Thursday, 15 March 2012

Hope by Glen Duncan

"Nothing holds love together like shared vice or collusive perversion."
"Grace only exists to be 
fallen from." Glen Duncan
I, Lucifer 
So says Glen Duncan, author of several of my favourite British novels in recent memory (most notably I, Lucifer, once reviewed, stunningly ineptly, on my behalf by some crackpot nitwit at Waterstone's [sorry, seems I included a redundant apostrophe there] HQ). More on that quotation and its relevance in a moment, but for now, on with the review.


Hope as I understand it is the first in the Duncan chronology and as such in places it does feel like he's working out some of the issues with reader-goading, info-dumping and whatnot that new authors need to be told to avoid by a trustworthy (or mercenary) editor. It may explain why, when first published, it was touted as that summer's "essential first novel" [Matthew De Abaitua in Esquire] and yet now is difficult to buy new. There is a recurrent motif, of memory as stones dropping into a pond of time and over which the 'author' has no control, which returns to haunt the narrative every so often, as does the thing left deliberately unsaid to impart a sense of climax to the consequently disjointed story line. These two devices alone could have a sensitive reader grinding teeth and wishing him to just get the fuck on with everything. For the story itself is a reflective essay on how our friend Gabriel gets to where he's going (not a good place) written by Gabriel in the form of a somewhat rambling diary entry over several days / weeks etc, and as such I found myself at times hoping for more dynamic forward motion.

And yet, if I were to ignore the unpolished literary devices and examine instead the ideas of Gabriel Jones as expressed through the medium of Penguin paperbacks, then I could argue that in fact Hope does indeed deserve acclaim for a level of intellectual rigour that is often lacking in mass market fiction.

Pornography is examined with the critical eye of the self-aware consumer. Were I a practicing Buddhist I might reference Thich Nhat Hanh's rather accessible book entitled Fidelity for his explanation of the nature of the Sensual Net that entraps those who seek love in the wrong form, but frankly I've not finished it yet and so don't have a complete understanding and might risk therefore confusing and / or irking people who have and do. Suffice to say that Hanh's advisory role (in my mind) is taken up by a literate and compassionate friend, Daniel, with whom Gabriel talks, drinks, and gets stoned, whilst gently denigrating his sensitivities to the crushing inertia of modern living. 
Duncan understands the allure and the risk of pornography in muddying the waters of the mind, the internecine effect on those in a relationship. Gabriel is a porn addict and it destroys the relationship he believes was 'the one'. The irony here is that of course, Gabriel destroys his relationship by being a dick with a brain, and any projection of blame onto an opt-in medium in which he chooses to participate is just that - projection.

Glen Duncan being Glen Duncan here, it doesn't stop at that. Oh no. Pornography is just the gateway to the big bad world of sexual gratification with no emotional return, and Hope, eponymous character, quickly becomes his surrogate partner in a fictional fantasized relationship. Hope, of course, is a high-class prostitute (oxy-moron duly acknowledged) on whom Gabriel spends his rapidly diminishing funds. Cue twist hinted at all through the novel, and we're set for the finish. Now you can go back and read the quote at the start and understand why I included it there.

Having come at Hope (no pun intended) with I, Lucifer, Death of an Ordinary Man, Weathercock and A Day and a Night and a Day already under the belt, I am happy to overlook the newbie errors, the clumsy devices and so forth that Duncan evidently gets under control later in his work, and so I am left once again deeply impressed by this novel, and by Duncan in general. If you read one out-of-print novel this week, make it this one, and then come back here and tell me if I'm wrong about it. In a past life, I was all about "Read More Vonnegut!" but I am slowly becoming an outspoken Duncanophile. The end.

Sorry, I couldn't think of a suitably serious pun without coming over all child-like. You know what, I think that was a Newman & Baddiel line right there...

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