BOOK REVIEW / The camera obscurer: Robinson - by Christopher Petit, Cape pounds 8.99

'I AM a camera.' Isherwood's catchy opening has a lot to answer for: encouraged by it, generations of writers have told stories with deadpan amorality. The line must have been haunting Christopher Petit when he wrote this novel. He is, after all, a film-maker.

So is Robinson's narrator, nameless except for a brief reference to 'Christo', which is short, or petit, for Christopher Petit. Christo meets Robinson in Soho, describing him as 'like Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man'; in other words, there is no need to describe him in any depth. 'I fancied I saw in the high shine of his toe-caps a vain reminder of that introduction to Lime: 'EXT, VIENNA NIGHT - Close up, black Oxfords in doorway'. '

Robinson is the novel's Sinister Central Figure, and like most fictional SCFs he is a kind of moral black hole around which other characters orbit before being sucked in. Robinson and Christo go on drinking sprees; Christo gives up his job, loses his wife, takes to hanging round porn cinemas, goes for drunken midnight drives with Robinson, becomes a tenant in Robinson's flat, becomes an opium addict, weans himself off, misidentifies Robinson's drowned body in a morgue. Robinson comes back, gets Christo a job in a bookshop, introducing him to a Sandhurst rogue called Cookie; later they all start making porn films together, the whole enterprise unravelling as Robinson, self-

destructing on drugs and drink, tries to make 'the Citizen Kane of porno movies'.

This would all be fine if the stochastic succession of events were supported by anything more than the narrator's unblinking gaze. The camera is very good at picking up surfaces but it takes a good director to get beneath them, and Robinson, for all Petit's descriptive skills, suffers from being directionless. 'His gaze became unreadable, as neutral as that of a camera,' says Christo of Robinson towards the book's end, but Robinson's gaze has not been noticeably legible or charged before this. Hints at depth take the form of continual reminders of Petit's day-job: 'I thought about the last few months, and realised that if I had to write them up as a script it would begin: INTERIOR NIGHT.'

Well, maybe this book should have been a script. It takes more than the prose equivalents of mood-shots and camera angles to make a novel tick. The film might be something, though.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works