During my six days in Dublin I read one of the six books that launched the Macmillan New Writing imprint last month. I started with Taking Comfort by Roger Morris - and I wasn't disappointed.
In one of the reviews I saw of this new collection, a newspaper critic complained that there wasn't enough "new writing" in the Macmillan New Writing line-up. I remembered this when I was a few pages into Morris' book and I wanted to say out loud, "if this isn't new, then the Pope isn't Catholic." You'll appreciate that I was in public, in Ireland, and so it just remained a thought.
The protagonist here is Rob, who picks up souvenirs from ghastly events. He is a marketing man, seeking comfort in the material things around him. The author is a marketing man, and so you know you are on solid ground here. The thing about Rob is that you grow to understand his ways and you sympathise with him.
This novel is very unique and original, and that's what makes it attractive. Inventive writing has been successfully merged with a page-turning plot, and so there is double pleasure. It is a fast, frenzied ride to the end and you find yourself not wanting to get off.
Some people, when they start this book, might find the writing too clipped, an overdose of short sentences, words repeated, ideas fired home too many times. I had all of these feelings early on. Once you settle into this style, however, you realise that it perfectly suits the story and theme. The novel also really picks up as it nears its shivering denouement.
The constant referral to consumer items, and the sales pitch that comes with it, might be too much for some to bear - again, a comment from another review I saw. I found myself skipping a few of the more detailed sections, especially when they read like adverts, but I wasn't overly bothered. For me it added to the mayhem, to the feeling of being suffocated, bombarded - exactly how Rob started to feel. In the end, however, you are left wondering whether any real lesson has been learnt after the nightmare.
I would recommend this book to those who want something a bit different. The punchy, pruned writing style takes a bit of effort at first, but you are justly rewarded. I'm definitely looking forward to Morris' next book.
Now it's off to read the first few pages of the next book in the collection: The Manuscript by Michael Stephen Fuchs. There are also two Colm Toibin books falling out of my suitcase. So many books, so little time!