Book Group: This is too bloody good to be a 'type of' book

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

I was not overly pleased when asked to read this book. Oh no, I thought, not an "anguished-young-men-hit-the-road-(or dash round the globe)-in-search-of-meaning" sort of novel. Boys, get off the road, go home, work it out, grow up, get a job, get laid, take Prozac like everyone else. Enough, already! But while I suppose Velocity... is this kind of a book, it is too bloody good to be only this kind of book and while I'm not sure that I ever properly cared about Will or Hand, both death-haunted in their different ways, I'm not sure that I much cared that I didn't much care.

I was not overly pleased when asked to read this book. Oh no, I thought, not an "anguished-young-men-hit-the-road-(or dash round the globe)-in-search-of-meaning" sort of novel. Boys, get off the road, go home, work it out, grow up, get a job, get laid, take Prozac like everyone else. Enough, already! But while I suppose Velocity... is this kind of a book, it is too bloody good to be only this kind of book and while I'm not sure that I ever properly cared about Will or Hand, both death-haunted in their different ways, I'm not sure that I much cared that I didn't much care.

Eggers's writing goes at such a bold, inventive and breakneck pace that you sort of readily fly along in spite of the narrative. And the anguish is well put, never too tediously smart-arse. "I tried to nap," Will says at one point, "but now my head was alive, was a toddler in a room full of new guests. It jumped and squealed and threw books off the shelves..."

There are also some very funny moments. Didn't you love Hand's Foreign-Speak? Plainly, both boys are on the run: Will from his own head, which is in bad shape, inside, outside, every way you look at it, and Hand? Hand should have been there for Will when it mattered but wasn't. Hand is, in a way, on the run from Will's head too, and all the unspoken accusations that he knows are in there. Running, running, running. Always on the move Velocity will fix them. But it doesn't. All the places they visit remind Will of home and so himself. Here is Latvia, for example: "The landscape was unchanging, was Wisconsin, the sky milky and suffocating." They can't escape their emotional selves. They are their own landscapes. As for the giving away of Will's windfall - a degrading business all round based on the most shallow encounters - I thought this might be some kind of satire on American foreign policy. Then again, I could be entirely wrong, as I often am. Whatever, Eggers bravely offers no redemptive hope, no Ordinary People moments (breakthrough with shrink) or even Catcher In the Rye ones (total breakdown and subsequent possibility of renewal). In the end, as we know at the beginning, Will dies, although why he dies with his mum still mystifies the hell out of me. This is not a perfect book. It can be repetitive and, on occasion, the switches from narrative to exposition are clunkingly clumsy. But neither can detract from the simple fact that Eggers can really, really write which is something you can never cheat at. I'm glad I read this book and felt relatively few urges to shout: "Boys, pull your socks up!" Recommendation indeed.

Comments