The fat Scotch slug scorches a trail from tonsils to stomach.
– Hugo Long has a drink, in The Bone Clocks
There’s something to be said for books that focus on the every day, on human habits and mistakes, on the small things that make up much of our lives.
For those who yearn for a quiet life, the unexpected twist can be just as disruptive as the fantastical madness some novelists drop into a character’s path. How on earth can you remain connected to friends and family when you’re trying to solve some sort of supernatural lunacy?
Consider The Golem Of Hollywood (2014), written by bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman, with his son, Jesse Kellerman (one of the many books offered to Lennoxville Library patrons during the recent Adopt-A-Book campaign).
In Jewish culture, a golem, you’ll recall, is a clay figure come to life. (The best-known tale of a golem dates back to a rabbi in the Prague of the 1500s, who fashioned mud into human shape to help protect Jews from persecution.)
But our hero is Detective Lev, a sensitive homicide cop in 21st century Hollywood who’s been transferred to the traffic division. He’s twice divorced and can’t get out of bed without a shot of Jim Beam. He finds himself suddenly shipped back into a murder investigation when a head is discovered. As the inquiry moves forward, things keep getting weirder and weirder.
Lev’s new boss doesn’t seem to exist, and the detective keeps hitting dead ends. Nothing is right.
Here’s the tale of a guy struggling with his life, who eats hot dogs morning, noon and night, and is hoping for love (or at least someone to spend a couple of hours with). He’s trying to solve a killing the old-fashioned way, by talking to suspects and potential witnesses, although the murderer may not be human. Interspersed with the modern-day narrative is a tale dating back to the time of Cain and Abel.
Now how can Lev find work/life balance with all this madness about?
In similar fashion, there’s The Bone Clocks (2014), another Adopt-A-Book. English author David Mitchell is known for writing long, complex novels that jump about in time and space, yet offer a carefully considered narrative.
This book (sort of) follows the life of Holly Sykes, first glimpsed as a working-class 15-year-old who runs away from home after her mother tries some tough love.
Each chapter is set in a different decade, beginning in 1984 – and each chapter is a novella in its own right. These are carefully crafted personality profiles of people who play a decisive role in the tale of Holly Sykes.
That first chapter portrays the United Kingdom of then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher, a controversial conservative: “The washing-up water glurps down the plug-hole, a teaspoon clatters in the sink, and Bob Dylan has a cardiac arrest halfway through ‘All Along The Watchtower’. Oh, no! The tape’s being eaten: when I press eject, a tangle of brown spaghetti spills out.”
But there’s something slightly off. As a child, Sykes had an imaginary friend. Now that she’s on her own, complete strangers are far too nice to her – in exchange, they say, for what she will do for them in the future.
She is, it seems, in the middle of a war.
So are her friends, acquaintances and family. Although for them, the battles are more mundane. There’s Hugo Long, a pick-up artist in 1991: “The choir troops out but the woman stays put. A tourist aims his fat camera at the Rubens before Security Goblin snarls, ‘No flash!’ The chancel empties, the goblin returns to his booth by the organ, and minutes trickle by. My Rolex says 3:30. I’ve an essay to polish on Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, but an eerie goddess is sitting six feet away, waiting for me to make a move.”
There’s a driven journalist stationed in Iraq, who survives a suicide bomber by accidentally bending over to tie up his laces. There’s an author whose career is tanking, his latest book trashed by a protégé, a “friend” who can taste the top lit crit spot he’s poised to usurp.
It’s only in the last three chapters that the speculative fiction aspect is front and centre. (What’s up in 2025? “The national networks hadn’t run with the story, due to yesterday’s gun massacre at Beck Creek, Texas, the reignited Sankaku/Diaoyu standoff between China and Japan, and Justin Bieber’s fifth divorce.”)
Still, there’s always something strange just beyond Sykes’ ken, but she can feel… something’s off. How to cope?
Mitchell is best-known for 2004’s Cloud Atlas, shortlisted for the Booker Prize and made into a satisfying Hollywood movie (Cloud Atlas is on the adult fiction shelves, as is Mitchell’s semi-autobiographical Black Swan Green , narrated by a 13-year-old stutterer).
Once you’re done these two good reads, it’s back to dusting and laundry. Until the next book!
– Eleanor Brown, November 14, 2014