Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

triggerwarningA hugely varied collection, unified best by the word ‘tale’, for that is what each story is, whether ghostly (as several are), mysterious, playing with time or simply weird. Gaiman’s virtuosity as a storyteller is on display here, and many of the stories are very enjoyable indeed, reminding me of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected which, unlike Dahl’s writing for children, were almost all plot, with little characterisation. The problem in a collection as diverse as Trigger Warning is the lack of a distinct voice. It made me think of a well-known TV impersonator from my childhood called Mike Yarwood, who could impersonate anyone brilliantly, but who couldn’t ‘do’ himself. Gaiman therefore gives huge value, but the style of some of the stories feels self-consciously derivative, sometimes of Maugham, sometimes of Saki sometimes even of fairy tales. It’s a virtuoso performance, but he’s playing other people’s music.

Book Review

The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury

The End of Vandalism

endofvandalismIf the ordinary is a fit subject for art, then this is fine art. The End of Vandalism is a novel about ordinary people doing ordinary things – what marks it out is not its subject but its style, which is stunning. Think, therefore, not of a soap opera and more of the painter Brueghel, with his images of villagers skating on ice and of horses scratching their arses on trees. The book is a series of exquisite pictures of daily events. It wouldn’t be true to say that nothing much happens – we have a marriage breakdown, a wedding, a stillbirth, an election, a snowstorm. But nothing is overdramatized; life happens as it happens to us all. It’s the stark accuracy of observation that is most striking about Drury’s style; quiet, even in a book littered with lines like: ‘The church June had directed him to was bunkerlike and modern, with a giant cross that seemed to challenge rather than court the stars.’ The character we observe here is called Tiny, a thief and loser, who, seeing a vacuum cleaner standing in the church aisle, vacuums the carpet and then steals a silver pitcher. We understand all of Drury’s characters through their quietly-expressed, odd yet totally believable actions.

That Drury was a small-town journalist explains a lot. The End of Vandalism is a patchwork of the sort of stories that you typically find in a local newspaper anywhere in the world: businesses closing, school plays, splashes of graffiti. If the book has a weakness it is a certain lack of harmony and narrative arc. It’s filled with a lot of characters, and in the first few pages it feels like a few too many, though a testament to the book’s mastery is by the end you know them all and care for them all, too.

A profoundly gentle masterpiece.