Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I've Seen It In Your Eyes And I've Read It In Books

Or in other words, it's time to take a look at Dead Kenny's recent night-time reading. Starting with Chuck Palahniuk's Diary, described in today's NME as a 'nihilist masterpiece'. Palahniuk's kinda taken over from Bret Easton Ellis as my favourite current novelist, but the pre-publicity admission that his latest is a 'homage' to Rosemary's Baby, didn't sound too promising. After all, isn't 'homage' just a fancy word for saying you've run out of ideas and decided to rip off someone else's instead?

Luckily, Diary does contain some ideas of its own, and is as much a meditation on art and creativity as it is a tale of supernatural possession. It also has to be said that the presence of a more linear narrative and a neat ending will make the book much more accessible to a wider audience than his previous work. On the downside, this is by some way Palahniuk's least funniest and least original book, with a premise probably more befitting a short story than a full-length novel. Also, Palahniuk's use of repetitive phraseology (here concerning graphology and facial muscle descriptions), so effective in books like 'Invisible Monsters', feels a little redundant in 'Diary', almost as if he felt the need to flesh out the narrative via some familiar stylistic devices. But even if it is time Chuck tried some new tricks, you can't deny that 'Diary' is an engrossing enough page-turner that'll keep you spooked over the long autumn nights.

Talking of being spooked, a couple of strange things happened while reading Ray Loriga's Tokyo Doesn't Love Us Anymore (translated by John King). First up, there's a part in the story when one character asks another the date and the answer is September 12th, and that was the exact date I was reading that page. What are the odds on that? Um OK, 365.25-1, you pedants, but still, freaky huh? And then a bit later on, the main character discusses having recently seen Hitchcock's 'The Birds', which again, I'd only watched a couple of days earlier. That's way too much synchronicity for my frazzled brain, friends - particularly from a book which is a bit of a mindfuck in its own right, anyway.

Plotting isn't Loriga's strongpoint but what there is surrounds a narrator who is travelling the world selling a drug which eradicates short-term memory and provides relief from guilt and remorse for his expanding clientbase. Trouble starts when he himself becomes addicted to his wares, and via a world tour of drinking, fucking and pill-popping he finds his identity crumbling as his memories dissolve, possibly forever. With the company he works for and a group of pro-memory activists all after his merchandise, his goldfish-like existence puts what's left of his life in danger.

Loriga's present-tense first-person narrative from a cynical observer seemingly detached from his own existence very much brings to mind Camus' 'L'Etranger', while the premise of a drug dealer as confidante/healer is reminiscent of Paul Schrader's 'Light Sleeper'. Stir in the future dread of Philip K Dick and the exotic sexual tourism of Michel Houellebecq and we have what could be glibly described as 'The Bourne Identity' as envisaged by William Burroughs. Yet despite all these ingredients from past greats, Loriga manages to concoct a heady and distinctive brew, notably proving himself a sensational master of the stunning simile, including some fantastic soccer analogies. And if you like your humour black and dipped in absinthe, it's a bloody funny read as well as being much nearer to a nihilist masterpiece than 'Diary'.

Still, back to business. The Business by Iain Banks to be more precise. I bought this book about four years ago, but only got round to reading it just recently. Plot-wise, it shares a lot of common ground with William Gibson's 'Pattern Recognition' - a female prodigy given unlimited funds to trot the globe and solve an enigmatic riddle for a shadowy gubernational organisation. The book has a leisurely pace with long descriptive passages and is in effect a modern-day fairytale with a seemingly touching faith in compassionate capitalism, perhaps not surprising from a novel written during the honeymoon period of the Blair era. The lead character is a slightly unbelievable hybrid of Nicola Horlick and Lady Penelope from The Thunderbirds, but otherwise The Business is an intelligently-written book with more than its fair share of ideas, making for escapism that doesn't insult your intellect. Worth checking out, particularly if you liked the Gibson book.


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