Ablutions: Notes for a Novel
7 March 2015 Leave a comment
Author: Patrick deWitt
Summary: A brilliant portrait of addiction and its consequences, featuring a watchful, whiskey-loving barman, sociopathic clientele – daring, funny and surprisingly tender.
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5
Review: Discuss how much you enjoyed the book you recently finished reading. It so quickly immerses you into the story by making you a part of the story. With its second person narrative executed perfectly, the short chapters that manage to get you reading more than you intend to and the simple language used to efficiently yet evocatively describe these people and their surroundings. You sum up your review in its first paragraph and wonder if you should bother continuing.
Yeah, i was hooked on this book within the first few pages. A couple of years ago i read deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers on a recommendation from a friend and loved it. Ablutions has been on my to-read list ever since. Last weekend i found it a library book sale for 0.25p. Needless to say, i snapped it up and started reading it almost immediately. Possibly the best 0.25p i’ve ever spent.
Set in a bar in Los Angeles, the book explores alcoholism, drug addition and self-abuse in general. At no point does it romanticise these things–trust me. In fact it goes out of its way to specifically to show them as debasing, depraving and life-ruining.
I don’t know, i really did sum it up in that first paragraph. About half of the short sections start with “Discuss [something]” and, as the title suggests, the entire book reads like notes on people and incidents in the narrators life, and with the second person it’s as if he is writing notes to himself. Or, as if the reader has written notes to themselves. Second person narration is so hard to do well, but deWitt nails it in this book. The narrator, and every character described in the book, is hateful, selfish and self-destructive; none of them are likable, but the second person narrative had me rooting for the protagonist hard by the end, even as he steal and lies and causes harm.
The nature of the note-taking-like storytelling utilises a very simple writing style, lots of “you do [this]” and “you say [that]” etc, but it is its simplicity and clarity that so easily–so casually–creates this vivid world and characters. I’m not a fan of over-description, so of course i favour this style, but it really adds to this novel and its style overall. The simplistic writing offers as much insight into the narrator as any description of himself he may offer, and i often found myself consciously recognising the minimalistic writing style for that reason.
Again, in fitting with the “notes for a novel” title, a lot of the book reads like a character study of all the people the narrator encounters, and i found that fascinating. Getting to know characters and forming opinions on them is something i love about books, and this one manages it perfectly. I hate and/or pity everyone in the book, but they are also so obviously human and vulnerable and have something that could be likable about them–they’re real.
Humour is also a huge part of this novel. I laughed a lot, and wanted to tweet quotes every time i picked up the book. A lot of the humour is crude and gross, but that personally doesn’t offend me or put me off at all. I love it when amusement comes with a side of disgusted face-pulling; life isn’t all free shots and parties, sometimes it’s blueberries-and-blood shitting yourself.
Patrick deWitt’s writing style has so much of what i love. He is fast becoming one of my very favourite authors, and i eagerly await the release of his next novel in September.
I’m using this book to knock off the free space in my Bookish Bingo!