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Friday 9 April 2010

Death Of A Ladies' Man

By Alan Bissett

Death Of A Ladies’ Man is a different and very intriguing read. It throws you straight into a world where events alternate between crashing pace and crushing inaction.

It has some wonderful moments of insight, I particularly liked the comparison drawn between Eric Clapton’s 'Layla' and George Harrison’s 'Something' (both written about the same woman).

‘That’s the difference between love and pain,’ said Charlie, ‘right there’.

Language is bent to convey the drug-taking experience and Bissett plays with language, including how it is laid out on the page. Text strays across the page, words come adrift from sentences and letters fall out of words. This adds a different dimension to the narrative and enriches the reading experience.

The storyline has a claustrophobic feel to it which is cleverly constructed. It looks at the claustrophobia of both the protagonist's working life and also his domestic life living at home, reluctantly, with his ill mother. The novel explores ways of breaking out – for Charlie his escape is in sex and drugs.

The depiction of Glasgow in the novel also works very well – added in little light touches. ‘Beyond, Glasgow howled’, and ‘Glasgow. Streetlight burnished the huge dark blue.’

Bissett also plays with time taking us back to Charlie’s marriage, and even his childhood to throw light on his current behaviour.

Another thread uses Charlie’s status as an English teacher to explore issues about the perception of literature. This is highlighted in his relationship with his pupil Monise. ‘He fed her material – was Joseph Conrad racist? Did Ted ‘kill’ Sylvia? Was Satan the true hero of Paradise Lost?’

The strength of this novel is in its celebration of language and the use of language.

This novel is undoubtedly a challenging read, and it has quite a lot of sexual content which might not be to everyone’s taste. It is extremely unusual though and despite a certain grimness in some of the subject matter, there is a beauty in the writing.

This book is published by Hachette Scotland and the paperback is due out in May.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

This sounds like it was an interesting read.

Unknown said...

I'm in the middle of this one, Helen and it was interesting to read your views. Most of which I agree with. The language is at times amazing and the insights v.clever. Playing with the text however, I find irritating. Des Dillon does this too. Neither can I get myself to like Charlie. Too self-obsessed for me - which is kinda the point though.

HelenMWalters said...

Debs - it's definitely worth a look if you fancy something different.

Michael - interesting to get a different view. Yes, I'm not sure whether it's possible to like Charlie either. I did find myself identifying with him a bit though.

Talli Roland said...

Thanks for the review!