Thursday, November 09, 2006

Jon Courtenay Grimwood: End of the World Blues

When I reviewed Jon Courtney Grimwood's last book, 9tail Fox, I suggested that it belonged in a genre with the label 'speculative fiction'. I was ticked off by one commenter, who said that that was just a euphemism for science fiction; but another commenter pointed out that science fiction and fantasy quite often overlap, and that sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two, and that speculative fiction is a pretty good term to cover books which don't fit comfortably into either category.

I'm inclined to agree with the second bloke. So I think I will call End of the World Blues speculative fiction.

The action takes place mostly in the present, or near future, but it's a world with a slightly different feel to it somehow; a kind of parallel universe. For one thing, it's a world in which Gully Jimson paints nudes. In that world we have the story of Kit Nouveau, a British ex-soldier with wounds in the head. Kit has ended up in Tokyo, where he has a potter wife and runs a bar for bikers.

Running alongside that story, and intertwined with it, we have the story of a teenage girl with dual identity. On the one hand she is Nijie, who has stolen fifteen million dollars and who rescues Kit from a man with a gun by driving an ivory spike into the gunman's head. And on the other hand, some long, long way into the future (I think), she is also Lady Neku, aka Baroness Nawa-no-ukiyo and other names, who is trying to get out of an arranged marriage and lives in a castle which talks to her.

At which point I hope you understand why I think this book is neither pure science fiction or fantasy. It is, in fact, a fairly hard-edged thriller, but not too gory, set in a strange world and peopled by odd characters. People get murdered, places get blown up, our hero is in peril, our heroine is in peril, and all like that.

I found it pretty entertaining on the whole, but it definitely isn't going to appeal to everyone. The plot, it is fair to say, is extremely complicated, with bluff and counter-bluff, and dead people who come back to life; and that's just in the 'real' world. In Lady Neku's world it's even more complicated. You really have to pay attention to what's going on, and remember things.

Round about page 230 (out of 342), I thought the action was starting to flag a bit, but at that point, within ten pages, the story perked up again. Now that I regard as the sign of a writer who knows what he's doing. I was rather impressed. And from then on I was carried along quite fast to the end.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood is a former winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel (Felaheen), and if he writes slightly weird books it's hardly surprising, because he himself was officially dead for two years.


Armchair Anarchist said...

You're right about having to pay attention, it's a damn tricky novel.

I have to say I was disappointed, but that's probably because I approached it as a work of science fiction, which (to be picky) it isn't at all; Lady Neku's life may seem science fictional, but it isn't actually 'real' in the same way that the rest of the narrative is, it's some sort of Jungian story she's telling herself to explain her equally bizarre life in baseline reality.

Or at least that's how I saw it.

Rowena Hailey said...
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Great data for Decking Ipe for sale said...

As a fan of Murakami, one can see the influences. A well written novel, a sequentially bit confusing at times, but probably one of the top five novels that I have read this past year.