Friday, May 10, 2013

A crocheted toilet-paper-cover doll

I finished Wolf Haas's The Bone Man the other night, and I enjoyed it, but I also have some mixed feelings about it that I'll try to talk out here.

The narration is pretty wonderful, most of the time, except when it isn't. And that's not because the narration changes, no, not at all, it's because, you know, life. You as a reader change chapter to chapter, from your morning commute to waiting for the timer to go off indicating supper's ready. Mostly there's something really compulsive about it, it's lively, it chatters, it hooks you, but occasionally it grates, because, I dunno, just shut up already, like when you're cornered into a conversation with someone who is in fact charming and interesting, but at some point it's just too much, I have other people to talk to, things to do, books to read, but the other party fails to acknowledge this. It can be pretty exhausting. I'm not saying the novel trapped me in any real way, except maybe it did with its wily wiles. It's not like I felt I had to be polite about it and read through to the end. But it addicted me and sometimes I resented that. It's complicated.

So sometimes the chattiness grates, or starts to, anyway. I apologize for subjecting you to it here, but it seems I'm unable to help myself in this matter, I'm hopelessly stuck in the groove of mimicry.

This is the second novel featuring Austrian private eye Simon Brenner to be made available in English, thanks to Melville House Publishing, but the events of The Bone Man are much earlier in Brenner's timeline than what transpires in Brenner and God.

The narrator has all these verbal tics, needless to say, part of his charm. And we don't know who this narrator is, although what he relates is pretty much from Brenner's perspective, with a running commentary, so we associate the narrator very closely with Brenner, and then suddenly we recognize those verbal tics, trademark phrasings, coming out of another character's mouth. And that's a bit, you know, jarring.

And at this point I should probably insert a spoiler warning, because I want to quote a passage, and it was really difficult to choose a passage because the thing about this book — the style, the story, the humour — is that everything builds on everything else, and it won't do to tell you the punchline, it needs, I mean really needs, the long, drawn-out set-up. So to quote a passage, I have to give you context, and really, it shouldn't spoil the book for you (and don't you let it), by the time you get round to reading it you will have forgotten the details of what I write here.

But you need to know that an artist has gone missing, only he hasn't really gone missing at all, he simply decided to live as a woman, so that's what he's been doing, quite openly, working as a waitress (a really ugly waitress we're often reminded) and enjoying (if what's heard through the paper-thin walls is to be believed) a very exuberant sex life.

The Ford was full of the kind of crap that certain people have in their cars, a CD was dangling from the rearview mirror, a crocheted toilet-paper-cover doll was standing on the rear shelf, and a "Get Home Safe" picture frame was glued next to the glove box. But the yellowing photo of the man in the frame must have been circa Elvis Presley, because the kiss curl — a catastrophe.

It didn't come as a particular surprise to Brenner that today's man can decide: I'd rather be a woman. And there are even operations, and he understood all that. And that an artist might think, I'd like to be an ordinary person again, he understood, too. But that someone would go so far in his transformation as to have a crocheted toilet-paper-cover doll in his car — that was something Brenner couldn't comprehend. And was thinking to himself now, maybe that's the reason why the waitress made such a racket every night. Maybe it wasn't purely lust. Maybe there was also some twinge of a desire to be caught, i.e. "liberate me from my toilet-paper doll."

I'm not even sure that's funny anymore. But somewhat interesting, no? A crocheted toilet-paper-cover doll!

Oh, right, the story, there's an actual story. Story feels pretty secondary to style here, but it still does pretty well. I got confused a few times about who was who, but ultimately it all hung together.

Yes, I'll read more Haas.
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