Profuse thanks to Real Readers for sending me an advance copy of this novel; as soon as I read the blurb I knew if it was executed well, I’d be into this. Essentially this book is what would happen if The Hills Have Eyes and No Country for Old Men had sex and created a writhing, spitting, psychopathic spawn (which you KNOW they would). I’m not sure I’ve ever been more horrified by a literary character than that of the “Madonna” in this novel, but more of that later. I mean, this really is not for the faint of heart and it’s also one of the most nihilistic novels I’ve read. If you don’t like gasping audibly when reading, then I suggest you put this down and go and buy One Day and eat some chocolate (disclaimer: I actually really liked One Day).
Trying to write this review sans spoilers: Norman’s a weird guy, trying to escape his former life of academia and some pretty significant mistakes. I personally think if your chosen avenue of research is ghost towns, you’ve probably got issues. The story follows Norman’s (half arsed) struggle against being completely absorbed by a bunch of desert reprobates while also being totally absorbed by his own social aberrations, swimming in a pretty deep sea of denial. I have to say I found Norman thoroughly dislikeable and I hope that was the author’s intention. By the end I viewed him pretty much as a deplorable misogynist who views women as nothing but bodies to be plundered (or destroyed – perfectly embodied by the “Madonna”, a living shell, whose ruin is not really ever properly explained, which may make it even creepier). However, Norman’s view of men isn’t much better by the end, so at least there’s equality in his misanthropy.
In short, this book is dark, bleak, unforgiving and ultimately philosophical, and so I naturally love it. I did feel like the ending sort of unravelled a bit too abruptly and I think more could have been made of his descent into solitary madness, but I also enjoyed how quickly I devoured this book and I appreciate there is a trade-off between development of every element of a story and not milking a character for all they’re worth. I felt pretty satisfied with Norman’s comeuppance. I am now going to immediately read Ireland’s first novel because if it’s anywhere near as good at this, it will be worth my time.
NB: I actually highlighted a few passages to quote from this book because I thought the prose was so brilliant and aligned to the desert, but the copy I’ve been reading is uncorrected so I don’t want to piss anyone off.