Our narrator feels the sound of a cork drawn from a Jean-Max Roger Sancerre “like the caress of a summer breeze,” “innocent toes” are imagined lined up “like children in a family photo,” his first headache is “a gaudy bandana,” a moment of silence is “creamily thick” while at another moment something “hangs in the air, like a Beijing smog.” Some of these comparisons are quite good, although most are barren of the thematic resonance that would make them great.
Sometimes the writing strains and groans with the pressure of its own self-conscious preciosity, as when the narrator pictures his mother “youngly slumped” on a table and then tells us he “insist[s] on the adverb,” which means that Mc Ewan does.
As for plot, it’s straightforward enough, “the classic tale of murder and deceit” we were promised in the blurb: pregnant Trudy has taken on a lover, Claude.
Together, they plan to murder Trudy’s husband, John, who is also Claude’s brother. Money, of course, in the form of the marital home, a “Georgian pile on boastful Hamilton Terrace” whose “six thousand aching square feet will buy you seven million pounds,” even in its dilapidated state.
You can almost see him penciling that in for his editor.
More importantly, the metaphors don’t make sense because our narrator has never experienced or seen any of the vehicles he uses, just as he’s never seen a table or knows what it is to slump.So perhaps we have here an indication that the author has given up on his obsession with the real, that he has come to terms with the fact that he writes about characters and events that are not factual.He has dealt with the question: if none of this is real, then why go to such lengths to make sure that it appears to be? In the next line, the narrator thinks, “But the actual, the circumscribed real, is absorbing too and I’m impatient for Claude to return and us what really happened.” Old habits are hard to kill.Our narrator has pretentious tastes: an audiobook of James Joyce’s “thrills” him, but sends his mother to sleep.He also knows a lot about wine, which he is apparently able to taste even though it is “decanted through a healthy placenta.” Mc Ewan enjoys peppering his novels with mouth-watering descriptions of food and drink (I often dream of the seafood stew in ), and he hasn’t found a reason not to do so, quite elaborately, even from this undeveloped perspective.Not just faster, but louder, like the hollow knocking sound of faulty plumbing. Her bowels are loosening, with a squeaky stretching sound, and higher up, somewhere above my feet, juices race down winding tubes to unknown destinations.” The body doesn’t lie.Likewise, sex between the murderous lovers becomes a particularly disturbing turbulence when described from within.The novel might as well be told from within the consciousness of a dog, a ghost, or a piece of furniture.The wine tasting, which I described above, is part of the problem, but so are the metaphors.An unborn baby can’t differentiate between an Échézeaux Grand Cru and a Romanée-Conti from the snugness of the womb, an unborn baby can’t “picture a hayloft, off which a hundred-kilo sacks of grain is tossed to the granary floor” and compare that image to the sound of his mother’s beating heart.It is not improbable, like some plot points of other Mc Ewan novels; it is impossible. I’m doing what I shouldn’t do, which is to dissect the basic realism of the novel’s conceit.