Sunday, 4 July 2010

And the Ass Saw the Angel Review

Having kindly received this for my birthday last year from my mate I thought a holiday by the English seaside would be the ideal environment in which to savour it.
I am more of a distant admirer of Nick Cave than a fan and don't own very much of his music. My passing knowledge of his work and the fact it was set in the deep dead South of America led me to think his first novel published in the late 80s would be about a drunken blind dwarf having sex with his half cousin before being garrotted by a rusty blade of a harvester and to be honest that wasn't very far off the mark.

When you have lines like "all the welkin bile had been pumped from the sewers of Hell then vomited in a black and furious torrent down upon the shack" Mr Cave is probably only one of the people you would have been in the company of.

The plot such as it is concerns an outsider in a community of outsiders stuck in the middle of desolation. The dominant themes are Religion, corruption, violence, the Old Testament view of God and death. It is very similar to his musical work - in particular I think he did a specific album of Murder Ballads which is echoed here.
As a writer he is pretty good with a forboding sense of environment and outlines the hypocrisy of religion. He writes from a number of perspectives but mainly centres around the outcast Euchrid Eucrow (the crow is a constant in the work). Looking at his spying on the internal machinations of the obscure sect-arian community and their chosen child saviour.

As a whole though the novel loses itself in a miasma of brutal imagery, weather and confusing character development. This is particularly true in the last book within the work which breaks down into a song like structure with repetition and rhythms in parts.
I think one of the problems is that there are not enough concepts Cave cares enough about to fill a novel or if they are he doesn't develop them. In a way writing 4 minute songs you don't have to do this.
The violence (sexual and otherwise) is fairly graphic but in parts so over the top it reminded me a bit of the climactic scene in Kill Bill Vol 1 which was a bloodbath but more like a comic book.
Cave has a bad habit of falling back on long lists to express the same thing - like he'd fallen onto an old thesaurus. Also I am not sure how Euchrid the mute outsider mountain man would have such an articulate form of written expression. I guess it is to contrast with his "dumb" nature but it is never explained: the Bible, God's intervention.
Because of Cave's skill though it just does enough to get you through it. I am even tempted to look at his new book out this year. But generally writing a song or an album of them aint the same as writing a novel.

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