Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blossom, Bubbles, Buttercup

It's a tricky business, this book reviewing lark.

Too harsh a review and you come across as an embittered never was, a non-writer who's jealous of those who can. Too nice and you sound like a mewling sycophant, the dead spit of some wannabe Who writer falsely praising the crappy books of...well I can't say who. After all I might want to publish a Who book at some point!

Which makes it a relief to review The Beatle Man, a novel by Scott Liddell, my oldest friend in the world (33 years and counting).

Most importantly, I can't come across as embittered because I like the damn thing a lot. And I'm not likely to inflate my best mate's head by saying that unless it was true. I mean - after all this time he could hardly go in a huff if I said it was a bit pants, now could he?

Luckily, it's not pants at all. but rather is an effectively written and tightly plotted thriller somewhat in the Rebus mode.

It starts well, with a firm authorial hand on the tiller as the narrative kicks off in faintly comedic strain. The various characters are introduced in a steady early stream and each proves to be engaging and interesting, while the central conceit of the title (a presumably mentally ill man who speaks only in Beatles' lyrics and the effect his passage through life has on those around him) is just odd enough to hold the attention.

All of which would be worthless if the plot was weak or uninvolving. Fortunately, the story of how Danny McColl collides with the terrible Finch family and appoints himself a sort of weirdly ineffectual protector for those who live in his new stair (including the Beatle Man) is well told by the author and comes to a satisfyingly twisted conclusion which ties up every loose end.

Don't get me wrong, this book isn't perfect (the completely pointless lesbians from the first draft have disappeared for a start) but it's faults are minor. There is perhaps a slight tendency to lean in the direction of caricature (Asian shopkeeper, Glaswegian wideboy, posh lawyer who likes a drink and the ladies and so on) and the writing does at times seem unsure if it wants to be a more chatty, less idiotic Irvine Welsh or a 'proper' gritty crime novel, but these failings - such as they are - are never enough to adversely effect the narrative.

All in all, this is both an excellent first novel and a good novel full-stop. If it had been by a stranger I'd probably have missed out that last paragraph of faults, but since it's by a friend I had to go that extra mile to demonstrate my impartiality.

Finally - The Beatle Man is miles better than JK Rowling. That isn't actually that proud a boast, in my opinion, but I include the claim here in hopes of a pull-quote on the back of the second printing of the book...


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Blogger David said...

Being an early follower of this new-on-the-scene young novelist Liddell, I have to comment. It was pure dead gallas!

8:49 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

William Gallas?

9:13 pm  

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