There was a lot of hype surrounding this book once it got onto the Booker longlist. Truthfully, that is probably why I read it. What we have, without giving anything away, are four disconnected novellas of varying quality. If you were being really cruel, you could suggest that Richard House has been struggling to write a longer novel and thought of a clever way to put these four attempts together. I liked the first one the best which is about political, financial and military shenanigans in the Middle East and how one man gets caught up in them. From then on it was downhill. The murder story gets so convoluted that I don’t think even the writer knows what’s happening – maybe why he gave up!
Stylistically he seems a bit stuck. it is mostly hot and dry wherever you are, everyone is sweaty, most people do the wrong thing in the circumstances they are in, there are some silly coincidences (several people seem to die more or less by mistake), the bad people are rather distanced and motiveless, there is quite a bit of killing, not much sex even when the opportunity arises and so on.
However, the real failing is the capacity to link these narratives into some Dickensian conclusion, I mean that in the sense of bringing several storylines together into some kind of coherent whole with a message. Some critics suggest that this is a deliberate destabilisation of the form but for that to happen the disconnection would have to be apparent rather than accidental.
As for the online bit, it comes over as a publicity gimmick not necessarily cheap but not very creative in its use of video. It left me wondering how good it could have been if some of these people who do such creative videos elsewhere had been invited to pick up certain stages elements in the story and embellish them. The use of captions is almost laughable sometimes.
There is one video clip of fish swimming around symbolically in a bowl – struggling, trapped, victim – geddit? I thought the caption could have been, ‘you’ve already forgotten what happened at the start’.