Wednesday, January 28, 2009

the last book I read

So I Am Glad by A. L. Kennedy.

Picture the scene: you're looking for a new flatmate for your shared house in Glasgow, and a mysterious bloke turns up one day who claims to be the reincarnated spirit of Cyrano de Bergerac. Also, he seems to glow in the dark slightly. Well, we've all been there.

A little bit of background: the narrator, Jennifer, is a voice-over artist getting over a mutually abusive S&M-style relationship with a work colleague. The bits of back-story we are fed throughout the book reveal that her parents were somewhat kinky exhibitionists who thought nothing of having sex in front of her as well as in dangerous situations like while driving. We are told late in the book that they died in a car crash, and are invited to draw the unspoken but obvious conclusion, as well as the conclusion that it's because of all this that she now has difficulty with intimacy and hence the fetish for impersonal sex games, with the binding and the whipping and the chains and all.

Eventually Jennifer and Savinien (de Bergerac's real first name, just in case you didn't follow the Wikipedia link earlier) start up a tentative (and non-S&M-based) relationship, while all the time Savinien's memory of his previous life is gradually restored. After a few adventures prompted by the culture clash between his 17th-century upbringing and modern Glasgow he decides that he must return to Paris, specifically the district of Paris where he died in 1655 and where past and present come together at the end of the book.

There's really nothing wrong with any of this, but I can't say I was blown away by it. We have to assume, given that Savinien interacts with the other housemates in Jennifer's presence, that he's not just a figment of her imagination (unles she's seriously delusional), so the glow-in-the-dark stuff is never really adequately explained; I guess it's just meant to denote a general ghostiness. Also, once the initial mystery has been resolved (i.e. is he just a nutter or is he really Cyrano) there's not really anywhere tremendously exciting for the story to go.

But Kennedy has a readable and intermittently comic turn of phrase, as befits someone who occasionally moonlights in stand-up comedy. I think perhaps she's one of those writers who may be best suited to the short story medium - I read her collection Original Bliss a while back and thought it was very good.

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