I'll admit, at times, I can become quite dissatisfied with mass-market offerings. Don't get me wrong: there's a lot of wonderful stuff out there, but I was in one of those diva like moods where I couldn't find a book I wanted to read, truly. Something different, that stands out.
So I took the plunge into the world of the wonderful small presses—a journey everyone ought to make—and found this: London Revenant, by Conrad Williams. In a fairer world, this man would have huge sales behind him. He certainly has the adoration of many fellow writers on the back of the book: M John Harrison, Roz Kaveney, Graham Joyce, Tim Lebbon. And it sounded damn interesting, so I thought I'd give it a go. I'd been meaning to read his work for some time anyway.
This is the story of London: a gritty, hard-edge SOB London, with a deeply fantastical twist. We start off being sown people being shoved in front of Tube trains, the murderer—some person, some creature?—fleeing the scene. This isn't the first time it has happened. Then we skip to the first person narrator, Adam Buckley, a narcoleptic who is suffering from his girlfriend's departure, and is trying to make a go of his life afterwards. We learn a little of his life. He's gone from job to job, gone to late night parties, had sex with this girl and that. His group of friends—eccentric, wild, very internally focussed and so real—are finding fantasy and magic in the hidden, darker corners of London; the places that aren't to be located on any map. Suddenly, violence finds these people, and freakish events follow. As the book progresses, skipping between narratives—we learn that "Topside" Londeners are up against a strange underground race, and, without wanting to spoil the book, the first person narrative blends with the other scenes we've been shown previously, revealing more about Adam and his past.
But it's not just the truly gripping plot. It's the way this man writes. It's so slick, lean, insightful and digs into some territory inside of you that you often don't want to know. Which I love in a book. It's so difficult to do. You get a real feel for the vaguness of human life, those little eccentricities which make us what we are. People aren't obvious, they don't wear their emotional workings on the outside; we're vague, greatly variable creatures, and Williams highlights this with great skill. M John Harrison's summary of his writing sums it up nicely, that it is: "somewhere on the spectrum between Iain Sinclair and China Miéville, but moves off smartly at an oblique angle to both. Williams may be in the process of developing a new genre, a kind of matter-of-fact Gothic which can draw conclusions about the contemporary heart by rifling its dustbins."
You can find other reviews here and here that go into much more detail than I can with a bagel waiting at my fingertips. I just wanted to share a fantastic book that, because it's small press, doesn't get huge coverage.
His website is at www.conradwilliams.net
— Mark N
Posted by Mark Newton at 3/15/2007