Melville House, £9.99, 224pp from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Canal, By Lee Rourke
Friday 16 July 2010
Day after day, an unnamed narrator sits on a bench by a polluted, graffiti-tagged stretch of canal. Having abandoned his job, he sits and watches the world go by: the aeroplanes in the sky, the workers in the offices, those out walking their dogs or looking for trouble. He offers no explicable reason for his behaviour; other than that he is bored. To him, "Boredom is powerfull...[it] should be embraced.". That sentiment which drives Lee Rourke's thoughtful, occasionally disturbing and curiously affecting debut novel.
The Canal's opening suggests that what might follow is a kind of skewed love story. The narrator soon meets a similarly apathetic woman who joins him on his bench, occasionally talking, sometimes providing nuggets of information that he begins to crave. But though this is the key driver of the narrative – "Boredom is not that removed from desire" – Rourke is more concerned with the ways we create meaning out of a culture that has long gone beyond our comprehension.
In this respect, Rourke is firmly aligning himself with his influences – Beckett, Ballard, Jean-Philippe Toussaint – but The Canal feels as though it is stepping out into its own territory. Modern urban life is captured here with precision – from feral youth gangs to migrant workers, from businessmen conducting extra-marital affairs to foul-mouthed dog owners – and both dialogue and observations are brilliantly convincing. These do, however, become progressively darker, culminating in a dénouement as shocking as it is unexpected.
His conversational, naturalistic prose gives Rourke's narrator a convincing voice, and the effectiveness of this confessional style means unsatisfying niggles only surface once the book has been put down. The deliberately restrained vocabulary can, on occasion, work against the novel. The word "snazzy", for example, should not really appear eight times. Similarly, the passages towards the end concerning the narrator and his brother feel somewhat clumped together and would perhaps have benefited from being interspersed earlier.
These criticisms, however, do little to detract from a novel that has high ambitions and frequently – occasionally dazzlingly – reaches them. While unreservedly a novel of discourse and digression, The Canal also understands that tension and intrigue are just as important as literary devices. It's this careful balance that makes for a refreshing, memorable and powerful novel – and one that confirms Rourke as a writer of exceptional promise.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 3 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 4 London restaurant 34 creates champagne glass modelled on Kate Moss’ left breast
- 5 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians