Saturday, 2 April 2011

Mistaken ~ by Neil Jordan

A story about a couple of look-a-likes who get mistaken for one another and step in and out of each others lives... a good idea? The premise has promise, but something in the delivery of the story gets in the way. The prose style is very image-driven; (not surprising for a film-director such as Neil Jordan) reading like a series of blurred images, not unlike an impressionist painting, all building to create an overall sense of the relationship between the two main characters, Kevin Thunder and Gerald Spain. I yearned for some concrete prose to balance the fleeting ideas and half-suggestions, especially in the first half of the book. For the first 100 pages or so, Jordan was merely considering all the possibilities of mistaken identity, just joining the dots as it were, and the plot suffered as a consequence. Thankfully, the second half of the book was more eventful with more interesting twists and turns to keep the reader engaged.  

Also, the various scenarios that arose because of shared facial characteristics were at times downright implausible. People seemed able to mistake them because they shared the same 'musky smell' as well as the same face, even in the most intimate of circumstances. I think women are more discerning than the author gives them credit for!
However, I did like the way Jordan described Dublin and took us across the city, from north to south, in minute detail, which cannot but to remind the readers of Joyce's Ulysses. Indeed, there was something about Kevin's house in Marino Crescent, with it's house full of quirky tenants, such as Tommy the Clock, that reminds me of Joyce's short story, 'The Dead'. I think this novel would have made a cracking short story itself, and should have been whittled down at the editing stage. There were other references to Joyce in the text, such as when Gerard wanted to consummate his relationship with his future wife on a hillside on Bloom's Day, as Joyce had done with his beloved Nora. 
I think any Dubliner living abroad who was comes across this book will enjoy it for that very reason. 
Yeats too gets a mention, as do the swans on the Tolka river, many times. However, it is the literary reference to Bram Stoker which features most in the novel, with vampires in the night, some blood gurgling in the throat and a lot of stalking going on throughout, clearly revisiting imagery featured in his hugely successful movie, 'Interview With A Vampire'.  This adds a darkness to the text which I really liked. (Hence the rather grim, dark book-cover).  The eerie quality it produced was more akin to 'The Portrait of Dorian Grey' than Dracula, more haunting than blood-thirsty, with references to soul-sharing, dopplegangers and demons. 

I also enjoyed the way Jordan describes Kevin's relationship with his mother. There is clearly a deep connection between them , but as the boy gets older, we see them deal with the slow, bitter-sweet separation that must come with adolescence. He treats this whole area with great tenderness and sensitivity, as he later does when Kevin's father is in hospital. Both highlight the authors talent as a writer, in capturing and exploring human relationships. 
Without giving the ending away, I think there are wonderful ideas suggested in the last chapter of the book that perhaps Jordan might have elaborated on, especially regarding the true identity of the narrator. It was my favourite part of the book. 
I would not tell a friend NOT to read the book, as there were parts that I did enjoy... but I would not eagerly recommend it. 

2 of 5 stars

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