Thursday, January 26, 2006

Divorcing Jack by Colin Bateman

One look at the cover of this book and you know you're about to read something a little bit different. On a bright red background stands a nun pointing a gun straight at you, a Jack Russell terrier cradled in her free hand.

In this, Colin Bateman's first novel, we meet:

Dan Starkey, a strangely likeable journalist with a drinking problem, a reputation for off-the wall social commentary, and a tendency to do very stupid things on impulse, only realizing (and dealing with) the consequences later - preferably by lying his way out of the situation.

Patricia, Dan's wife, who has spent a great deal of time rearranging Dan's face in between joining him in drinking and partying hard, but who is thinking it's time for the relationship to mature.

Margaret, a sexy seductress who puts Dan's marriage on the rocks and causes a wee bit of trouble for him in other areas of his life.

Patrick "Cow Pat" Coogan, a mean ex-convict and terrorist, who got his start cattle rustling, has many other mean fellows at his beck and call, and has taken bit of a dislike to Dan.

All these colourful folks meet and change the course of Dan's life against the harsh and vivid backdrop of Belfast, Northern Ireland, at the height of the "Troubles". It's a gritty, fast-paced novel, which offers a serious depiction of the cruel reality of living under threat of terrorism and yet at the same time it's one of the funniest books I have ever read. You know when you read in book reviews (the real kind, you know) that a writer has a "fresh and original voice"? Here's a case where that is actually true. I leave you with a few choice passages from this wonderful novel.

I sat down ... and began sorting through her record collection. She had maybe fifty albums. A lot of Van Morrison, some Bob Dylan. A worrying series of Status Quo records. There was a Chris Rea album which was also a bit of a minus. I preferred diarrhoea; it wasn't very enjoyable either, but it didn't last as long and you could read a good book at the same time.

(Dan orders a taxi...)
It arrived within five minutes. A middle-aged woman was driving, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.
"Starkey?" she asked, her voice an angry rasp.
I nodded. "That's me." I climbed in. The back seat was thick with dog hairs.
"That's some fuckin' crap you write in the paper."
"Mind you, the husband loves it."
"But then he's a stupid fucker."
"I see."
"But not stupid enough to drive a fuckin' taxi, that's for sure."
"Not that stupid to know he's onto a winner by gettin' me to drive the fucker 'cause he's scared of getting topped."
As we turned onto Great Victoria Street she wound down her window and spat. Not so much a question of Finishing School as never having finished school. She was maybe forty. Gnarled-looking. She wore a creamy-white cap-sleeved t-shirt that revealed a blotchy tattoo: the letters UVF, only her arm was so thin that the F was lost round the horizon and all you could really see was UV, like she was advertising a sunbed. Her hair was wild and greasy, tinged red. Or maybe it was the world's first nicotine-stained hair.

(Dan, running from some unsavory characters bent on foul deeds, notices a passing car coming to a halt...)
The car door was unlocked. I pulled it open. A nun sat dwarfed behind the wheel, resplendent in brown and cream.
I said, "In God's name help me."
She gave me a look that was more Armalite than Carmelite and said: "Fuck off."
There was a sudden crack and a bolt of pain shot up my leg; I fell back from the car clutching at a hole in my jeans. I grabbed hold of the car door and swung myself up before I touched the ground. I tumbled into the passenger seat.
"Drive," I said. I held my hand up to the nun. It was soaked in blood.
"Jesus Christ," she said and threw it into first. "What did I do to deserve this?"

1 comment:

Laura said...

Great sampling from the book! Thanks.