Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Trouble With Roads

It's rare for a book to throw me into raptures, but J G Farrell's Troubles is one such. It's just won the Lost Booker Prize. Everything in this marvellous, meaty novel, is decaying. A taciturn Major returns from the trenches to claim his supposed fiancĂ©e from a crumbling hotel in Ireland. There are cracks in the wall, troops of wittering old ladies, an increasingly insane owner, and pulullating cats. Of myriad striking images, the most apt are a cold-hearted English officer consuming a rose, petal by petal, including the thorns; and a mournful peahen searching for her strangled mate amongst the wreckage of a violent ball. The hotel is a metaphor for the British Empire; the Major, post-Great War, tries his best to keep it standing. But the Irish Republican Army is advancing, and things fall apart. Farrell’s novel is so expertly controlled, with even the most minor characters (a well-dressed gardener, a Cockney officer) given vivid life, and the whole is spiked with such mournful humour, that it is a fine and fitting winner.

The second book to cause me to hyperventilate with glee comes from somewhere so totally left-field I was amazed at my enthusiasm: it is On Roads: A Hidden History
by Joe Moran. This is a marvellous book which delves deep into our collective psychologies to examine our obsession with motorways. For a non-fiction book which is basically about tarmac and asphalt to grip me until one o'clock in the morning is as rare as a pleasant service station. Buy, and read, and enjoy, although preferably not whilst riding on the Autobahns.

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