Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £16.99 Order for £15.29 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Midnight in a Perfect Life, By Michael Collins
Weird, but not that wonderful
Tuesday 22 June 2010
It is perhaps understandable that authors are so attracted to writing about their working lives: the frustrations, the solitude, the doubts. What is less clear is why anyone else would be interested in such solipsistic fiction. The few authors – Philip Roth, Stephen King, J M Coetzee perhaps – who manage to wring great novels from such inauspicious material do so by using the writing life as a springboard to explore other themes. In Midnight in a Perfect Life, Michael Collins aims to perform the same trick, with some baffling results.
Karl, the writer-narrator, is immersed both in spiralling debt and the writing of an epic, unpublishable novel. Forced to turn to ghost-writing for a famous crime novelist, he manages to sour even this relationship, leaving him broke, responsible for his dying mother, and about to help pay for a programme of IVF treatment. As Karl tries to deal with his disintegrating life, a beautiful young Russian performance artist is found dead. As the last person to speak to her alive, Karl is made to confront not only his culpability in her demise, but also the truth behind his father's suicide.
This is an intriguing, promising set-up; but Collins doesn't give any of these narrative strands the attention they deserve. As the plot lurches from one underdeveloped theme to another, it's hard to know or care what, if anything, Collins is driving towards. There is no suspense to talk of, no real engagement with the reader.
One is left wondering whose novel we're really reading here – Collins's or Karl's? And if it's Karl's, are we supposed to see it as a sort of satire on bad writing? Some of the sentences are straight from the James Patterson school of banality, others so clumsy and stuffed with five-dollar words that it's hard to imagine that Karl ever got a book deal in the first place.
A brief scene describing the meeting between his mother and his father shows Collins's gift for character and nuance, but this takes two-thirds of the book to appear. It suggests that had this novel been more Collins's than Karl's, it may just have escaped its writer-cliché beginnings. However, the declarative, empty prose and careless plotting only serves to produce a dissatisfying and disappointing novel – whatever its intentions.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 Chelsea victory parade mocked on Twitter as 'tens of fans' pack the streets of London
- 3 US warned by Chinese media to stop meddling or 'war will be inevitable'
- 4 Woman, 21, dies after taking contraceptive pill that 'caused fatal blood clot'
- 5 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
Glastonbury lineup 2015: The Women's Institute to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
Twin Peaks series 3: Man behind the 'dark, cloying and obsessive' original soundtrack returns to work with David Lynch
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show's most iconic characters just met
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people