December 24, 2011

A B & E

by Marc Nash
184 pages, New Generation Publishing

Review by Paul Fenton
Words.  I thought I knew a lot of them, but it seems I was wrong.  After reading A B & E by Marc Nash, I feel like a chimp who’s been taught to screech out a few word-like sounds, or maybe a defrosted caveman educated by Katie Price.  Not sure which is worse.

I’m not just talking about volume of vocabulary employed, but the arrangement.  The associations, the twists of meaning against itself and back again, as a reader you can’t help but admire the artistry in the design.  A B & E, though only a short novel (184 pages in paperback), took me a rather long time to read, because it’s dense.  Rich.  Every word demands your focus, every play on words requires your comprehension ... and thank Jebus for the built-in dictionary function in the Kindle, because without that I’d still be scratching my head at irruption, lordotic and modegreened (though to honest, even the Kindle dictionary struggled with mondegreened, and I had to hit up Wikipedia).  The pressure to review such a bold, skilled experimental novel, it’s kind of daunting.
Me like book.  Book good.

The protagonist is Karen Dash (an alias), a gangster’s moll hiding out in Corfu away from the vengeful eye of her criminal husband.  She’d cheated on Damon with his chauffeur, and for her the penalty is Grecian exile.
Karen tells her story to listener or listeners unseen (though that becomes clearer later on) in a first-person monologue.  The storytelling seems to take place almost exclusively in bars, with trays of cocktails always at hand to help out – between the chapters are cocktail recipes, perhaps put there to aid the person wanting a more empathetic reading experience.

Me like booze.  Book like booze.  Me like book.

My incipient low culture-itis reared its virulent head early on in the book, and I found myself picturing Karen as more perverse and intellectual Samantha Jones from Sex and the City, a forty-something cougar with a cosmopolitan in one hand and a young man’s pride and joy in the other.  Her tale moves between past and present, from how she met Damon and came to cheat on him, to her nights of drinking and seduction, a short cycle which seems to repeat itself almost endlessly.

There’s a subplot with a secondary protagonist running alongside Karen’s tale of decadent woe, a hospital nurse in the UK.  The connection between the two isn’t obvious, but there is a pleasing twist which makes having followed her progress worthwhile.

I found the early chapters more challenging than the latter.  I’m not sure if that’s because of the sometimes obscure Greek mythology references in the first half (though I do like my Greek mythology), or if I was simply getting into the groove of Nash’s style.  Here is a writer who seems to have no fear of ignoring literary conventions and the predictable requirements of mainstream fiction.  Nash writes with an emphasis on the writing.  If you’re after a James Patterson style page-turner, you might want to look elsewhere.    If you’re after the latest addition to the Twilight saga, why are you even here?  If, however, you appreciate exquisite writing which demonstrates with great flexibility just what this English language of ours is capable of, then I would have no hesitation in recommending A B & E to you.

Here.  Read Book.  Book Good.


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