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Thursday, 8 November 2007

Review: Rohypnol, Andrew Hutchinson.

Christos Tsiolkas worked on the book and wrote a clip for the front cover but by page 31 I was irritated. At the talk Andrew gave on campus speech was rapid and abrupt. He writes like this. Single-word sentences. Abrupt clips of conversation (two lines only). Short chapters (which my friend Tony says is due to the petercaryism of literature today).

But there's absolutely no poetry, no risks taken. It's a small, safe world where bad things are supposed to happen. We're promised violence and cruelty of a casual kind. So I wanted it early and I wanted it to make me sick.

The first chapter sees two guys drag a schoolgirl into a car. This is by far the best scene. You can hear the voices, smell the recently-cut grass. Hear the purr of the sedan's engine as it idles close to the curb just prior to parking.

But everything after that, although slightly faster-paced, is ruined by a sense the writer is just not 'into it'. He's going through his paces in preparation for the grisly bits. Well, sorry, it's not enough.

Let's talk briefly about Salinger and Murakami: two writers often spoken of in tandem. Here, too, is disaffected youth compelled to perform casual acts over which little control is brought to bear.

In their books, however, we feel the 'soul' of the protagonist. We 'know' them and they are, in actual fact, out of step with the world (as youth frequently is). This is because we can see the frame but it's one we've been conscious of in our own lives. There's some element of lived experience.

Here, however, the cut-out characters seem to roll on rails, or casters. Like that TV commercial where an office copying maching goes to prison (for jamming: 'it was the paper' goes the punch line). At the end we see the copier at the foot of the prison wall, a rope swinging behind it.

Unfortunately, Hutchinson's immaturity shows. He has had it too easy. His run-of-the-mill masculinity has opened several doors and he's just making the same kind of sketch here that got him published in the past. But this is a novel: stamina is key.

Undoubtedly this book will get some attention but I forsee it dropping pretty quickly from the publisher's list. There's nothing new here, despite the hype (Tsiolkas is without question our best writer currently). Just enough to get over the line.

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