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November 5, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | November 5, 2008 |

Recommended by Julie, I expected this to be filthy and dirty and raunchy and hilarious, and I was not let down. Just kidding, kiddo.

This felt very British/Scottish. Perhaps that’s a bit jingoistic of me, and it’s not a complaint necessarily, because I adore Brit Lit, but it just oozed that lingo from every pore. The slang, the feel, the banter, it all just fair reeked for tea and krumpets and fags and whisky. I don’t know why I feel the need to point out the Britishness of the book, and it’s a strange feeling. It’s like when you are describing a friend of yours to someone, and you feel the need to throw in, “That’s Tony. He’s black.” Or gay. Or crippled. It’s not as if it alters the story, or puts it in a certain context. It’s just a designator I feel like I have to throw out there in case other people have reservations about the book. Or Tony. That black, gay cripple.

This book reminded me simultaneously of anything Hugh Grant has ever done — again, not a complaint — and the essence of the film A Life Less Ordinary. Because it’s a strange story from the get-go, and the chapters are framed by a conversation with God. God defends himself and his creation of humans and attraction to one another using scientific principles to explain why we’re fucked up and it’s not his fault.

The story God chooses to let us follow involves Tom, a ghostwriter of popular biographies, as he’s given a new assignment: To pen the life of Georgina Nye, a huge soap opera star and also a perennial favorite of Tom’s long time girlfriend, Sara. Sara is Scottish to the bone, speaking in Och’s and Aye’s and Tch’s. She works in a freezer store (have no idea what this is, though I picture an entire store filled with freezers selling frozen foods), and is delightfully chipper, crude, and adorable. But Georgina is instantly charismatic, alluring, and appetizing. So naturally, Tom wants to start an affair, finding himself drawn to her. He tries to balance having a wild sex romp with George, while still trying to maintain some sort of loving relationship with Sara.

The entire story is told from the perspective of Tom, and he’s got an outstanding inner monologue banter that’s instantaneously hilarious and fumbling. I loved reading this book, but only because Tom is such a shifty, cock-following wanker, and I desperately wanted to see him get destroyed by his machinations. It’s kind of the opposite of Lolita — where you find yourself charmed by what’s essentially a child molester, and find it difficult to loathe him. In this, I wanted Tom to suffer. I wanted to see him get destroyed. And you live in the head of an unapologetic, and shamefully narcissistic prick. It’s a fascinating study in the mind of a cheater, or at least this cheater. Both female characters are written delightfully, and it’s easy to understand why Tom would desire both. Which is a difficult task to pull off without getting sentimental or cartoony. And this in a book where one the female protagonists headbutts a drunken slag at a company party.

I could have done without the God monologues, though essentially, the book wouldn’t have a title without them. God is the worst character, at times coming off like a cowboy, or a brash New York cabbie, or just a jerk. It’s a poorly written gimmick, and completely distracting to the plot. There’s no payoff for having God narrate, and that’s the part where I find it like A Life Less Ordinary. You have a not so bad guy (sort of) doing terrible things, and there’s this weird religious dichotomy being throw in there. Now, Danny Boyle used his angels well in A Life Less Ordinary, but not so much for Mr. Millington. If I were writing a movie, I’d cast out God, or rewrite his part with better lines and a cool narrator. Iggy Pop, or Sting, or Anthony Stewart Head or someone.

The ending is a bit of a letdown after such a rollicking build up. The book kind of had to end the way it did, and I’m not faulting the author for the choices, just the actual methodology. It can end happy or sad or realistically without getting as goony and awkward and fumbled as it felt. And it’s a shame, because as I said, Tom’s a great narrator; he’s just a dickwad.

I’m just thankful I’ve yet to have to execute anyone for a recommendation. That’s two for two on Miss Julie. I owe her a beer. Or a pint and crisps. Oh, fuck. I’ve caught the lingo.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | November 5, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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