Tuesday, March 13, 2007

the last book I read

Mr. Phillips by John Lanchester.

If you've read John Lanchester's first novel, The Debt To Pleasure, then it's quite hard not to view this, his second novel, through the prism of the first one. That one has an absurdly over-the-top and unreliable narrator, a hugely flowery and descriptive prose style, and ultimately (if the narrator's arch hints are to be believed, anyway) somewhat grotesque and macabre subject matter. Highly recommended, though, especially if you like food (and who doesn't?) - an appropriately foody amuse-bouche, if you will, is available here.

Mr. Phillips, by contrast, has a much more mundane and everyday central character (it's also written in the third person as opposed to the first person, which limits the scope for florid internal monologues) who has a series of much more mundane and everyday encounters, almost as if to provide a deliberate contrast with the first book. It's a great tribute to the author's talents, then, that this is still effortlessly readable, even when Mr. Phillips is just sitting on a bus musing about inconsequential things, or the accountancy job he's just been made redundant from (which provides the jumping-off point for his day of mini-adventures, such as they are). It's shot through with some very sly humour as well, which those who favour the more clunking-fist-to-the-jaw approach (see the previous TLBIR post) would do well to take note of.

The lesson here, I suppose, is that if you can write as well as this you can make any subject matter interesting. Further evidence of this can be found in Lanchester's regular-ish columns for the London Review Of Books; articles on everything from Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter books to a psycho-economic profile of Rupert Murdoch to a techno-cultural analysis of the Google phenomenon , and much more.

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