Derek's Reviews > The Canal

The Canal by Lee Rourke
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's review
Nov 11, 2011

it was ok
Read in November, 2011

From my post here:

If you stop to consider anything long enough, even boredom, you should be able to find interesting connections lurking beneath the otherwise banal surface. «When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you,» or whatever it was that Nietzsche said. Thing is, Rourke gives up staring into the canal after the first few pages. Shit happens in the book & he loses sight of the initial boring premise. Which perhaps is the point—if you embrace boredom, shit will happen. Boredom is only boredom if you are afraid of being bored. And boredom is in the eyes of the beholder. This claim that the novel is about boredom allows Rourke to deflect all criticism because he could just say that was his intent. Yes, it's a novel. It says so on the cover. I don't understand why sometimes novels need to declare themselves as such—is it to keep people from confusing it for something else? The book is published by Melville House, known to me primarily as Tao Lin's publisher. And I guess there's some similarities with Tao, as well as with Shane Jones, who blurbed the book. The book was short-listed for The Guardian's Not the Booker Prize, which is no surprise considering Rourke writes for The Guardian.

It's the kind of book you'd expect a book critic to write. He's obviously well-read & connected & able to draw on a lot of writer's before him. Besides the comparison to Beckett, at first i felt like it was being set up like Crime & Punishment. And there's the obvious nod to Tom McCarthy, though to compare the two belittles McCarthy. The stark dialogue reminded me a bit of David Mamet or Harold Pinter, though Rourke does this annoying thing where he'll just have a character repeat the same thing over & over (at one point a woman asks him "Do you like the canal then?" 14 times in a row—i can't imagine that happening in real life or on stage without someone slapping her after 3 or 4). The Guardian blurb on the back of the book (am i the only one who notices these blatant conflict of interests?) says: «Leading light of the self-styled Off-Beat generation, Rourke stakes his claim as heir apparent to greats such as Ballard, Joyce or Houellebecq.» Joyce, Houellebecq? Whitey, please. Maybe that's what he ... er ... i mean ... 'The Guardian,' means by 'self-styled'—Rourke is trying to style himself after these fine folks. Ballard, yeah, sure you can see where he tries to mimic Ballard with some success. In fact, there's a part where his female love interest runs over a stranger in her car in a just-for-the-hell-of-it Ballardian way (with a Camus twist). The object of his desire also has a fetish for suicide bombers. «Those extraordinary young men. I often dream about them, their brown skin. I speak to them in my dreams, I caress them in my dreams, I fantasize about them during the day,» she says. Ballard & others can get away with writing about sick anti-social things, but when Rourke tries to mimic him, it comes off as forced & not believable (not to mention racist). It's like how some comedians can go on a warped racist rant on stage because they are confident in their delivery or they are somehow justified & don't question themselves. It's not a talent everyone is born with.


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