Review originally posted on A. B. England's blog May 24, 2016.
Even the first go round, the review for Currently Untitled was very overdue. I had the novella for well over a year before I finished reading it because of personal issues I won't bore you by detailing. Suffice to say, it's a work that took a couple of readings to appreciate, and I'm glad I gave it a second chance.
That said, let's get to the review of this novella from Ian McLeod.
The story centers around a man in the midst of a midlife crisis. Like so many, he's convinced he has an idea for the next great American novel. He's also just deluded enough to believe he has the skill to write it and make it a best seller without the least bit of experience setting words to the page. He's also egotistical enough to become enraged by anything but the highest praise, and this is what gets him into trouble.
I tend to stick with science fiction and fantasy. I rarely read anything "real world," and I watch little more, partly because that's where my interests lie and partly because I have issues with depression. I turn to entertainment as a way to escape, and even dark science fiction and fantasy seems less depressing because it is "removed" from reality in a way general fiction, or "realistic" fiction if you will, isn't. That removal makes it "feel" less depressing than it otherwise would be. So as objective as I will try to be, you may want to remember this is far outside my usual genre, and take this review with a grain of salt.
That said, the premise is depressing but utterly believable.
Currently Untitled is set in the real world, present day. I started to say world building was not applicable, but at least some small bits are needed to build and establish the setting all the same.
McLeod describes his protagonist's home and neighborhood with clarity and believability. When the characters move outside that scope, this does not diminish.
Deus Ex Machina
This is really more of a genre thing. Plus, I saw no evidence of this in the novella, so I'm going to say it's not applicable.
The tone used by the narrator gave me a few problems on the first go around. I'm not overly fond of straight up third person omniscient voice. However, it works well for the story, and McLeod pulls it off without the prose becoming confusing to the reader or excessive head hopping.
While realistic, the amount of cursing was a bit much for me personally, which is the only reason I'm giving this segment the rating I am. Please refer to the star system translation post if you're confused as to my reasoning here.
It's a bold moving making your protagonist as thoroughly unlikeable as McLeod writes both Angus Anderson and John Darwin, but it works. Both are intensely flawed men trying their best to live their lives, and their egos get them into no end of trouble in different ways.
The rest of the cast of characters are just as eccentric, varied, flawed, and lovable as you'd expect to find any random gathering of human beings to be. In my opinion, it's the extended cast that saves the story from its protagonist and keeps the plot moving. Angus, left to his own devices, would get nowhere and do nothing of import with his life, which is the whole point of the story.
McLeod writes a few characters who seem outlandish at first glance with such believability you'd think they lived just up the street. He also doesn't add a bunch of unneeded characters to muddy the water. Each serves a clear purpose, even if it's just to round out a particular scene.
Currently Untitled is a short read, not only because of its word count, but because of the pacing. It's a lean story without leaving you feeling like you just choked down a bland salad full of nothing but watery iceberg without dressing. The diverse cast of characters and seemingly random shenanigans they get into while moving the plot along give it flavor to spare without padding the plot with fat. As stated above, I tend to stick firmly to genre fiction, but it was pacy enough to keep me interested with or without the directive to finish it for the sake of review.
The ending almost feels a bit rushed, but it's an intentional move by the author. It was rushed on purpose, and it works.
The ending was abrupt, to be quite frank, and it caught me flat footed. It was a move I wouldn't have expected at first glance. Maybe I would have seen it coming if I didn't share my reading time these days with two kids under ten, one in particular who is more interested in knowing when reading time is over than what she's reading. Maybe I wouldn't.
However, upon reflection, it's logical and in keeping with the character.
With as colored as my impression of the book was by the first attempt at reading, I was leery about trying again with the purpose of reviewing it. McLeod is a long time friend and someone whose work and opinion I respect a lot, but at the same time, I cannot and will not write a review praising something I didn't find praiseworthy. I was relieved and pleasantly surprised how much of a difference returning to the book with a clear mind made, and I found myself wanting to go buy the final book in the trilogy when I finished it, if not the first one too.
If you've read my scoring system translation, you probably know what score Currently Untitled would receive by that last sentence alone even if I didn't determine the overall score by averaging each section score.