Thursday, November 04, 2010

53. A Sense of Survival by Kevin Casey

Man, I am really in the murky soup of British self-loathing and anguish! A Sense of Survival was way high up on the shelves in the mystery section of the American Book Exchange in Amsterdam and it's age and cover design attracted me. I was a bit desperate as I had been disappointed by the offerings at that store. The inside flap blurb (of which I only try to read the bare minimum as a rule) spoke of ex-pats in Morocco which was enough for me.

The story takes place in Casablanca and centers around a small boarding house run by a lonely and judgemental old spanish woman. The main characters, a new mother waiting for her husband, an Irish and morally loose journalist and an aging and pathetic remittance man all stay there. As well there are two non-present characters, the mother's husband, who has allegedly gone into the hills to study the natives for his academic work but who is 3 weeks late in coming back and a man called Traynor around whom some suspicion seems to linger.

The book isn't really a mystery, though there are several loose storylines that keep you hanging on. Where is Traynor? Where is the husband? What's the deal with the pathetic guy? Even when Traynor does come back and gets murdered (about halfway through the book), I realized the author was much more concerned about perusing deeply into the personalities of these various lost souls. Again, it's not badly written, though much more rife with constant excessive symbolism and referential language ("This was like the time that dragged through an illness, nothing happened, a contracted world, dust upon a broken chair, a bored reader"--okay I added that last phrase but you get the picture.) It reminded me of the last J.G. Ballard book I read, though a little less out there. In any case, most of it was unwelcome. But it does flow and you find the characters believable and complex. But who cares? Once again, it's a bunch of depressed, confused British people who need to get semi-interesting jobs (and in this case seem to have the means and situation to do that as opposed to the Beryl Brainbridge book) and a good dose of therapy. This is the 70s and you are in Casablanca for Christ's sake where a man can get into some trouble and adventure! Instead you sit around moping in some boarding house where the owner thinks you are a sinner and plaster crumbles from the ceiling.

What really turned me from mildly bored to fully annoyed is that the writer uses a poor animal to deliver some kind of symbolic narrative structure. The landlady has an old cat that is constantly appearing. It comes and goes and tension is built because the landlady claims the local boys (who also harrass the mother and generally follow people on the street menacingly; hey how about a kick in their ass? You think Parker would waist a second worrying about those fucking street urchins?) tried to light it on fire. There are several scenes where the cat is missing. And hey guess what? At the end of the book, when Traynor's murder is solved and everybody has a minor revelation about themselves (they are lame and aren't really going to change seems to sum it up for them all), the cat is discovered dead, strangled with a wire. And it is delivered as an afterthought by the journalist character. So fucking lame mr. 70s Irish writer. Why don't we have Evil Spock come in and Vulcan nerve pinch to death all the characters in this book? I think that would have made a much more poignant point about their lost lives and struggles for identity. Feh.

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