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From the blurb I was hoping for something a little like Ben-Elton-meets-The-Rosie-Project − black humour intermingled with the heart-warming relationship between (slightly) estranged father and daughter, and maybe a touch of romance. This was not that book.
It was far more complex than that.
It opens with baby Bonnie’s dramatic entrance into the world. Told with visceral and gripping detail, it is almost as though I were there, sharing the excitement – and distress – with Shauna and Jay. It is this birth that marks the beginning of the end for their relationship. Bonnie, born with her cord around her neck, is deprived of oxygen for too long, and her prognosis is not good: “Potential developmental issues.”
We are then taken on a chaotic journey, switching helter-skelter between past and present, between Shauna, Jay and a scattering of other characters. Tossed back into Jay’s past, where we meet his mother − trapped in the early stages of dementia. Jay mentally “pens” letters to his mother, in painfully intimate details, of his early days in the
city, of nights misspent, of his budding career in the “fillum” industry.Then to the present, where Jay struggles being a part-time dad, living − for the most part − a bachelor lifestyle, and watched over by his guardian angel, The Clappers, who is of robust nature, and a tendency to get straight − and rather bluntly − to the point.
Here, Jay’s life spirals into further chaos, disorientating the reader as much as the character. It is madcap and fast-paced, the kind of book where you feel like you’re clutching at the edges trying to keep up with what is going on; where you have just settled into one track, only to find yourself hurtled headlong onto the next.
There is humour here − but of the bleakier, shadowy kind. The kind that makes you laugh, then feel guilty for laughing, like you’ve commited some sort of emotional crime. Some of the characters are memorable − I particularly liked Jane, possibly because of her interview with Kirsty Jackson, a high-flying celebrity with far-too-many restrictions on her interview questions. Jay’s mother’s odd quirks too, make her stand out amongst the rest of the (rather large) cast. I also found Shauna’s therapist, Dr Ghert, with his rather unconventional treatment techniques, to be memorable − if not likeable.
Bonnie, the little girl who is the light of Jay’s life, feels almost like a non-character in comparison to the others in this story. Certain little mentions are made of her delightful quirks − of moving her cot so that she can roll into Jay’s bed, for example − but for the most part she feels more like an accessory than the keystone character of the plot. Her potential development issues are never expressly dealt with − apart from two: her lack of speech and poor motor control (told, but never really shown). It is never made clear whether her early trauma has left her mentally impaired − perhaps that is intentional − although it would have been nice to see her fill a more important role. I was hoping for more father-daughter interaction, and feel somewhat cheated at the lack of this.
There are chapters in present tense, in past tense, in first person, in script. Speech marks are non-existent. Dramatic events happen with a derailing jolt, then are over and, for the most part, ignored for the rest of the prose. The writing is borderline stream-of-consciousness and lightly seeded with words in dialect. Other things happen, including characters appearing that I would swear had not been foreshadowed or even hinted at, being treated as if they’ve been there all along. It is a strange, experimental kind of book, which made for a rather bemusing read. This is the sort of book that you have to sit down afterwards and then mentally dissect to try and figure out what the heck was happening.
Overall, this is not a book for the faint-hearted, but if you are someone who loves a mental challenge and a literary rollercoaster ride, then jump aboard!
Reviewed by Angela Oliver
Last Night on Earth
by Kevin Maher
Published by Little, Brown