BOOK REVIEW / Murder in the madhouse: The dying of the light - Michael Dibdin: Faber, pounds 9.99
Sunday 30 May 1993
The place is run by a psychotic brother and sister, with a little help from a Doberman. Deprived of all contact with the outside world, the residents cling to meaningless rituals, knitting squares only to unravel them, talking into a disconnected telephone, playing a soundless piano. Their warders are eager to rub their faces in squalor and mortality. Death stalks the corridors, a 'ruthless and anonymous killer against whom the combined forces of civilisation has so far proved powerless'.
Rosemary Travis accommodates the horrors of this life by weaving detective stories around her fellow inmates; thus she escapes the 'tyranny of the real'. Her imaginative life so enmeshes her that when for one evening the old people unite in violent emotion and even resist their brutal matron, she recoils in distaste; they are breaking her rules, deviating from their cardboard characters. A policeman arrives, to investigate a death. He has a keenly interrogative mind: 'What is truth? What's it all about, Alfie? Where are the snows of yesteryear? How much is that doggie in the window?' He too prefers the unreal. He would like to be Inspector Wexford on TV; in the back of his mind Accrington Stanley FC are forever playing their biggest match.
Michael Dibdin is, as usual, horribly, monstrously funny and his nasty phrases linger in the mind (carcinomata are 'sprouting like fungi on a dead tree'). But the power of his images and the force of his wit so dominate the book that one loses interest in the delicate shifts in truth and untruth, reality and invention of the fairly minimal plot. His The Last Sherlock Holmes Story was more successful as a pastiche because he was able to sustain the mood of the original. Agatha Christie is too frail for the Dibdin touch. None the less this is a merry and maddening jeu d'esprit, so long as your own esprit can cope with remarks like 'I'm not sure that I perhaps don't not believe in it any more.'
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Christians: The world's most persecuted people
- 2 Israel-Gaza conflict: The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 3 Thatcher ‘was warned of Tory child sex party claims’
- 4 Lauren Goodger sex tape: Reality star calls for tougher laws on revenge porn after intimate video leaks online
- 5 The Simpsons Family Guy trailer: First look at crossover episode after Comic-Con debut
Game of Thrones season 4 blooper reel unveiled at Comic-Con 2014
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral backlash from US parenting groups
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
50 best running songs: From Avicii and Pharrell Williams to the classic 'Eye of the Tiger'
Doctor Who series 8: Watch Peter Capaldi in new ‘Listen!’ teaser trailer
Israel-Gaza conflict: The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia