Friday, 16 April 2010

One Last Mad Embrace - Jack Trevor Story

Oh, what a glorious book. It starts as comedy, drifts into farce, and ends as a surreal, almost poignant reminiscence. Along the way we meet a cast of characters already seen in his previous two Horace Fenton books. Most of them seem, at first meeting, to be larger than life, yet that is more to with Story’s ability to view real people through a magnifying lens that brings them closer and exposes their foibles.

There is also a story that drives the characters - a typically convoluted crime into which Horace Fenton has been dragged. Yet for all his apparent otherworldly innocence he projects, we are allowed to see a more rounded picture of Fenton. And that is one of the great delights of this work; the skill of the author propelling what could be dismissed as a comic romp into much more literary realms. The first person narrative is so smooth and realistic, you are not conscious of the novelistic conventions unless you look for them. It is not helped by having a world-weary writer as the narrator, because he knows all the tricks and conventions, he knows how to subvert the, and he knows how to throw you off the trail by talking about them in his narrative.

The three Horace Fenton books are the closest we get to autobiography from Story. It is often quoted that the more outrageous the incidents in these books, the more likely they are to be true. It is certainly true that Story led a chaotic and amiable life, always out of pocket, always generous, always working. Yet we should never confuse the reality with the fiction. Story may have used his life for material, but Horace Fenton is not Jack Story. Well... not quite.

If you like a comic novel which is a little less than PC; one that is full of warmth, with an eye to things that really count; this is for you. It’s not necessary to read the other two first (Hitler Needs You and I Sit In Hanger Lane), but it will certainly make the experience all the more enjoyable. And if you are a writer, these are a master class in smooth storytelling. All the more annoying that only the first of the three is currently in print. The others are to be found if you are prepared to look and be patient - a sad state of affairs when print on demand could make such wonderful books available to a whole new audience.