FC

"Finn Clark"

01/02/2004 3:50 AM

Read-a-thon 25: This Town Will Never Let Us Go (NO SPOILERS)

NO SPOILERS

This Town Will Never Let Us Go, by Lawrence Miles
Published by Mad Norwegian Publishing, in November 2003
Starring Faction Paradox and the War
ISBN 0-9725959-2-9

To start on the crudest imaginable level... that's one big book. The page
count isn't the problem, since 281 pages is about the norm these days. No,
it's the page size. This is a jumbo tome in the same format as The Book of
the War, with oversized pages and a monstrous word count that sneaks up on
you unawares. You start the book, not expecting anything extraordinary.
You read all evening. The next morning, to your shock you're not even a
hundred pages into the bloody thing.

In other words, it's another Interference. In length, anyway. Say what you
like about Interference and The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, at least
their stories felt big enough to warrant the added word count. This Town
Will Never Let Us Go doesn't, but in a way that's almost a virtue. This
feels like Mad Larry's most confident novel to date, in which he's
completely abandoned all notions of 'How It Should Be Done' and is simply
doing his own thing. He's hit his natural rhythm. This is like Lawrence's
Goblet of Fire.

As a story, it's remarkably self-contained. The cast is small and their
individual stories don't start connecting until we're halfway through. The
setting is almost claustrophobic, being almost entirely confined within one
semi-mythical, never-named town ("that will never let us go"... that title
gets ever-spookier the further you read). Lawrence isn't particularly
concerned with Faction Paradox, the War or anything else you might have seen
in Alien Bodies and Interference. Instead he's suddenly become interested
in the little people on the sidelines - which is a very un-Milesian
attitude, compared to the cosmic scale and Big Ideas of his other novels.

No, none of the above is what powers this book. It's set in the Town, yes,
but that's only literally true. This Town Will Never Let Us Go is *really*
set inside Lawrence Miles's head... and it's a scary place. If you've ever
read a Mad Larry interview, that's the voice of this novel. It's
non-standard narrative, but less so than Henrietta Street or The Book of the
War, being more like Dead Romance than anything else. It's 3rd person
narrative rather than the 1st person diary of Christine Summerfield, but I
could suggest other similarities. Sometimes this doesn't feel so much like
a novel as an extended stand-up routine, except that the narrator's odd
observations aren't being taken to their illogical conclusions for comic
purposes. He's just describing the view from Planet Larry. You'll have to
smack yourself in the head with lead piping a few times before you decide
that this book does indeed take place on Earth.

I hasten to add that that's a good thing. Lawrence's worldview may be
getting a little over-familiar from his various interviews, but it's still
fun to see him spell it out in caustic, exaggerated detail. Mind you, if he
writes another book along these lines he'll be in danger of becoming the
next Dave Stone. [I'm a huge Stone fan, but even I'll admit that his books
can feel a bit interchangeable.]

The characters are good, which is lucky since the cast is so small that even
one dull protagonist could have wrecked things. Tiffany is a lot like
Britney Spears, being an apparently empty-headed pop star of Britney-like
status, but unfortunately this made my brain want to crawl out through my
forehead during her early scenes. She's not Britney really, but the mental
associations were strong enough for it to disconcert me when Tiffany turned
out to come from Cuba. However my favourite character was Horror, who made
me laugh - though one has to wonder about a girl who chooses a name with the
short form of "Hor". Um, how do you pronounce that?

Inangela and Valentine are fine. It's the walk-on guest stars who really
stick in the mind, like Miss Ruth and the Black Man with his canister. That
last one in particular gets the book's most astonishing scene. Overall,
this book combines high-concept characters with ordinary people of a kind
Lawrence hasn't always seemed to be interested in before.

If this book is about any one thing, it's about celebrity. Tiffany's story
is its real heart. The War features in an odd offstage fashion, as if Mad
Larry has decided in the decade since Alien Bodies that war is rather silly,
but for precisely that reason also rather interesting. There's much musing
on what international conflict means these days, with parallels being drawn
with both Western intervention and international terrorism. Lawrence's War
has come into the 21st century and it's grown an attitude.

This book is almost more of a thesis on Mad Larryology than a narrative, but
it's entertaining enough for me not to have a problem with that. There's
even plenty of plot, though it takes its own sweet time. [For example I
have a theory about the identity of the dying girl in the ambulance which
works so much better as a possibility than it would have done as a
spelled-out final twist.] You'll probably remember this book more for its
Larry-isms than for its story, e.g. the naked videotape nightmares, or what
pop stars have in common with chickens. However it looks very re-readable -
and even on first exposure it's more fun than any Miles book since Alien
Bodies. Lawrence certainly hasn't forgotten how to turn a witty sentence.
This isn't a self-consciously 'big' story like much of his work... but I'm
sure for many people that's a good thing.

Finn Clark.