Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Christopher Brookmyre: All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye

This is my second attempt at this post, having made a complete balls of the first one.

Here's what I said about Christopher Brookmyre in an earlier post, last September, about another writer altogether:

...a crime writer who is really smart. Brookmyre can provide paragraphs and even whole pages which offer writing of the very highest standard; he's funny too. From the beginning, Brookmyre seems to have been praised to the skies. And, being nothing if not human, he has believed what the critics say. And the painful truth is that, one way and another, he has gone sadly astray. I have had to give up on both his last two books after a couple of hundred pages.

Well, Mr Brookmyre is a sufficiently promising lad for me to have another try. And when I heard that his latest but one, All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye, had won the Wodehouse prize (for comic fiction), I made it my business to get hold of a copy. And I'm afraid that, once again, I didn't get on very well. Gave up after about 75 pages this time.

When I read the book (or tried to) I had temporarily forgotten that it had won the Wodehouse prize, and now that I've remembered I have to say that I find that win faintly astonishing. Earlier books of his had raised the odd smile, but not this one.

My notes on the book read as follows: Opening is a bit too confusing for my taste.... Pages and pages re Jane and nothing happening. It's all backstory.... p.60 clever... It's a flabby, loose, floppy book. A tad self-indulgent.

So I stopped reading. But since it is one of my key beliefs that a good novel will include lots of dialogue, and since there were some pages that didn't feature any, I had a quick look through the rest of the book. So far as I could see, pages 173 to 182 offered no dialogue whatever.

All of this is doubly disappointing because Brookmyre promised so much. His first novel, ten years ago, was Quite Ugly one Morning. Visit his own web site and he cheerfully tells you (because he's a Glaswegian by birth) that the reviews divide into Good, Awrite, and Shite. And the only two he quotes are negative. But overall he got a good welcome.

Since then he's continued to get a good press. For A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away (2001) he got 13 Good reviews, 2 Awrites, and 2 Shites (both from Scottish papers, which presumably didn't like the portrait of Scotland which was provided).

Broookmyre undoubtedly has fans. His web site offers a discussion forum, which tells me that there are 651 members who have raised 376 topics. But, so far as I know, Brookmyre has never had a really big smash hit. Just using reference books that are readily to hand, I find that he does not figure, for instance, in 2001's list of the top 100 UK paperback sellers (and Boiling a Frog was published in paperback in May 2001, so he had the chance).

However, whether I like it or not, I am obliged to repeat that All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye has just won the Wodehouse Prize. And last year's winner was A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which has gone on to sell in huge numbers; so maybe Brookmyre will now make it big.

I bear Mr Brookmyre no ill will, you see. It's just that I find it all so disappointing. Properly handled, this guy coulda been a contender. As it is, I'm afraid I have to regard him as just another fighter on the bill: one of those who gets in the ring while most people are still in the bar, greeting their friends and placing a bet on the main event.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it's very disappointing when you fail to see what so many others find hilarious. I wanted to like Brookmyre but when I picked up his latest novel in the shop, I couldn't get past the first paragraph. At least with Jasper Fforde I reached about halfway before deciding that as I hadn't laughed so far, I was unlikely to at all

Anne Weale said...

Re GOB's comment in yesterday's Victorian porn Part 2 blog "…even in this day and age, many of the English live in abject terror of all forms of human sexuality."
Some people feel the English are obsessed by sex.

Passing the romance shelves in my public library this week, I glanced at the display of face-forward books and noticed one was The Sex Diet. Quite a clever title, I suppose, combining two things thought to be of irresistible interest to women readers. But perhaps self-defeating because many readers would feel uncomfortable presenting the book at the check-out desk.

Reviewing it, Harriet Klausner, a well-known reviewer, wrote, "Fans will appreciate this humorous tale of lust in the kitchen."

Perhaps, but there are now several online forums where readers recommend books in which sex is not the main ingredient. Judging by their posts, they are not elderly prudes, just bored by a surfeit of sex scenes.

Anonymous said...

Brookmyre's Saul Bass inspired book covers are quite nice.

Maxine Clarke said...

Yes, I like the covers too, but find the actual books unreadable.

Also Jonathan Lethem, I struggled through one of his but although many people I know think he is great, not my cup of tea either.

Debi said...

Just goes to show the subjective nature of reading (of course!).

I loved Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn and (with one exception) really enjoy C Brookmyre ...

This is fuel for a post I have lurking re the role of comedy in crime ...

Anonymous said...

Not my cup of tea either. Which is a shame, because I thought I was going to really enjoy AFAGUSLAE - mainly because I too liked the cover.

What was it my mum told me about that...