Review – Smoke in the Room

Smoke in the Room Smoke in the Room by Emily Maguire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I recall that when this book was reviewed in the national papes, the flaming hoop that Maguire was asked to jump through repeatedly was the story of how it was written…your classic montage where plucky author recovers from adversity (a stroke at 29) and returns to her project to inject it with a new softness, a recognition of mortality and reluctance to move her character like chess pieces.

I have to say this really, really gets on my tits.

I’m not interested in the cult of the author. Sophie Cunningham’s debut novel Geography suffered from similar reviews – they were all about her confessedly autobiographical content, and the sex. Not very much about the plot or the flashes of fineness in the writing. It’s a dangerous game to play, the author-as-better-than-book. I actually want to know about the book, not whether the author is babelicious, but maybe I’m out of date in our Kim-Kardashian-gets-soundbites-on-the-news world. I’m sure having a stroke and recovering, and going on to finish the project interrupted by such an experience is an amazing achievement, but I don’t actually want to have the theme from Rocky playing in my head as I read. Ta, anyways.

Especially one like this, which so carefully, subtly inveigles itself into you, with it’s smart girl spinning like a Dervish between the two odd poles of the American ex-poof-surprise-hippy Adam, up for some ripe self-flagellation after the sudden death of his wife, and Graham, aid-worker, possibly the most suppressed depressive in existence. It makes for an interesting share-house.

I liked very much Maguire’s achievement in drawing the tight dance-steps of the crazed world of Katie and her thrown-together companions. People who don’t “participate” in life – no tai chi in the park or multiplexes or home-made pizza or shampooing Labradors. A tight, well realised frenzy of benders, bad-sex and dirty living rooms, the same walls getting grimier and greasier from bad thoughts and worse TV. Graham with the extremities of memory, the misery of long-term foreign-aid work, running in his head like pornography for a man running down. Adam with his suppression of normalcy, a Dionysian response to loss. The narrative viewpoint is expertly modulated, the dialogue snaps. Katie is as vivid as your worst ever hangover, the alcohol you retch at the smell of even twenty years later. The men were less embodied, but not noticeably to the book’s detriment.

Suicide, bi-polar and the value of life. Big themes for a small flat with overflowing ashtrays.

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