Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book review: Maribou Stork Nightmares

Sometimes, in order to hook into a novel or some other work of art, you need to broaden your perspective. That's a big advantage to participating in a book group. In the last four years or so, the lads and I have read 36 books together. And more than once, after discussing a particular book at our semi-regular meetings, I've come away with a changed impression of the work. Indeed, books that I hadn't thought I'd liked all that much gain a new appreciation as a result of the widened perspective.

So it is with Irvine Welsh's Marabou Stork Nightmares. When first I finished the book, which is a sordid story of gritty, nasty Scotland (with a bit of apartheid South Africa thrown in), I was pretty much disgusted.

Welsh's claim to fame is his authorship of the novel Trainspotting which was adapted into a smash hit flick by Danny Boyle. And while I enjoyed Trainspotting, the film, I felt at first that Marabou Stork Nightmares transcended the bounds of good taste with its ugly descriptions of life in the Scottish tenements, with the casual brutality of its principle characters, and with its excessive use of profanity. (Picking 3 pages at random I count 9 uses of the words "fuck," "shit," and "cunt.")

Further, Welsh's prose alternates between "regular" English and a Scottish-phonetic invention of his own that, at first, was interesting, but quickly became annoying. Example: "They were scruffy cunts glad to be let intae some cunt's hoose even if it wis the Strangs." Or: "He'd just come back tae the scheme n aw; tae stey wi his auld man eftir being in Moredun wi his auntie." Imagine wading through pages of that!

The novel, by the by, is the story of the Strang family, a working class and highly dysfunctional gang of neer-do-well Scots rising like scum to the top of the slop bucket that is blue-collar Scotland --at least as Welsh describes it. The story is told from the perspective of Roy Strang, a computer programmer and street ruffian who, at the time of the story, exists in a coma-induced dream state, from which he recounts the events of his life that led him to his current situation.

Mary Poppins, it ain't. Nonetheless, as my book-reading pals pointed out, there is a larger theme at work in this rough-cut novel. Redemption, regardless of how it is attained, is still an admirable achievement. Cruelty and barbarous acts are generally the downstream symptoms of some evil that has gone before. I doubt I would have noticed these lessons if I'd read the book by myself, without the benefit of the perspectives of Mssrs. Kemmerer, Johnson, Insera, and Kidwell.

All in all, I wouldn't say Maribou Stork Nightmares is a must-read. Not by any means. But it's not a waste of time, either.

Like I said, it's good to be in a book group.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I remember watching Mohammad Ali fight when I was a child. Within all of the violence there was something graceful about it, tasteful. The fighters would wear fairly large gloves and would rarely get seriously hurt.

As time went by, and we were shielded by the blanket of good taste here within the Capital, a new and ever increasing violent world grew up around us; one where man would happily kick another in the face if they slipped to the mat of an octagonal fighting cage.

It's the kind of world where our handlers tastefully let us know that "Israel has the right to defend herself" while making sure that ours tastes are not offended by those inconvenient images of children at a UN school slaughtered for trying to find their way to safety.

Good taste is a shield that lets us sleep at night while others do our dirty deeds; let's us feel free to discuss whether a paragraph contains a valid syllogism or is in fact fallacy while more children in Iraq are suffering from depleted uranium birth defects than Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together.

There is a season for good taste, and now it is naught, it's time to be real, time for truth.