Monday, 11 July 2011

A Day and a Night and a Day by Glen Duncan

Augustus Rose has come to a small island in Scotland to die. Being the only one-eyed black American pensioner on the island, he quite naturally generates a number of questions posed in absentia, having exposed a vein of gentle racism and insatiable curiosity in his new neighbours. Still, he doesn't care, or so he tells himself, and whilst his narrative continues, despite his wishes, on the island where he now lives in a ruined croft, the gaps in his history are slowly filled through the plucking of the many integrated strands of his other lives.

To tell more would be to risk spoilers and such like, but it is sufficient to say that being a half-Italian, half-Black American growing up in a country where such effrontery is barely tolerated by the keepers of the peace let alone the morass of a hostile public ashamed of that which does not confirm it's own beliefs, means that Augustus' life was never going to be straightforward. However, Duncan never treads the boards of self-pity, and Rose is never guilty of wallowing in the cruel fate of his own foreignness. Indeed, such is Duncan's outrageously overlooked brilliance that the novel never risks slipping into dull literary daguerreotype. In fact, on reflection, the novel is quite conventional in form, but stands so far above the level of most of the tired literary franchises shamelessly cranked out by middle-of-the-road publishers in search of the next Richard'n'Judy category winner that I feel quite elated to have found him, read this book and been able to convey to you just how moved I am by his prowess. Forgive me for skirting perilously close to a spoiler, but as Rose is undergoing grievous torture (for what, I can't say) there is a thread of conversation, broken by unconsciousness and by narrative intervention, between Rose and his interrogator which, if extracted and knitted together would be the most damning indictment of modern life short of a bilious religious assault. Duncan offers praxis as the motivation for the world's weary inertia, and yet the novel's spiritual desert offers the oasis of unmotivated goodness - the message of hope is allowed to slip in unannounced.

I can endorse Glen Duncan slipping off the yoke of Simon & Schuster for the relative freedom of Canongate - a publisher more inclined to champion great British writing - for his new novel, "The Last Werewolf", as S&S did fuck-all to push this novel to the forefront of the consumer window. I know, as an informed consumer who saw nothing to support the release of "A Day..." Duncan deserves wider readership and much greater acclaim for his unnerving and unflinching evisceration of what it is to think and to act, and for pulling the tarpaulin off the huge gulf between the two. After seeing a review I wrote for "I, Lucifer" in a bookshop in Nottingham, an editor from Canongate found me at work and called me to say thanks for being engaged with literature to the extent that I go out and tell people about great writing. After telling me about Duncan's new book which they were publishing, he sent me a huge care-parcel of free Canongate stuff for which I never really got to thank him. Now I don't do this for remuneration (although it helps, thanks!), but even a not-at-all altruistic gesture such as this reassures me that I can make a difference. Therefore I urge you to read at least one Glen Duncan book this year, and if you start here, maybe when you're done you'll come find me and say thanks.

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