All right, I wouldn’t say that focusing on literary works that have stood the test of time makes you take for granted their greatness and not quite realise the rarity of greatness, but I suppose that now and then you’ve gotta read a bad book, a very bad book, to fully appreciate true masterpieces.
In my hands right now is Rat’s Nest by Matyas Macsay, (self?) published in 2016. The author, geez, lives in Leeds.
I’ll go straight to the point: this is 1 of the worst books I’ve ever read in my life—badly written, pretentious, unoriginal, and filled with observations about life as trite as tumblr inspirational quotes. This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
How do I hate it? Let me count the ways:
1/ The book has an introduction—something probably meant to be a poem, then 5 chapters (chapter 1 is called “The End”, then “Collision”, “The Suicidal Clown”, “Forgotten Ghosts” and “A Promise”), then interlude—again something probably meant to be a poem, then 4 chapters (“Doubts and Addictions”, “A Blur of Pain and Hurt”—whut?, “Heaven and Earth” and “Love and Compulsion”), then another interlude, then 3 chapters (“Witch of the Forest”, “The Edge of the Cliff” and “The Rat’s Nest”—ah! the title), then an epilouge [sic].
What is this? Postmodern?
2/ Let’s see how the book begins:
“There are not many pleasant experiences in life, that’s a fact, and it is not one many of us are likely to admit. Allow me to demonstrate this by sharing with you my particularly unpleasant life.
Call it the apocalypse. Call it the resurrection. Call it the final act. Call it what you will.
The final unpleasant chapter if you like.
My day took an unusually unpleasant turn, one that perhaps was not for the best, when an unpleasant realisation that I ran out of milk hit me. I put on my grey, unpleasantly outworn coat and headed out to visit the nearest unpleasant supermarket. As you may have guessed, it was an unusually cold and unpleasant summer day. I was trying my best to cut the shopping pleasantly short, but the place was filled with unpleasant people that always managed to walk right in front of you, yet never at the correct pace.
Headless chicken, a herd of sheep. Call it what you will...”
If it’s unusually cold, how can we “have guessed”?
I’m sure you can tell that this promises to be an unusually unpleasant book and my experience was unpleasant, but even more unpleasant is the thought that the person who recommended and loaned it to me is going to ask what I think about this unpleasant book, and I can’t be blunt.
3/ Did you notice something in the excerpt above? It comes up again, and again, throughout the book. A repetition. A pattern. Call it what you will.
P.5 (1st page of the book): “Call it the apocalypse. Call it the resurrection. Call it the final act. Call it what you will.”
P.6: “Headless chicken, a herd of sheep. Call it what you will.”
“Death of the martyr, blood if the innocent. Call it what you will.”
“The end of the tunnel, the final act, the curtains down. Call it what you will.”
P.9: “The Lone Ranger, the last Mohican, a lone wolf. Call it what you will.”
“Call it denial. Call it hiding. Call it running from the past. Call it what you will.”
P.11: “Call it bitterness. Call it cynicism. Call it gloating. Call it what you will.”
P.12: “Call it routine, call it habit, call it an inescapable middle-aged life. Call it what you will.”
P.14: “Call it failure. Call it giving up. Call it what you will.”
P.16: “Call it denial. Call it opportunism. Call it what you will.”
P.17: “Call it consumerism. Call it capitalism. Call it what you will.”
P.18: “Call it naiveness. Call it desperation. Call it religion.”
P.20: “Call me unsociable. Call me distant. Call me what you will.”
P.21: “Call it isolation. Call it social phobia. Call it what you will.”
P.23: “Call me a stress head. Call me a worrywart. Call me what you will.”
P.24: “Call it addiction. Call it relaxation. Call it cancer. Call it what you will.”
P.25: “Call it stubbornness. Call it addiction. Call it what you will.”
P.27: “Call it mistrust. Call it prejudice. Call it what you will.”
You’ve got the idea.
I haven’t even reached the end of chapter 2. This appears about every 2 pages all the way to the end. Drives anyone crazy.
4/ Now look at this gem:
“… After 2 minutes of lying still, gathering energy to face whatever life in store for me on this particular day, I got up. Made myself a coffee and drank it while catching a few words of what some people actually believed to be, or at least called, ‘The News’ on TV. As usual, after 5 minutes I was unable to stand any more of all that censored and over-edited bullshit, so I turned the television off and went to my balcony for a cigarette.
Call it routine, call it habit, call it an inescapable middle-aged life. Call it what you will. I took a long shower, with the aim of making myself presentable for work. Any sign of abnormality was to be hidden from society.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us all put on our ‘happy-go-lucky’ faces to stare this world right in the eyes as if to say ‘this is the best fucking day of my life people, so bring it on’.
All of this had to be done; have you ever heard a normal person replying to empty questions, such as ‘How are you? How’s your day been?’ with ‘This day is so full of shit I’m scared of drowning in it’.
No sir, this would most definitely break the boundaries of respectable middle class sanity…”
No, after 5 minutes I was unable to stand any more of that pretentious and banal bullshit.
Is this a trend of sorts?—a narrator as an isolated, cynical, misanthropic man who reduces modern life to materialism and consumer culture, and writes with contempt of the hypocrisy, deceit, frivolity and shallowness of the world around him that he can’t fit in. Reminds me of another new book I’ve read that I shall not name.
I mean, look at this line:
“I tried a joyful expression, an empty but convincing smile. It worked but it was becoming a harder task with each passing day. It had begun to feel like an exhaustingly heavy weight that life had so unkindly placed upon my shoulders.”
That line gave me a toothache.
And (about other people):
“… Their expressions were empty and faint, most of the smiles were born out of reflex rather than honest need.”
Right, “honest need”.
5/ Speaking of prose…
“As I got on the bus the early beams of the sun stroked my face for a short, pleasant moment.”
“Most people looked pale to me, despite the pleasantly warm arms of the sun, and the thick layers of make-up, creams, and perfumes.”
You don’t have to be a fan of Melville or Nabokov to find that painful to read. The whole thing is just dreadful. The prose. The image. The inexplicable obsession with the word “pleasant”.
6/ Somewhere in the book I found the phrase “surrealist reality”. Oh wow, an oxymoron.
7/ When told “… we were created by God, for God. We are the objects of His love.”, this is how our narrator reacts:
“I took my time to consider all of this, trying to put the pieces together, but the more I thought about it the less I liked it. Everything about it had the scene of irrationality. It was degrading. I resented the idea of being an object to someone else’s love. I was a human being, not a jealous kid’s toy that can be thrown away once it’s no longer desirable.”
Is that for real? I mean, seriously?
Then the narrator goes on to talk about how the objects around us in daylight seem natural and harmless but “once daylight is gone things begin to change into mysterious shapes” and that “[t]here is a great uncertainty about everything that surrounds us”.
The idea in itself isn’t empty or trivial, but our guy speaks with such solemnity I can’t help but laugh, and the way he puts it sounds like he’s a teenager who has just got some intro in philosophy and now thinks he’s so deep.
“… there is one true certainty in life; we develop the captivating ability to lie to ourselves and blind our eyes to the truth…”
What an insight! That hackneyed observation looks like 1 of those pearls of wisdom found on facebook or tumblr.
I might write more, but that’s quite enough. Excuse me while I go eat some chocolate after torturing myself with this awful book. Go read it if you’re a masochist.
APPENDIX: Reasons I didn't read your novel