Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Seven Days of Peter Crumb - uncomfortable reading

The Seven Days of Peter Crumb by Jonny Glynn (Portobello Books Ltd: 2007). The ramblings of a crazy man as he lives out his plan for the last seven days of his life. We’re given an insight into his motivations and delusions as he commits American Psycho-esque atrocities throughout London, with a stop-over in Leeds for good measure.
After last week’s young adult adventure, I reverted to form a little this week.
This is, most definitely, a book for the grown up. And not just because of its graphic violent passages. It’s a book that kept me awake, kept me working as I was reading it. If Jonny Glynn was trying to make his readers feel uncomfortable, then congratulations, mission accomplished.
Sounds quite negative, that, doesn’t it – making his readers feel uncomfortable. I can’t quite figure out if I meant it that way. For sure, there are plus points about a book like this that keeps you on your toes. It makes you feel like you’re really eating something substantial, like by reading the book you’re playing your role in an exercise that has a bit of meat to it. Nothing skips you by. There’s no making shopping lists in your head whilst you’re reading this, no sir.
The bad points about uncomfy books? Well, without wanting to state the obvious, they’re uncomfortable. No two ways about it, this book takes a bit of effort. Every time I picked it up, I was challenged. It took me a few minutes to get into it every time. No sliding into the sofa and switching off with this one. Nowhere was that more evident than right at the start. Do not start this book unless you have half an hour or so to spend on it – it takes a while to figure out what’s going on, for the penny to drop and Glynn’s style to emerge from the confusion it creates.
So, was all the effort worth it?
I finished this book a couple of days ago, and I still can’t figure out the answer to that one. There’s no doubt Glynn’s created a wonderful character in Peter Crumb, and he reveals him to us slowly and expertly. Crumb’s voice is striking, and it grows as his seven days go by. It’s a fantastic example of putting down in the pages of a book a man that is both extraordinary and believable. He’s fundamentally flawed, and commits some horrific crimes, but he’s also a sympathetic character. I read American Psycho a few years back. I was similarly disturbed by the antics described in that book as this. But this time around, I felt I understood the action a little more. It’s horrific from the victim’s perspective, but it also seems horrific from Crumb’s point of view. It’s a contradiction that is only achieved because of the genuine link that’s created between reader and protagonist – between him and me.
By the end of the book, I found myself largely on his side, which was a feeling immediately followed by disgust when I remembered what he’d done.
Sounds like I’m talking myself into a high GBR score here, so time for a few qualifiers.
Crumb is excellent. The other characters in the story (peripheral as they are) are not. Pretty much all the supporting cast seem watery, without much effort put into making them as believable as Crumb. Every now and then, they even manage to act quite outside the very vague parameters that are set for their behaviour. For me, that spoiled things fairly regularly.
The ending is weak. This blog isn’t here to tell you what happens in books (go read them yourself), so I won’t say anymore than that. Suffice to say, the ending is pretty flat.
And some of the stylistic quirks felt over the top. Some didn’t - some worked well and added to the many ways in which this book worked to keep your mind alive. But too many times, Glynn overdid the stylistics, showed off a bit too much with his formatting. He didn’t need to. Blank pages, new font styles and sizes, strange layouts – they all have their place and can all add to a book. But for me, he did it too often, and made it look like he’d just figures out how to use his word processor.
So where does that leave me?
In the plus column – a great premise, a wonderful protagonist, a strong voice, clever pacing, and a challenging style.
In the minus column – a weak cast of supporting characters, a flat ending, over stylised writing, and a challenging style.
Am I glad I read it? Yup. Will I look at it on my bookshelf with fond memories? Nope. (Well, partly because I borrowed this copy and will have to give it back, but you know what I mean).

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