Wednesday, January 02, 2008

the third party - Glenn Patterson

Cover of 'the third party' by Glenn Patterson

I’m a fan of Belfast author Glenn Patterson’s writing, and I seem to have reviewed one of his previous publications early last January.

This year’s Christmas stocking contained the paperback edition of the third party ... lower case, perhaps in a tribute to e e cummings!

This is a single day book – much like Ian McEwan’s Saturday which followed 24 hours in the life of a neurosurgeon. This time, Glenn Patterson takes us along with an unnamed Belfast sales rep as he stumbles through a very long day Hiroshima, Japan along with a few flashbacks to fill in the backstory. He’s flogging revolutionary U-bags – created in the world-renowned home of innovation that is north Belfast’s Dargan Industrial Park.

Staying in the same hotel is a celebrated Northern Irish writer called Ike who is delivering the closing reading at the Writing Out Of Conflict 2004 conference. The narrator and Ike have met earlier that week, and their paths now converge on this last day of the business trip.

I do wonder whether Glenn Patterson got many Christmas cards from other Northern Irish writers this year? Whether they recognised a little of themselves in Ike, or whether he really did base it on himself!

The pair don’t hit it off, and we join the narrator as he does some last minute shopping and (re)visits some of Hiroshima’s major attractions – such as the A-Bomb Museum, which obviously got under Patterson’s skin when he was touring the locale to research the book. Later, after an unfortunate bus journey, he catches the end of the conference (including the bomb scare), hears Ike’s reading, and is persuaded to join some of the delegates for an alcohol rich meal and a trip to the inevitable Irish-themed pub (on the fourth floor of a high rise building).

There’s a lot of detail in the observational writing, painting the picture of folk around the narrator, what he cares about, rather than progressing the quite straightforward plot too quickly. At times it feels like the reader is becoming a Numskull and climbing into Patterson’s head – seeing what he notices when he views Japanese customs and casts his eye around a museum gallery or a shop. Makes me want to visit Japan in a year or two’s time

It’s definitely a book of 2007 – “burnt orange Ugg boots” make it to page 104. What could be more 2007? There was a lot of clever writing too, which caught my eye and slowed down my otherwise rapid progress through this fine book:

“Thing here has one of those phones with the camera and all in it” ... Camera was the least of its ‘all’: it was an FM radio, MP3 player, with full internet capability ... (page 30)

If anything the story is too complete, with the final section achieving too great a closure and revealing too much about the characters. A more open ended ending would have left be pondering the narrator for a while longer, rather than being content to put him back on the bookshelf and move on to the next book.

But overall, another good read from Glenn Patterson, and worth buying or borrowing.

You can catch Glenn Patterson in discussion with Malachi O’Doherty and June Caldwell at the Black Box, Belfast at 1pm on Wednesday 16 January … part of their Out To Lunch series.

And read another (better) review over at John Self’s Asylum. the third party also makes it to The Japan Times’ best books of 2007!

Update 4 January - As I read the third party and came to the section in which Ike reads a passage from one of his publications at the conference, I wondered if Glenn Patterson would use this passage at his own readings.

And on Radio Ulster's Arts Extra special this evening, he did just that! (Available on iPlayer radio ("Listen again" in old money) until Friday 11 January.

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