly but steadily. It also succeeds in making you want the best for all the characters, they are all flawed and ambivalent, but also completely likeable.

The novel is funny, horrifying, intriguing, perplexing, addictive. It may not save your life, but it will make it briefly better.


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