Fiction & Biography
COMIC FANTASY DAREN KING Jim Giraffe (Jonathan Cape £10) 0.0
In the mid-19th century, the ‘master of mystery and horror’ Sheridan Le Fanu coined the phrase ‘monkey on my back’ with his influential hair-raiser Green Tea. In this tiny masterpiece, clergyman Mr Jennings is haunted by the spectre of a small, black monkey that is only visible to him, even when his eyes are shut. Whether he is a madman suffering from a guilty conscience or an unwitting drug addict hallucinating from the effects of the brew to which he is so partial, the monkey’s sinister presence eventually causes the deranged Jennings to commit suicide.
Le Fanu’s classic tale might have served as an early blueprint for Daren King’s Jim Giraffe, in which a sexually repressed 28-year-old Everygeek Scott Spectrum has his uptight existence pulled every which way by an unreconstructed, foul-mouthed ghost giraffe, whom Scott first discovers living in his wardrobe. At first Jim seems a welcome addition to Scott’s dreary life, a cross between Jacob Marley and Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life, offering frank sexual advice to the terrified virgin and pointing out how things would be should Scott abstain from consummating his marriage to the beautiful Continence. Having eased his ._ -_ way into this domestic blitz, Jim’s influence begins spreading to other areas of Scott’s life, including his relationships with his friends and neighbours, and his work as a hit scriptwriter for the Sci-Fi TV channel, gradually taking over and erasing Scott from his own life.
Of course, this story of the usurping giraffe among the pigeons is a time-honoured yarn that runs through the arts from Hamlet to Pinter’s/Losey’s The Servant. Yet, as in his debut Boxy An Star, in which a teenage stoner delivers pills for a local dealer before turning to prostitution to fund his accelerating drug consumption, King’s childish narrative style and his barely-delineated, shockingly stupid cartoon characters are used to create a grotesque, somewhat disturbing panoply: imagine a scene of domestic violence as captured by a
METAPHYSICAL DRAMA PAUL AUSTER Oracle Night
(Faber £15.99) .0.
Paul Auster's headstone when he and his existentially fraught little thrillers go six feet under. With the exception of Timbuktu's shaggy canine character Mr Bones and the magical realism of Mr Vertigo, Auster has made the fraught lives and otherworldy
A grotesque ghost novel about one man and his giraffe
five-year-old in a primary school art lesson.
What’s slightly disappointing about this second novel, however, is that you wish King had turned his innovative style and irrepressible imagination to slightly worthier targets. While he does poke fun at the vapidity of reality television and pours bile on the consequences of human ignorance, the reader is left with a bit of a ‘so what?’ feeling at the end. After a few pages of Le Fanu’s Green Tea you are left wondering what heinous past crime Mr Jennings has committed to drive him so mad with guilt. But with King's distinctively written 200- page ghost novel, all it ultimately boils down to is a tale about a stupid man and a dead, talking giraffe.
a new story. Inspired by a single incident in The Maltese Falcon, his tale revolves around a literary agent Nick Bowen who has a near fatal accident and is experiencing relationship difficulties with his beautiful wife. Eva. When he opens a mysterious new novel. entitled (wait
Classic novels revisited. This issue: The Maltese Falcon
Published 80 years ago.
What’s the story Dashiell Hammett's oft—imitated crime novel introduced the world to tough loner private eye Sam Spade. immortalised in the ﬁlm version by Humphrey Bogart (who. physically, couldn’t be further from Hammett's huge, blonde hero). After his partner is killed during a botched stakeout, Spade unwittingly becomes embroiled in an ugly scramble to ﬁnd the eponymous gold statuette. along with beautiful. duplicitous moll Brigid, and memorable villains including the creeping weasel Joel Cairo and the horrific Fat Man. The question of who will ﬁnd the Falcon (and whether it actually exists) adds suspense to the novel, but the plot is of secondary importance to the lean. clear prose and the witty interplay between Hammett's beautifully drawn, uniformly corrupt characters.
What the critics said The New York Times went to town in their praise of the novel. declaring: 'Hammett's prose is clear and entirely unique. His characters are as sharply and economically deﬁned as any in American fiction.‘ Key moment The scene in which Spade grapples violently with Cairo and the Fat Man is particularly memorable for Gutman's faux joviality. “By gad. sir you are a character and no mistake.’ he quips while putting the boot in. Postscript During a writing career that actually produced relatively few novels, Hammett ocunted the likes of Andre Gide. Sinclair Lewis and Lillian Hellman among his literary fn‘ends. None could save Hammett from becoming a high-profile victim of the McCarthy witch-hunt. which earned him a degrading spell in prison that effectively killed him. First line test ‘Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth.‘ (Allan Radcliffe)
Auster makes alienation compelling
‘A puzzle inside a conundrum wrapped around an enigma'. That may well be the words they carve into
104 THE LIST 13—19 Feb 2004
mindsets of urbane Big Applers his signature tune. And while it can be argued that he has yet to better his sensational 1986 debut. New York Trilogy (a bizarre and brilliant dissection of a city and civilisation in psycho-trauma) he more often than not produces novels which prove that his ability to unnerve and grip is uncanny
Oracle Night is about many things (and possibly nothing). Sidney Orr is a Brooklyn writer (surprise surprise) with a beautiful wife and marvellous life. Except perhaps not all is as rosy as it would seem. Recovering from a near- fatai illness and having marital trouble with Grace. he stumbles into a stationer's and picks up a blue notebook into which he starts to pen
for it) Oracle Night. it sends him off onto a whirlwind of pain and alienation.
Befuddled? You could be. But while Auster's tale may have you scrambling back through the pages to remind yourself exactly who is doing what and when (the main flipping is between now and 1982), it's rarely dull. Unfortunately, he's gone for two slightly annoying literary devices; footnotes riddle the novel (dragging attention, no doubt deliberately. away from the main play) and the fact that the book amounts to one long
I lll‘ MAI I l xl chapter is irritating to say the least. l A I < ( )l\' Still, there's no one around who makes New York quite so impressively strange. (Brian Donaldson)