Friday, December 29, 2006

The Colour of a Dog Running Away – Richard Gwyn

Waterstones’ “3 for 2” offers have a lot to answer for. I tend to buy books more by the title and cover than the blurb when they’re stacked up high with orange stickers on the tables as you go in through the front door of the Fountain Street branch.

And so Richard Gwyn’s first novel came to sit on my unread pile of books.

The Colour of a Dog Running Away is unusual. It’s a long title for a start. Written in the first person, it’s a story about Lucas, who doesn’t think too straight at the best of times. He follows the cryptic instructions on the back of a postcard that’s pushed under his door and finds himself in love with Nuria. The first half is fairly straightforward.

It’s the second half that ups the tempo and absurdity. Lucas and Nuria are abducted by a Cathar sect which allegedly died out 700 years ago. Living and later held in a Pyrenees settlement, Lucas has been fingered as a reincarnated traitor.

Set in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, with it’s café culture, back street bars, a clairvoyant fire-eater, and the Roof People scampering up walls and over roofs, Gwyn paints a picture of an unusual cast, acting out an barely believable plot, in a hot and sultry set of locations.

“Clever, stylish and supremely entertaining ... this novel offers a feast of sophisticated pleasures and a taste of deeper passions too.” Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

“This is an excellent read. It is cleverly written, dark and funny. Richard Gwyn has entwined a diverse group of characters; given each their own part on his stage, and provided the reader with front row seats at the theatre.” The Scotsman

I disagree. The book has it’s funny moments—like when Lucas’ neighbour takes drastic action to rid his roof terrace of rabbits—and it’s quite a page turner. But it’s not good enough to be wonderful.

Always interested in your views ...


John Self said...

Interesting to read your thoughts on this book. It was highly recommended by an online acquaintance (who happened to be the buying manager for Waterstone's at the time, hence its appearance in the 3-for-2 offer). However in my experience his recommendations match my tastes about one time in three (yes to Timoleon Vieta Come Home, no to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Haruki friggin Murakami), I didn't bother with it. Another online reader whose tastes tend to chime with my own did enjoy it to begin with but was bored with it by the end, which seems to be in line with your comments.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Thanks for the links. Interesting to hear the range of views.

I was surprised to be able to walk around the huge Charring Cross Road branch of Borders in London a week or two ago and be unable to find a third book that I wanted to read that was badged "3 for 2". After an hour I set the two books down, and left the store empty handed.

The pre-Christmas range of discounted books was appalling.

But bringing more books into our house is to be discouraged - though only lightly adhered to! It was fun to surf the links above and discover your 2006 new books embargo! Are you having another in 2007?

John Self said...

I did manage to (more successfully) halt new books purchasing in July for a few months but have now returned to pre-second-embargo rates. What's interesting is how - as is the case with many habits - one gets used to not buying books quite quickly and after a few weeks it becomes no difficulty at all to resist. However as I will be moving my 700 strong library (and that's about 300 down on what it was a year ago) into my fiancee's house in the coming months, new books are still to be avoided if possible. She did get me to join the library this year, though I've only used it once; the acquisitive pleasure of a new book, plus the fact that I keep books I've enjoyed to re-read and generally absorb pleasure from by occasional thumbing means the practice is likely never to die entirely.

I don't visit Borders often but the Waterstone's 3 for 2s occasionally throw up interesting things. The aforementioned buying manager (Scott Pack) said once that he liked to put lesser known stuff in the promotions on the basis that people would choose two books they knew they'd like, and then take a chance on a third. This was how I discovered Ben Rice's superb (and scandalously unknown) Pobby and Dingan a few years ago - and indeed Pack confirmed he'd put that one in as a tempter for people. I think he had similar hopes for the Richard Gwyn.

By the way, has your reading rate increased exponentially in the last couple of weeks, or are you just now writing up stuff you read earlier in the year?

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

I've been reading a lot more recently - mainly since I've been away for 4 or 5 days a week thoughout most of the end of November, beginning of December, so more time sitting on planes or lying on hotel beds to turn a few pages.

The Colour of a Dog Running Away was finished about two weeks ago, before Magnus Mills and his Explorers of the New Century was started. But Mills is always a fast read.

The film Esma's Secret will get a posting later on too - to tidy up this year's films.

Happy New Year!