Wednesday, 15 September 2010

"The Vesuvius Club" by Mark Gatiss

Creative Commons License
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

People who know me will realise that I tend to be quite rant-y and opinionated about writers, actors, plays etc that I like or dislike. And those same people will find it odd that I read a book by Mark Gatiss. I don't really get "The League of Gentlemen," and he was part of a couple of the weaker Doctor Whos of the reincarnated series ("The Idiot's Lantern" as writer, and "The Lazarus Experiment" as actor). So I came to this book as someone who is not a Mark Gatiss fan.

However, though I am often vocal and opinionated, I do think that I admit when I am wrong. When my husband disagrees with me on this, I cite the example that I didn't much rate the choice of Daniel Craig as Bond - but admitted I was wrong when I saw him in "Casino Royale." In the same vein, I am willing to admit that I did enjoy the effectively creepy and gothic ghost story series on the BBC written by Mark Gatiss ("Crooked House"). I was drawn to "The Vesuvius Club" because it sounded interesting and because Stephen Fry, who is never wrong, apparently liked it (book jacket quote, "the most delicious, depraved, inventive, macabre and hilarious literary debut I can think of").

So have I been wrong to be critical of Mark Gatiss, or - God forbid, as this would undermine my whole vision of life, the universe and everything - is Stephen Fry wrong?

Well, I didn't hate it. But I didn't love it either.

Gatiss' hero is Lucifer Box, an Edwardian painter and secret-agent, who lives in 9 Downing Street. He is Bond to the M of Joshua Reynolds (a real life figure, playfully fictionalised). There are some elements to enjoy in the novel. Gatiss has fun with naming characters (Bella Pok, Midsomer Knight), and his joyfully anachronistic use of modern spy cliches seems sometimes to owe more to "Get Smart" than it does James Bond. But, ultimately, it was all somewhat unsatisfying. I'm not convinced that it is as good as it thinks it is, or as good as Stephen Fry thinks it is.

I have just realised that this might be the first slightly negative review I have written. I feel a little dirty, and slightly uncomfortable - I'm worried that Mark Gatiss might find it and feel a little hurt, and I'd hate to hurt anyone's feelings. Maybe I'm not cut out to be a critic - or maybe I'll be the world's nicest critic (that's my gimmick).

But the Stephen Fry book jacket quote has made me start thinking of great, funny literary debuts....Jasper Fforde's "The Eyre Affair," of course Douglas Adams'"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" (maybe not that funny, but kind of fits the macabre billing)....

Any other suggestions that anyone wants to run with in the comments section...?

1 comment: