So I thought I better try and get down some of my thoughts about this book before I get too far re-reading it as my first impressions of it were so strong. When I finished this book I was totally overwhelmed by it. The last chapter is equivalent to Kerouac, in the way that Alan describes all the terrible things about his town with such an amazing descriptive and so much love despite all the crime and the feelings of hoplessness there. There was one sentence I actually read aloud (even though I was alone in the house) because of it's sheer brilliance, I believe it had something to do with Trumpton!
On Monday night at the BL Alan and Stewart Lee were joking about how the first chapter of the book was utterly incomprehensible and made no sense. So I was expecting the worst when I started it, but what I found was an amazing epic narrative of a stone age guy struggling to stay alive, getting caught up with all sorts of terrible things. It was so simplistic and yet so beautiful, using a very limited vocabulary, yet still including songs and poetry. And I totally loved it.
The stories of different narrations continue down through time. The stories are told by murderers and victims, but with the exception of the 20th century guy in I travel in suspenders they were all likeable and sympathetic. They are tales of survival, though most end in the narrators death. Previous characters haunt later ones without explanation, as hallucinations and devils. A mythology is created but not explained as black dogs wander the night and people are sacrificed. Dying doesn't always end the story, one of the middle ones is told by a head on a spike at the edge of town. The more you read the more it comes together. Which I think is why when it was done I wanted to go back and re-read. Bringing the knowldge of the future back to the begining. It's kinda impossible to talk about this all rationaly as I get so caught up in the feel of it just thinking about it. It is a very atmospheric book! The language is just gorgeous. The voices of the different characters really come through. When in the last chapter the narrator is the author you can instantly here the words in Alan's deep midlands accent.
Creation fields was a story about a girl who murders a girl she meets while traveling and takes this girl's place. Pretending to be the daughter of the local shaman/witch doctor because she's heard he has hidden wealth. In the drownings is one of the best stories and the character one of the most haunting as a man whose family disappears from the village and he makes himself a strange bird costume to go hunting. The head of diocletian is all about the fall of Rome and barbarity. November saints is another great story of posession and time slipping and martydom. Limping to Jerusalem had a protagonist who was not so likeable but was building a round church. Confessions of a mask is the great story told by the decapitated head. Angel language is very odd as a corrupt judge is a bit of sex maniac. Partners in knitting is a wonderful story told by a witch about how she got involved with the spirits and the things her and her girlfriend did. The sun looks pale upon the wall is a very odd tale of madness, quiet and sad. I travel in suspenders is modern, early 20th century, it reminded me a lot of Nick Cave's Bunny (which came later) but combined with WWI trauma. And the last piece, narrated by Alan himself was pure brillance. All the stories take place in Northhampton over a period of thousands of years. It's just fantastic.
Re-reading it was lovely. So many more things became clearer the secound time around, subtle things that I'd missed the first time. So many little details fit into place. Once again completely blown away by the language in the last chapter. Without a doubt one of the best books ever written....Continua