Thursday, September 21, 2006

King of the Ants - Charles Higson

Better known as Charlie Higson, a.k.a. Squire Ted/Colin Hunt from The Fast Show, but he can be let off the charge of TV Comedy Writer Attempting Literature, as this was published before the Fast Show ever hit our screens. This is the sort of thing they all write, though - from Ben Elton through Rob Grant to Alexei Sayle, churning out Urban Black Comedy with varying degrees of success. And as we've seen before, writing for 30-minute BBC comedy shows is no guarantee that you'll succeed at a full-length novel.

The plot isn't exceptional, but neither is it entirely formulaic: Sean, a jobbing labourer with ambitions of greatness, is hired for some shady work by a dodgy building contractor. Things go wrong, the bad guys are badder than they seem, and the book becomes a quest for bloody revenge. The story follows Sean as his mundane life is gradually overturned by the events he's become mixed up in. The problem is not so much with the plot as with the execution - Sean's state of mind is obviously important to the plot, but do we really need to see his mundane life in so much detail? Yeah, he walks down a street and he's anxious. Now he buys a newspaper and he's still anxious. He drinks beer and becomes slightly less anxious, but then he sees something that makes him scared. It's possible that the constant narrator-description of Sean's mental state is a device to highlight his emotional detachment, but it does often feel like a bad audio-description for blind cinema-goers.

The character of Sean is another obstacle to enjoying the book - he's just not very likeable. This is certainly deliberate, but it takes quite a lot of skill to pull off a protagonist who succeeds despite being both boring and unpleasant, and there's no sign of that here. The best you can say about Sean is that his enemies are even worse, and that's no way to build a hero. The story should have been a page-turner, but it was difficult to work up too much enthusiasm for Sean's exploits. For a "black comedy," it was pretty humour-free, too.

Still, I made it to the end, and it wasn't too painful a read, so it still gets a few points. Not really recommended though.



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