Kris McCracken's Reviews > This is Life

This is Life by Dan Rhodes
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Jun 07, 12

Read from April 27 to May 06, 2012

A complicated and convoluted novel that interweaves the story of a young art student, a (seemingly) abandoned baby, a women so beautiful that all of her ex-boyfriends (and their mothers) tend to kill themselves or stalk her, the upstanding proprietor of Paris’ last genuine cinéma érotique (who has a particular fondness for sophisticated ‘girl-on-girl’ films and a lesbian daughter), a pair of Japanese tourists and their hapless translator, the world’s most acerbic art critic and perhaps the novel's finest creation, the mysterious performance artist Le Machine whose global smash-hit production Life has returned to his home town of Paris.

Rhodes's novels have always tended on the blackly comic sides of life, so it’s interesting to see that This Is Life is anything but a tragedy. This is actually an uplifting book about love and if you have the read the eviscerating short story collection Don't Tell Me the Truth about Love, yes I am pretty sure that this book is by the same Dan Rhodes.

This isn’t the perfect novel by any stretch. If I were the editor, I would have pruned a good hundred pages here and not damaged book. I’m primarily thinking of the sections that amount to little more than a dig at (now-former) President Sarkozy, Carla Bruni and Lady Gaga, and the asides that are in jokes and allusions to earlier books. However, it remains a really good book.

The macabre atmosphere of Rhodes’ earlier books has not been abandoned, and the wide cast of colourful, idiosyncratic characters benefits from an author that has chosen to be generous and forgiving to them (much more so than earlier works).

I very much enjoyed the evisceration of much of the modern art world. The proliferation of wanky conceptual ideas – “recontextualising found objects", "appropriating the now", "subverting the zeitgeist” – at the expense of “doing something really good and beautiful” annoys and frustrates me as much as it does the author, and for alone this is a worthwhile read.

Ultimately, this is an uplifting tale with plenty of positive messages and an (inevitably) happy ending. Highly recommended.
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