Seth Hahne's Reviews > And the Ass Saw the Angel

And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave
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Aug 30, 07

bookshelves: bookclub
Recommended for: no one with eyes
Read in August, 2007

While not the worst book I've every had the displeasure of reading*, Nick Cave's work here may be the worst that I've both read and finished. Eragon ? Gave up with extreme prejudice. Da Vinci Code ? Accidentally left it in an airport bathroom in Denver with eleven pages left and did not care enough to visit the library to see how it ended. The Lovely Bones ? Granted, I did finish it and it was bad, but it was a shiny, gold-plated sliver of heaven compared to And the Ass Saw the Angel, which I was unfortunately compelled to finish.

Ah, the joy of being in a book club.

The first thing one will notice in Cave's book is that the principal narrator is dense with a lugubrious sort of prose made up in striking part by words that won't be found in any dictionary (as they are made up). So dense, in fact, is the narration that it stifles to the point of petrification. The author himself describes the language as, "kind of a hyper-poetic thought-speak, not meant to be spoken - a mongrel language that was part-Biblical, part-Deep South dialect, part-gutter slang, at times obscenely reverent and at others reverently obscene." Cave forces the reader to invest a lot of work into deciphering a story that is far too slight to merit the effort. And I hate him for that.

Well, not really. But maybe.

In any case, with the exception of the first and last chapters, the entire tale is told in flashback by a single narrator, named Eucrid, using two different voices (one fantastical and the other only slightly more grounded in reality). Eucrid Euchrow, dying from the start, tells the tales of the divine vengeance he wreaked upon the odd religious community in his isolated Southern town and how he now dies with his glorious work complete. What is not at all clear until the last third is whether we should believe any of it. Euchrid, a mute from birth, is the product of mentally disabled man and a woman whose only nourishment is the moonshine she stills in their yard. He is, to be plain, quite insane.

If Cave would have either held personal restraint or kept an editor worth more than the cost of a community college education, And the Ass Saw the Angel would have clocked in at novella-length of slightly more than a hundred pages - and would, by that measure, have made a terse, quirky, intriguing look at madness. Instead, Cave shows no wisdom of this kind and remorselessly fills over three hundred pages with a sprawling, cacophonous garble of madness. We cannot even say that he explores Euchrid's madness for there is neither consideration nor reflection. Only revelry.

There were moments when I thought I might have a good (if offbeat) book in my hands. Moments of interpretive joy when it could be realized that things might not be as they seem. Pieces of prose that made me think that Cave really did know what he was doing, such as his description of a particular woman as a "xylocephalic ogress." But such rays of warm and happy light were always and inevitably to be short-lived, as Cave would draw the reader, nails scrabbling for some hold on light and sanity and good reading, inexorably back into his drearilous swampfief of monotonating garballations.

Not, by any means, recommended. I read somewhere that Cave himself doesn't even think the book is any good. This would have been good to know three months ago when I started reading this tripe.

*NOTE: I really have no justification to say that it isn't beside the fact that I'm being generous.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Mystique Reading must be an almost painful experience for someone so irritated by every book he touches.


Seth Hahne Hah, I've just had a couple of really annoying books in a row. I'm in the middle of a couple books right now that I'm really enjoying - so it tends to balance itself out fairly well. I'm really not as much of a misolibrist as I sound :)

The books chosen by the discussion group of which I'm part have tended to be less than stellar choices (though not all have been as terrible as And the Ass Saw the Angel or The Lovely Bones), though some of that is merely a matter of a divergence of tastes.


Spencer Wow I hadn't even read your review when I was writing mine, but I may as well have written it as a letter to you.


Seth Hahne I don't know. I'm not sure that your review really gets at what I found to be the book's problem. My issue was not that Cave's prose was dense (you describe it as verbose but I don't think that adequately describes what Cave is doing here) but that he carries it on for much longer that his story merited.

I quite enjoyed the book for the first hundred pages. The second hundred were less stellar as the novelty of style wore off and I was forced to look for substance. The last hundred and twenty pages were brutal as Cave even ceased with his intervening voices and chapters and entered a mire of more streamed consciousness than actual narrative. As an exercise in style, I'd probably give Cave's book four out of five stars.

But as a novel? It just doesn't deserve itself.

As I said in my own review, had Cave restrained himself, kept the book to somewhere between one hundred and a hundred-and-fifty pages (style intact) he would have had a mean, workable novella. One to which I certainly might have given four stars.

It's kind of like with comedies. A little goes a long way. I love Python. Give me an hour (or on a good day, two) of Flying Circus and all is well with the world, but let's say there was a five-hour Python movie out there. It just wouldn't work. The issue is sustainability. Just as geniuses like the Python boys couldn't keep me engaged in a five hour comedy sketch, so it is that a genius (in some ways, yes) like Nick Cave can't sustain his style in a worthwhile way over three hundred pages without there being something better and deeper going on. His style needs a foundation on which to stand and the story of Eucrid Euchrow is just not foundation enough.

So really, I don't see that your review could really ever be addressed to me. My issue with the book is different than that which you describe. Plus, though I have read Harry Potter, I haven't ever read Dean Koontz. I take it you don't recommend?

p.s. I did find your brand of elitism and condescension kinda cute. Almost as cute as mine.


message 5: by Michele (new)

Michele ...Cave would draw the reader, nails scrabbling for some hold on light and sanity and good reading, inexorably back into his drearilous swampfief of monotonating garballations.

Heh. I don't think I'd like this book, but I surely did enjoy your review of it :)


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