Thursday, April 22, 2010

Starting The Upstart

By Tracy

I've never read any Piers Paul Read before, though I've been aware of him since my teens when I bought a cheap copy of Martin Seymour-Smith's Novels and Novelists (a guide I still sometimes dip into, nearly 20 years later, even though by now it's missing many later writers!).

I've begun Read's novel The Upstart (1973) because it fits into a narrative pattern I'm studying -- of the parvenu who is (self- or socially?)-driven to crime or transgression -- but it's unlike anything I've read before, except perhaps obliquely the bizarre, compelling short novel from 1970 by Muriel Spark called The Driver's Seat. (The memory of that one still makes my spine tingle. How surprising books can be. I think, though, that it has very different aims from those of The Upstart. But I haven't finished reading that.)

PP Read is disturbing -- the content is often misogynistic and homophobic, but then that content is placed in the mouth of a very unreliable narrator... and you don't realise he is so until quite well into the book. Like Spark, Read is a Catholic and to some degree this sits with the right-wing odour that pervades Read's book. (Not all Catholics are exactly right-wing, of course. I say that as one brought up Catholic myself, though long since "lapsed".) I don't like his politics but am aiming to read a wide selection of narratives with this kind of theme, so he's on my list.

To put it colloquially, this book messes with your head. Nasty but arresting, startling, and well-written. I will report again when it's finished.

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