review of Redlaw by James Lovegrove is up at the Zone.
This is another bad book, and another bad review. As I’ve noted before, I hate reading bad books and writing bad reviews in about equal measure. I’m inclined to write positive reviews, I think, and seek out books I think I’ll enjoy as any normal human would.
I chose to read this book as I had previously read Lovegrove’s Provender Gleed, on the recommendation of Francis Spufford. Francis spotted some common ground between it and what I was attempting in Panoptica and thought it might be useful to take a look at other approaches. I think he was right that there is common ground, and it was a useful reference point, but actually it showed me where I didn't want to go rather than where I did.
Provender Gleed is an interesting book in many ways, but it didn’t quite work, either in reference to what I was attempting or – in my opinion – in achieving it’s own goals (as I understood them). I did like the idea of the society put forward in Provender Gleed, and in the first third of the book it was well-articulated and relevant. But as the story went on, Lovegrove seemed at a loss as to where to take the satirical elements, and the story fell back on a rather dull Stockholm-syndrome thriller plot that didn’t do much for me.
While it didn't entirely sell me on Lovegrove, I thought he would at least be worth keeping an eye on, but alas Redlaw suffers from the same sort of problem, only more so.
An interesting satirical situation is set up, but then allowed to fall away in favour of a lot of clichéd action. It’s worse here, though, because leaving the satire half-cooked leaves a lot of disturbing stuff in the tale, which is exacerbated by the pulp action genre that Lovegrove pursues so doggedly.
I can’t help feeling that somewhere in the process, someone should have asked Lovegrove to work harder. I have fairly high standards of what I think is acceptable. I am constantly surprised at what some publishers (and writers, and other readers) think is worth publishing. Plenty of people put forward the “I only read for entertainment” point of view, and I am no different in most respects, but there are already so many rather wonderful “just entertaining” books out there, why would one bother to publish or read a sub-par addition to the canon?
Lovegrove has better than this in him, I am sure of it. Writers keep hacking away because that’s what they do, but their habits are formed by the environment around them. When I did my MA the atmosphere was one of friendly but unforgiving critique. Redlaw would never have made it past a workshop, and would certainly not pass muster from my writing group. Solaris and whoever his agent is have to take some of the responsibility here for not working him harder.
But then, what’s their motivation to work harder? Ultimately it’s sales figure that drove what does and doesn’t get published. If people keep buying half-cooked books likes this, then publishers will keep publishing them. I’m not fond of bad reviews – of writing them or reading them – but if they help the message get through that these kinds of lazy genre-hopping books aren’t good enough.
Unfortunately, I doubt that reviews like mine make any difference to anything whatsoever. This volume comes with a blurb from The Bookseller proclaiming: “Lovegrove has become to the 21st Century what J G Ballard was to the 20th ...” I can only guess at what context is hidden by that ellipsis, but the idea that the author of Crash, High Rise and Empire of the Sun would even be able to crank out a potboiling series of clichéd low-brow fare such as this is beyond parody.